More than 13 years after the series went off the air Stargate SG-1 has finally received its very first home media release on high-definition Blu-ray disc.
This set includes every episode of the television series (but not the two follow-up movies) — 10 seasons and 214 episodes. The 41-disc set also includes more than 127 hours of bonus features, including cast and crew commentaries on most episodes.
Reports are that the premiere episode, “Children of the Gods,” is the original Showtime version (with nudity). And the eighth-season episode “Threads” is the longer cut, which first aired on SCI FI Channel. The 62-minute version of “Threads” includes more character development scenes for this key episode. It’s never been rebroadcast, and currently is not available on any streaming platforms. (It was released on DVD — though when Season Eight was first released MGM had to run a disc replacement offer to replace the shorter version on the DVD boxed set.)
Unfortunately the publisher, Visual Entertainment, Inc., has not responded to GateWorld’s inquiries and requests for more information on the Blu-ray release and its technical specs. But now that the discs are out in the wild we’re able to see what customers make of it, and understand better where this set really shines — and where it comes up short.
While GateWorld hasn’t gotten our hands on the Blu-rays yet, customer reviews at Amazon and elsewhere online offer some helpful analysis. Thanks in particular to reddit user kami77, who granted permission to make use of his analysis. (He also provided the screenshots.) The YouTube channel In Search of Physical Media has published a 40-minute deep dive (reporting for international fans that this release appears to be region free). And Blu-ray.com has also reviewed the set, giving it a 3 out of 5 rating — helped mostly by the treasure trove of bonus features. Be sure to read their full reviews if you are looking for more details on this release.
Stargate SG-1 is a modern science fiction classic, and should be enjoyed by anyone who counts themselves a fan of the genre. And the picture quality here is a real improvement to what has been available for the past 20 years. But before we get to the contents of the discs, it’s worth noting the lack of care and attention to detail that went into VEI’s package design.
First, the team photo is a nice-looking image … but does not represent the 10-year series all that well. The designers have selected an image from the sixth season, the only year that Michael Shanks (“Daniel Jackson”) wasn’t on the show. Replacing him on the main cast was Corin Nemec, whose character of Jonas Quinn received a cold reception from some fans … and who was gone after just one year.
The Stargate itself also doesn’t look quite right. It only has eight chevrons, rather than nine, and they aren’t evenly spaced. Under closer scrutiny it appears that the designer found a partial gate image, and duplicated and flipped it to form a complete circle. The chevrons are all messed up, and the symbols on the gate’s inner track repeat.
Newcomers and casual viewers may not notice or care about these things. But to long-time fans of the series, these choices really make it look like the product was designed by someone who didn’t know much about the show, nor who cared to find out.
Beneath the slip cover is a large, sturdy, bright blue Amaray case. Pop that open to find a stack of 41 discs, held in two bundles of individual soft sleeves. (Blu-ray.com notes that they do require you to get your fingerprints on the disc surface to get one out, so you might wipe it clean before inserting it into your player.) A booklet insert includes a simple, season-by-season list of episodes and bonus features.
The budget is on full display here in the box art and the no-frills packaging. But some fans might prefer this storage strategy to the big, golden SG-1 complete series DVD box — released in 2007 with a $299.98 price tag. That one is a treasure to behold … but it takes up more than twice the space on the shelf, and the discs slide into cardboard slots (which may be prone to scratching) on a cumbersome accordian fold-out.
Every episode from Stargate SG-1‘s ten-year run is presented here in the way it was meant to be seen: 16:9 (1.78:1) widescreen aspect ratio, as was seen on the DVD releases. This is better than you’ll get on streaming, if you are watching via Hulu or Netflix. Currently only Amazon Prime Video is streaming SG-1 in widescreen.
While the first seven seasons of SG-1 were shot on traditional film, to date the studio has not invested in a large-scale project of remastering episodes from the original negatives. So don’t expect the sort of 1080i/p quality found on modern and remastered series. Instead, these seasons have been subjected to an “upscaling” process: taking the standard-def image and improving the visual quality through digital processing, essentially filling in blank pixels and smoothing the points of transition.
Because this process removes artifacts and smooths out visual anamolies, it has the down side of removing some fine detail and creating a flat or waxy look (especially with faces). The picture ends up looking “clean” of the compression artifacts you don’t want to see, but also of the realistic details you do — like actors’ skin textures. In the absense of a proper remastering, it’s a trade-off for higher resolution.
Blu-ray.com gives the picture quality a mark of 2 out of 5. “The sense of low quality and substandard resolution is obvious,” reviewer Martin Liebman writes. “Even as the season is presented at 1080p, it looks fairly…pedestrian. It’s ‘watchable’ in the crudest sense of the word but struggles to hold tight detail and could be described as bordering on DVD quality at this point.”
Reports are that there is some banding that can get rather distracting in the early seasons. On the bright side, kami77 suggests that VEI’s heavy use of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) has done a great job in cleaning up noise — that pixel flurry you’ll see, particularly in darker portions of the picture, when viewing older shows on modern HD televisions.
The final three seasons of Stargate SG-1 were filmed with digital HD cameras, and Liebman noticed. These obviously have the best visuals of the series, helping to pull up the very poor scores of the early seasons. However kami77 suggests that these episodes also appear to have been subjected to DNR processing, and “due to this they have lost a bit of the fine detail or texture that you might see on the digital HD versions (like iTunes).”
Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series has a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track (which plays by default) and, supposedly, a 5.1 surround sound track. Audio also gets just 2 out of 5 stars from Blu-ray.com, mostly for a lack of clarity and a failure to make much use of the surround channels.
That’s a red flag: these episodes have 5.1 surround mixes already, which were included in the original DVD releases. They’re good.
Here is where things get dicey for fans who are looking for Stargate SG-1‘s very best presentation. Although the on-screen menus list a 5.1 surround sound mix, some reviewers report that the surround sound is a jumbled mess starting with Season Two. According to kami77 the 5.1 mix is “completely faked. All VEI did was take the stereo sound and map the left channel to center/left/rear left, and the right channel to the center/right/rear right. It does not sound good.”
An examination of Season Eight’s “New Order, Part 2” also revealed that the LFE (subwoofer) channel has no data at all in the surround sound mix.
If that is the case, the 5.1 surround mix previously released on the DVD sets will have been lost. That’s a real shame. But given the fact that this is the show’s very first Blu-ray collection, presumably meant to be somewhat definitive for the popular series, it’s a failure. Fortunately the company doesn’t advertise the surround sound mix as a selling point, nor even list it on the packaging.
In Search of Physical Media, however, reached a different conclusion. After testing he suggests that the discs themselves may have been incorrectly authored, with the 5.1 surround mix labeled as stero and the stereo mix labeled as 5.1 surround — at least for the first two seasons. So selecting the stereo mix may, in fact, output proper surround sound (and vice versa). We haven’t confirmed this ourselves, and kami77 has since told us that the waveforms copied off the discs show that the 5.1 tracks — even if mapped incorrectly in the menus — are not the actual 5.1-channel mix from the DVDs.
So either the surround sound has been left out or incorrectly labeled, and inconsistently so over the ten seasons of discs. Either way, it shows a gap in the publisher’s quality control. Customers who are looking for the surround sound experience might not be able to find it, even if the tracks are there.
For those looking at VEI’s recent release of Stargate Universe on Blu-ray, customer reports appearing online also indicate that this “faked” or incorrectly authored surround sound problem is also present there.
Like its DVD predecessors, this set really shines when it comes to all the extra material packed onto the discs. Stargate was in production when the DVD boxed set craze first hit in the early 2000s, and the studio hired a dedicated, on-set producer — Ivon Bartok — to conceive, film, and edit original bonus featurettes.
There aren’t any newly produced features here; rather these are hold-overs from Stargate SG-1‘s previous releases on home media. But there is a ton of it: character profiles and cast video diaries; behind-the-scenes looks at departments from costume design to visual effects, props, storyboarding and even film processing; the “SG-1 Directors” series (which followed a day in the life of an episode’s director; Richard Dean Anderson’s “My Life as a Mime,” and more.
SCI FI Channel’s “The Lowdown” promotional hype shows are also here: “Behind the Stargate: Secrets Revealed,” “Stargate SG-1 True Science,” “From Stargate to Atlantis,” and others. These aired as 1-hour specials on the network, usually around the time of a season premiere. Since (as far as we know) the network paid to produce these, it’s a pleasant surprise to see them in the show’s home media releases. If you’ve never watched them, they are a fun part of Stargate’s history.
Unfortunately the first of these — 2003’s “Stargate: The Lowdown” — seems to be the only one that is missing. That makes this terrific collection a little bit less than “complete.”
In the early seasons the bonus features have their own, separate disc. For later years they are scattered throughout the season. Each season spans four discs, and there is one more bonus disc with more extra features. (A complete feature list is at Blu-ray.com.)
The set does not include quite all of the material included in previous DVD releases. The DVD Collector’s Edition (that big, gold box) does have the 2003 special, as well as previews of the films Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum (which had not been released yet).
The features that are here are still in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. (Those that were created as letterboxed widescreen are unfortunately unaltered, leaving black bars on all four sizes on a widescreen TV.)
But, somewhat remarkably, they too have been upscaled to a 1080p picture. While that makes them vulnerable to the same down sides of the upscaling technology, no doubt this is the best that this material has ever looked. VEI didn’t have to put in any extra work here, and we would not have been surprised if they’d simply transfered over the contents of the DVDs. But instead they took the time to improve a vast quantity of bonus material, making the collection a true HD release. Early reports that the bonus material was also upscaled are incorrect. These all appear to be untouched, in their original resolution and aspect ratios. In some cases these look pretty bad (the 2004 Lowdown special looks like a transfer from video tape) – but at least they are here, for the sake of history.
Finally, there are the commentaries. Starting with SG-1‘s fourth season the cast and crew really poured their time into these. (None were recorded for the first three seasons, which filmed before the DVD home media market took off.) Just about everyone gets in on the action at some point, recording commentary audio tracks for nearly every episode of the remaining seven years. (If you’ve ever wanted to hear the “lyrics” to the show’s opening theme, they’re here — hilariously sung by the writers!) As with the DVD releases where they first appeared, this adds a lot of value and rewatchability.
Because “127 hours of bonus content” is a selling point for VEI, it’s worth pointing out that most of this is accounted for by the audio commentaries (more than 100 hours). By our calculations the stand-alone featurettes tally up to a (still impressive) 21.5 hours of material.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Stargate SG-1 never received a proper Blu-ray release when it was in the hayday of its popularity more than a decade ago. Today Blu-ray disc manufacturing is less expensive, making it possible to produce sets affordable to a larger audience of consumers. And today that upscaling technology is reliable and readily available, helping the studio avoid the more costly remastering process.
The result is that SG-1‘s first physical media release in HD is decidedly a budget set. We’re reminded of Jack O’Neill opening a door in the corridor of Hathor’s fake replica of Stargate Command (“Out of Mind”): when he pulls open the door and finds only a solid wall behind it, Jack mutters, “Damn cost cutting …”
That’s kind of what this set feels like. It looks and sounds good, so long as viewers keep their expectations in check … and don’t scrutinize the specs too closely.
But, it’s Stargate in HD. There are marked improvements on the previous DVD releases. And so as long as buyers know what they are getting here — and what they are not getting — at this price it might be worth the upgrade. Casual viewers may appreciate the marginal improvements, but videophiles will judge this Blu-ray release to be substandard.
VEI has also released budget sets of Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe on Blu-ray (and all three shows in a single bundle). We hope to get further details on these two as well. But it’s worth noting that both Atlantis and SGU were filmed and edited in high definition from the beginning, and both have received complete or partial Blu-ray releases already in years past (only SGU Season Two excluded). So true HD episodes should be readily available to VEI, without need for upscaling or other extraordinary effort.
Will you be buying Stargate SG-1 on Blu-ray? Tell us why (or why not) in the comments below!
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