Stargate SG-1 is finally available on Blu-ray disc … but how does the picture actually look?
GateWorld is taking a close look at all 10 seasons of the show to see how SG-1 looks in the new Blu-ray release from Visual Entertainment. To achieve a 1080p high-definition picture VEI has upscaled (not remastered) the show, as well as applying a process called Digital (sometimes “Dynamic”) Noise Reduction (DNR) to remove noise and digital artifacts.
We’re going to try and answer the question: Is this new Stargate SG-1 Blu-ray set worth picking up? And is it worth replacing your old DVD collection?
In the video below we’re comparing the original 480p DVDs side-by-side to the new 1080p upscaled Blu-rays. Along the way we’ll talk a bit about how the show was filmed and released. Then stay tuned to the end of the video for our analysis of what you are seeing here. (This is not a full review, and we won’t cover the Blu-ray audio here.)
Watch this video to see the picture comparisons, from Season 1 through Season 10:
Also check out our recent long-form unboxing video for a look inside the complete Blu-ray Collection, which includes all three Stargate TV series. There we look at the packaging and the discs, and compare them to the SG-1 DVD collection.
UPSCALING SEASONS 1 – 7
Stargate SG-1 first went in front of cameras in February 1997. For the most part the live-action elements for Seasons 1 through 3 were shot on 16mm film – common for television production at the time. Starting with the third season finale, “Nemesis,” Stargate switched to 35mm film, the standard for motion pictures and much of modern, so-called “cinematic” television. This was used all the way through Season 7.
The new release from VEI is the first time that the series has been available in 1080p high definition to own on home media. But let’s be clear about what this is, and what it’s not.
It’s not a remastering. That is a very expensive process that would entail going back to the original film elements, doing a new transfer, upscaling or possibly even remaking all the visual effects, and re-editing the episodes start to finish. That’s why the remastered editions of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation look so good – it’s true HD, from the source.
Instead, for this release Stargate SG-1 has been upscaled. So the source is not the film – it’s those same, standard-definition episodes. They’ve been processed by “magical” computer algorithms, which increases the resolution and interpolates the missing pixel data. Jagged, pixelated edges are smoothed out. There’s also more space on a Blu-ray disc, so the episodes don’t have to be compressed as much (at least in theory – there are also more episodes per disc here).
The picture has also been subjected to Digital Noise Reduction (or “DNR”), which aims to clean up visual artifacts and present a smoother image. In VEI’s marketing speak, they say this makes for a new “super clean picture.”
The coloring on these comparisons is also striking. The original DVD picture tends to have a green hue to it, while the new Blu-rays sometimes err on the red side. In both cases, modern televisions and players will usually compensate for this – so that the coloring is optimized for your particular display.
Upscaling has advantages and disadvantages. It can produce an HD picture that looks markedly better than the original DVDs. (And it’s obviously much less expensive for the studio than spending millions of dollars on a 7- to 10-season remastering project.)
On the other hand, all that digital polishing can also remove some of the fine detail you want. For example, too much DNR and facial textures can start to look “waxy.” And some people just like the authentic, analog look of film grain.
Needless to say, with upscaling you’re just never going to get the quality you would see from a full remastering.
SEASONS 8 – 10
Starting with the show’s eighth season the picture noticably improves, both on the DVDs and the new Blu-ray edition. It was in 2004 that SG-1‘s production switched from 35mm film to HD digital cameras. So the source material that we have to work with is just higher quality. There’s more data here, so they don’t need to be upscaled.
For the show’s production in 2004 this was “future proofing”: the last three years of the show were not originally broadcast in HD. (SCI FI Channel actually rolled out its HD simulcast in 2007, just as the show was ending.) And MGM also didn’t release them on HD home media. What we got instead were the same standard-definition DVD releases for Seasons 8, 9, and 10.
Now we assume that VEI has used a native 1080p source here, from the digital cameras (at least for the non-CG elements). But the company that put out this Blu-ray set has not responded to GateWorld’s requests for information, so we can only guess at what it is we are looking at here.
The picture definitely looks better. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility that VEI has instead simply taken the SD episodes and applied the same upscaling process. This, and less compression to fit the episodes on higher-capacity discs, might account for the better picture in these final seasons.
Either way, it looks as though VEI has also applied some level of DNR here in order to produce that so-called “cleaner” picture. Again, it looks better than the DVDs – but not so much so that it’s obviously from HD source material.
There are some clear takeaways from the picture comparisons in the video above. The original DVDs look pretty rough on modern HD televisions. The low resolution is on full display, along with a lot of visual noise. Many shots also come out of my DVD player with a decidedly green hue.
Playing these on a Blu-ray player with its own built-in upscaling will help correct some of this. Check out the comparison of the DVD edition of “Forever In a Day” at 16:02 in the video for a visual example: my Sony Blu-ray player upscales and color-corrects the DVD image pretty well. So if you have a modern hardware setup, the benefits of upgrading your collection to Blu-ray will be a bit less dramatic.
But between the lower resolution, the coloring, and the compression artifacts, DVDs played with a standard DVD player just don’t look good on modern TVs.
I have to admit, I went into this project a bit of an upscaling skeptic. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good these older episodes look on Blu-ray. The HD upscaling has done a really nice job sharpening the picture. Those jagged pixel edges are (mostly) gone in the later seasons. And the artifacts, such as the buzzing pixels that are visible on HD TVs (particularly in darker regions of a picture), have been DNR’ed into oblivion.
Finally, Stargate SG-1 has entered the modern era.
Watching the Blu-ray episodes on my 4K LG television makes them look even better. The TV has its own 4K upscaler built in, making a pretty great looking final result. While making this video I loaded up “Small Victories” to listen to a few minutes of the audio commentary, and the picture sucked me in to rewatching the entire episode.
Because they’re upscaled (and not remastered), though, the Blu-ray picture is only going to be so good. A lot depends on the quality of the source material, and upscaling Season 7 or polishing Season 8 is always going to look a lot better than what they can do with, say, Season 1.
The up-res on the first few seasons just isn’t as successful in generating what the average consumer would say is a picture that looks “HD.” Some shots look “clean” – they look better than my old DVDs – but also a little fuzzy. Characters that are just talking to one another in a conference room usually sharpen better than fast-moving action or visual effects. So in those first few seasons the visual effects sequences are more likely to be a little more blurry.
I recognize that some of this is maybe nitpicking. If you’re not an A/V nerd you probably don’t care as much about a loss of texture detail from too much DNR. The Blu-ray images look cleaner and sharper, and they are aimed at a mass audience. And if that’s you, you’re definitely going to get a better picture with the Blu-ray edition.
So I think this release, for all its flaws, is a real step up. But … “better” is also kind of relative. Because this is the best that the show has ever looked, it’s easy to forget that it could look even better. Forget about 1080 – we’re now in the 4K era. As nice as these episodes look, all things considered … the limitations of digital processing still suggest Stargate SG-1‘s need for a proper remastering.
Without that, we’ve probably hit the ceiling here with how good this show can look.
What do you think of what you’ve seen in the picture comparison video? Leave a comment below and let us know if you’re planning on picking up Stargate SG-1 on Blu-ray!
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