Older Film Technology Allows HD Remastering of Old Reruns

The growing demand for High Definition Television sets creates some problems when it comes to finding programming to view on them. Some television providers have taken the initiative to produce new programming in High Definition. This is evident in a number of newly offered High Definition channels like HDNet which provides access to special events, concerts, documentaries, news, and travel programs all in High Def. Equator HD and Discovery HD Theater both produce original content in High Definition as do Gallery HD, Ultra HD, and Rush HD. A number of other channels like Monsters HD and Kung Fu HD feature remastered older movies for their content. Although most of these movies probably were not significantly filmed in the High Definition format, the fact that they have the wide screen 16: 9 aspect ratio required for high definition and were filmed in a high resolution so that the images would be maintained on a large screen, makes them ideal for High Definition programming.

We see a potential problem though when people start to talk about remastering old television shows, like Gilligan's Island and Star Trek, to meet High Definition requirements. The fact that they have a lower resolution than High Def requires is not much of a problem- presumably it would be possible to go in and digitally add more detail to the picture on the pixel by pixel level. The problem comes from the fact that all of those old shows had a 4: 3 aspect ratio designed to fit normal standard definition televisions.

It's easy enough to turn a 16: 9 aspect ratio into a 4: 3 aspect ratio. It's done all the time and that's what's meant by the statement you often see when you watch a video cassette of a movie: "This film has been modified from it's original version. When a 16: 9 movie is reformatted, that means that the 16: 9 picture has been compressed so that everything and everyone in the picture appears unnaturally tall and skinny, or the left and right side of the picture have been chopped off so that it will fit on the screen. The latter is more common, although some DVD players will do the former automatically. The other solution is to display the entire 16: 9 picture on the 4: 3 screen and black out the top and the bottom so that it keeps it original format and all the images keep their proper proportions.

The idea that someone might attempt to make a 4: 3 image to fill up a 16: 9 screen is even more troubling. Conceivably it would be possible to digitally stretch the picture horizontally to take up the whole screen, but that would make everything look even more ridiculous than the equivalent process described above. It would also be possible to display the image with 4: 3 proportions on a 16: 9 screen and black out the unused left and right of the screen, but that would defeat the point of High Definition. So why not chop off the top and or the bottom of the 4: 3 image and have what's left over take up the entire 16: 9 screen? This solution is of course unacceptable because it would not allow us to see Gilligan's trademark hat or Mr. Spock's pointy ears!

Fortunately Hollywood was looking out for us. Even though they could not have guessed about the advent of High Definition Television back in the sixties, they were courteous enough to film everything in 16: 9. This practice was maintained all the way through the nineties. As a result all we have to do to get HDTV versions of our old reruns is to go back to the film vaults and remaster the original films. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways, and we can be thankful that Hollywood did not give in to the temptation to film everything on video tape!

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