DVD to Blu-Ray: remastering, reschmastering !

I’ve seen many go ape shit over the entire Blu-Ray phenom, and I still think it is overly exaggerated in the sense of quality.  You must be very careful and wise when opting for a Blu-ray purchase or upgrade.

Recently, I played a DVD on a 1080p screen, and it just looked amazing.  I could have sworn it was a blu-ray!

First off, you need to be able to see the difference on a decent quality flat screen- be it plasma, LCD or LED.  I personally find LED tv’s too damn bright and annoying in a dark theater-like settings.

Let’s start with the audio.  Home theater buffs claim that blu-rays sound better due to lack of compression in the audio tracks.  Compression is basically crunching data to save on space, and it theoretically is supposed to lower the quality.  With DVDs, this was crucial due to size restraints in the format, but the engineers still managed to make it all sound amazing on any average system.  To actually hear the difference in a non-compressed audio track on a blu-ray, you will need a really beefed up audiophile system (not the ones you find scattered in your local chain store!) that will run you more dough than that  shiny little sedan sitting in your driveway.  Real smart, right?  But remember, for years DVDs  also sounded amazing on those beefed-up audio systems too, so, at the end of it all, you still had an amazing movie experience right in your own living room.

So now, what this “new” Blu-Ray technology claims to do is get rid of is that unwanted  audio compression made famous from that old DVD technology that sounds so bad and under par and takes up way too much space.  One other little tad to consider: if a mastering house is reputable, they will not compress the audio to a point that will sound shitty or below their reputable standards in audio quality (ever heard of THX…).  So, what I’m trying to stress is that the art of compression is actually pretty damn good and has always been pretty damn good on most levels and can manage to fool just about anybody in the level of audio quality.  The older you get, the worse your hearing gets anyway, so why the fuss.  (NO- I AM NOT SCREAMING!)

Are you confused yet?

Most classic movies, even if remastered, were mainly made using the technology that was available in their time.  By the time DVDs replaced video and laserdiscs in the 90’s, they pretty much nailed the ceiling on the quality of audio in films made before the 80’s, so what are you really paying for???

The top of the box reads: “Remastered Edition”

You are essentially paying for a gimmick that is digging deep into your pocket: “Remastering”  Remastering is when you take another crack at the mastering process: the part of production when a mastering engineer sits for hours at a time and tweaks and filters the audio and the video submitted by the production house for maximized optimization before it lands in your hands at the store or on your hard drive.  Remastering can occur generation after generation.  They once asked Woody Allen and other great directors if they ever liked to watch their movies after making them, and they all concluded that they hated to watch them because they will constantly keep making changes to them because, in their eyes, they will never be perfect.  So, you see, remastering can be a bit of a disease that can deceive movie maniacs and theater buffs in their quest for that absolute perfect copy.

But are they really perfecting the movie, or are you just getting that impression….  well guess what? …. you are!  Since more and more people have been using personal media playing devices like ipods, there is a greater demand for loudness (aka volume) when using earbuds, so what do these mastering houses do?  They go in a studio and play with the audio signal (they actually compress it more) and release a “remastered” version that will tend to sound “better” (louder) on your portable player.  Louder might help you in a noisy area during your commute, but it is essentially meaningless in the home theater when you have a 1000 watt receiver and a six speakers.  Just crank up the volume and you can hear the magnificent quality that went in to that “old” mastered version.

Next, the video part. 

In the video end of it, remastering holds more true to the cause.  Here, you have greater room for improvement with the growing digital technology in watching movies.  But here’s the catch: if a remastering house takes an old movie and makes a noticeable improvement in the quality, can it be harnessed into a DVD as well as a blu-ray?  The answer is a big YES!  With compression, you can fit it all on a dual layer DVD.  Now remember, a dual layer DVD is capable of holding 9-10 gigabytes of information.  That is a lot of room when you want to work with an old 50’s black and white movie or a panoramic Hollywood widescreen epic.  So, if your DVD was remastered a within the last 10 years, I don’t think you have to worry about looks or sounds when thinking of getting rid of it to move forward in quality.  It is also truly a shame how much DVDs are worth these days in a trade-in: 10-25 cents !!!!!!!!  That is an outrage!  It is pratically worth as much as that can of soda or bottle with a 5 cent recycling deposit…

I’ve seen many new blu-ray releases getting crappy reviews in picture quality and sound.  You gotta remember that this same phenomenon occurred back in the day when VHS was on its way out and DVDs first came to surface.  When DVDs were hot, a lot of “new” releases were actually taken off recently remastered laserdiscs and VHS mastered copies.  So you were getting the same quality from the same source.  The only advantage was the size of the 5″ DVD disk as opposed to what the previous technologies had to offer.

So what did we learn from all this?

We are stuck in a digital age.  That pretty much lowers the window in the science of improving or remastering older movies and music.  You can’t beat a dead horse, but you can get a lot for your dollar these days too, so you must make a wise decision if you want to preserve your media collection.  There’s nothing wrong with those DVDs on your shelf collecting dust, so when they decide to “remaster” one of your favorite titles for a blu-ray release, remember that you are still getting a 5″ disk that merely contains a file that is read by a computer.  A file that still looks fucking great through an HDMI cable, whichjust so happens to be a digital signal just like the “old” component cable that is arguably the same damn quality.  Save your money and enjoy a nice dinner with some loved ones and I won’t say I told you so.

A very helpful tool is a really cool website www.blu-ray.com that is dedicated to reviewing every blu-ray release by judging quality and not just artistic content.  Here, you get the best of both worlds from reviewers, and very important when you are thinking about the dreaded upgrade to “high definition.”

By the time you read this, the prices will continue to drop on blu-ray releases….  go figure!

                                      Taken at a website retailer- Celine Dion live for 10 cents!

Good Luck!

Written by DJ RIO

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