Saturday, August 29, 2015

Streaming Update (and a Brief Treatise on Crap Home Video Standards)

Hey Dirty Pair fans! All three of you! Guess what?

I just found out something really exciting: It turns out Nozomi Entertainment, one of the rights-holders to the English language version of the Classic Anime Series, has been putting up complete, *subtitled* versions of Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia, Original Dirty Pair and Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy on its official YouTube channel all summer! You may recall that these were among the releases Manga Entertainment chose not to include in subtitled form among its own uploads of the Classic Anime Series, so it's a really big deal to finally get these versions in free, legal streaming form.

The TV show never received an English dub because it was localized on the cheap and only very recently, so this doesn't apply to the Manga Entertainment releases of those episodes,  but this is, to my knowledge at least, the first time folks who prefer to stream their visual media over the Internet have had to watch these later Classic Series Dirty Pair anime productions with the original Japanese language track and English subtitles. I've updated the video embeds on all my posts about those episodes and movies to these new uploads, and I do very much hope you'll consider taking this opportunity to give them a second look. I mean my work is surely rubbish and will make me cringe with embarrassment over a year later, but Dirty Pair itself still holds up!

If you were turned off checking out the OVA Series and movies because of the unavailability of a proper subtitled version through steaming services, I hope you'll go back and watch them now that there is one. And even if you were kind enough to follow along with my coverage of Original Dirty Pair and the film series, I hope you'll still think about giving them one more go-around now that you have the chance to see the original actors' performances. I'm not sure if this applies to the versions that are available on Hulu as well, so I've left that disclaimer on The Ultimate Dirty Pair Episode Guide Master Post, but I can now conclusively say for certain the YouTube versions are subtitled ones.

So what are you waiting for? The very best English language versions of some of the greatest sci-fi or anime ever made is now just out there waiting to be seen in all its glory! You can find a playlist of the OVA Series here and one for the movies here. And if you're for some reason still interested in hearing me go on about Dirty Pair after all that, you can always catch up with my more recent ruminations on the Lovely Angels at this humble side blog of mine. It's sadly been dormant for the past few months because of stupid life reasons (though I thankfully managed to update in time for the 30th Anniversary of the TV series on July 15), but I'm hoping to get back into it in the near future.

Now for the remaining 99% of my audience, I have something for you too.

The high definition restoration of Star Trek: The Next Generation is *finally* available to stream on Netflix! I'll freely admit I sound like a shill for this project, but I really, truly believe in it at a fundamental level. First a little background for those of you who might not know what this actually is, even though I harp on it all the goddamn time. So back in the day when they were making Star Trek: The Next Generation for TV, Paramount decided that because videocassette was obviously the technology of the future (and also because it was very cheap) the series would be *recorded* traditionally (meaning on 35mm film), but *composited* on tape. This means all of the editing and effects shots for the biggest new TV show of 1987 would be done on the utmost pinnacle of crappy 1980s consumer grade home video. This also meant there was a considerable visual downgrade from what the cameras were seeing in the studio to what audiences were seeing at broadcast, but it didn't matter back then because the average home TV set wouldn't have been able to pick up all that extra detail anyway.

The problem with this approach comes in the form of future proofing, or rather a glaring lack thereof. Because television sets got better, or at least good ones eventually became more affordable, this means that Star Trek: The Next Generation was curiously stuck in time: Even as technology moved on, it still looked like it was intended solely to be seen via broadcast TV in 1987, which, OK, it was, but that media climate is somewhat troublingly fleeting. This has the predictable, if unfortunate, side effect that if you happened to be watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in any medium or climate other than broadcast TV in 1987, it happened to look like utter shit.

This became particularly a problem once home video started to become commonplace. Here's what normally happens with stuff shot on film: As I understand it, film has a limitless (or at least very deep) well of potential visual detail and information it can capture, something other media standards don't necessarily have, particularly the ones used for consumer grade home video (and certainly not VHS which is and always was, let's be clear, rather crap). Luckily, as home video technology gets better, it can convey more detail, and so all someone has to do to put out a new release of an old movie or TV show that was shot on film is to go back to the original print and make a new copy or transfer that takes advantage of the improved tech. And because this happens with goodly regularity, the process is fairly streamlined and effortless.

That didn't happen with Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in fact it *couldn't* happen.

Because there was only one print of the show ever made and because of the unusual way it was produced, instead of being able to turn back to a "definitive" film print, every single home video release of Star Trek: The Next Generation had to draw *exclusively* from that one composite job done on *VHS*. That is, the one that was consciously designed to be crap, but good enough for right now ("right now", of course, meaning broadcast TV in 1987). To make matters worse, those involved with producing said home video releases made the unfortunate decision to just outright *copy* the original VHS print: Anyone who's had the experience of trying to copy video tapes for a friend by daisy-chaining VCRs back in the day will have a keen understanding of what happens to a VHS signal after several generations of copying copies (also Roxette FTW).

Yeah, so now imagine that but with Captain Picard instead of Marie Fredriksson. That's what Star Trek: The Next Generation on home video used to look like, *including* the DVD releases from the early 2000s: All they did there was take the Nth Generation shitty VHS transfer and try their best to make it presentable through "digital remastering", which is marketing speak for doing some bullshit with sliders on a video editing computer programme to fuck with different colour balance levels. It's that DVD version that was used in syndication for the past ten years or so *and* on Netflix until, well, right now.

This means that if you were trying to enjoy the adventures of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D in any form other than as they aired on a huge-ass 1980s CRT TV or debatably on the very first LaserDisc release of the show from the early 1990s (LaserDisc having a comparatively higher visual and audio fidelity for standard definition content than VHS provided you set your player and TV up right), they would have in all likelihood looked like utter shit. But thankfully, they don't have to anymore!

In 2012, Paramount released a new high definition Blu-ray release of Star Trek: The Next Generation to tie into the show's 25th Anniversary. They called this a "high definition remaster", which is unbelievably misleading because this was manifestly not a "digital remaster" like I talked about above (and you can't even "remaster" something that isn't audio anyway: That's actually a physical impossibility and I wish people would stop abusing that word): This was nothing short of a brand new print of the entire series done completely from scratch: Because the show was still shot on film, all that filmic detail was still there, even though it was *composited* on VHS. All that was needed was to go back to the original film and make a new print using modern video production methods. The only issue was that given that compositing is where the effects shots were combined with the raw video footage of the actors, every single effects shot in all seven years and all 176 episodes had to be completely re-done.

It was an absolutely mammoth undertaking, but the end result is a Star Trek: The Next Generation that looks jaw-droppingly, breathtakingly beautiful. It also means that the Blu-ray releases are arguably the only place you can see the show as it was "originally envisioned" by its creators. In fact, because of all the VHS shenanigans I'm actually rather adamant that it's actively disingenuous to criticize the aesthetics and look-and-feel of Star Trek: The Next Generation unless you've seen this new print. Of course, given that, until now, this meant ponying up money for an admittedly pricey set of seven Blu-ray box sets, this is something understandably out of reach for those not swimming in disposable income or not insane to the point of being dangerously irresponsible.

But now you don't have to spend a dime more than your Netflix subscription fee, as its these new prints of those episodes that are now available to steam. The Netflix version has been compressed somewhat for Internet streaming when compared to the Blu-ray print so you'll be accepting a minor visual downgrade, but not enough for reasonable people to really give a damn, and the upside is that it looks like Netflix fans get to enjoy further tweaks, revisions and corrections to admitted mistakes that were spotted after the Blu-rays shipped. So now you *really* have no excuse not to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation the way it always should have been seen.

(And if Amazon Prime is more your thing, not to worry: Their version of Star Trek: The Next Generation is the new print too.)

One last treat for Netflix users: LeVar Burton's "other" show, Reading Rainbow, is also now available to stream. There are only a handful of select episodes to choose from right now (and "The Bionic Bunny Show", which visits the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is *not* one of the ones on offer, though it is on iTunes and I believe Amazon Prime), but I'm sure more will be coming soon. My personal pick of the ones available now is "Tar Beach", which is an episode I've always had very vivid and fond memories of. Reading Rainbow, and LeVar Burton's joint position on both it and Star Trek: The Next Generation, is pivotal to the reading I've been building throughout this section of the blog, so I heartily recommend it to any Vaka Rangi reader.

UPDATE 9/6/15: Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture/Dirty Pair: Project Eden is now up in full and subtitled too and I've updated the post for that movie as well. So that's a thing you can watch. I mean, only if you really want to.


  1. Ooh, those're both really good news! When does the Blu-Ray version become available on Netflix? It still looked like the old cruddy one when I watched "The Loss" yesterday...

    1. As far as I know it's available *right now*, though it's rolling out in waves and a handful of episodes haven't been updated yet as of this writing: "The Schizoid Man" is the most glaring omission (because there's a stonking great compositing error in the final shot), but maybe "The Loss" is one of the ones that hasn't been replaced by the HD transfer version yet too?

  2. Wow great news, thanks Josh. Look forwards to looking at the Dirty Pair on YouTube as I'm certainly a part of the 1%.

    Nice news about TNG too, might lead me to restart my Netflix account again.