Back in September 2006 CBS commemorated the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek by going back to the original film and digitally remastering the series for the HD era, cleaning up the images and adding new CGI special effects. Previous HD-DVD & DVD releases were available with only the new. But now thanks to the benefits of Blu-ray, fans have a choice (original or CGI), and can see Trek in 1080p.
Season One of Star Trek holds many favorite episodes, a classic commander versus commander in deep space battle in The "Balance of Terror," the tour de force of acting seen in "The Devil in the Dark," we see Kirk’s word put to the test in "Court Martial," and more. And now, finally, we can see it in HD, with the choice of ‘seamless branching’ between the original effects, or the new digital effects.
Review: Star Trek: The Original Series – Season One Blu-ray Boxed Set
[note: all images in review can be expanded by clicking on them]
Thank you CBS/Paramount! Gone is the clunky clear acrylic box of the DVD sets. Not only is it in keeping with how other Blu-ray boxed sets have been packaged it is also much more environmentally friendly, using far less plastic. This is the same type of packaging other studios have been using, such as with Warner and their recent ultimate Blade Runner release.
One little annoyance about the new packaging is that there isn’t an insert that lists the episode titles, all the papers seen in the picture above are advertisements. The episode listing is actually on the reverse side of the cover art inset. Since the Blu-ray case is translucent you can see through it to the printed list of episodes, of course disc 7 is in the way of the 2nd half of the list, so it’s a slight inconvenience.
Navigation and Options
Once again CBS took this new release as an opportunity to improve upon the past releases. The rather clunky menu system from the DVD releases has been scrapped and a brand new menu system that uses the motif of being on the bridge and looking at the viewscreen to engage the episodes and choose options. There are four options to the left by blinking colored lights:
- Episodes (selecting an episode lets you choose which version to watch)
- Starfleet Access (the picture-in-picture commentary version of an episode)
- Additional Data (any extras on the disc as well as the classic previews for the episodes are here)
- Communications (chooses which soundtrack/language you’d like and controls over subtitles)
A small scanner screen pops up on the right which shows you the options. The viewscreen flashes by with the specs of the Enterprise and snippets of the episodes on the disc while the console lights up.
TIP: You can always toggle between the Remastered and Original Effects by using the angle button on your remote (if it has one) or by bringing up the interactive pop-up menu while the episode plays and toggle it with the little film camera icon.
Unlike the older menu system you don’t have to choose an episode first and then arrow through a cumbersome groups of options. On the HD DVD release if an episode had the Starfleet Access option you’d have to move through lots of options and toggle it on and then go back and hit play. Here when you choose Starfleet Access is simply lists the episode(s) on the disc that have the feature available, selecting the title launches it with the commentary. If you choose it from the normal Episodes menu then it plays without commentary, much more straightforward!
The Video Transfer
As we’ve raved about before in our TOS-R reviews, the original live-action filmed content is incredible. Star Trekwas one of NBC’s front runner TV series used to show off the benefits on color television, and it really shows here — the vibrancy of the colors, there is a ton of detail that can be seen in the fabrics, sets, and faces.
Tech. Specs: CBS gave the Blu-ray release a brand new video encode at 1080p, compressed with VC-1, with pillar boxing to preserve the original 4:3 aspect ratio.
Now to the question on everyone’s mind, how do the original special effects hold up? As one might guess, it really depends on the shot. The “planet of the week” shot which was constantly being optically reproduced in different tints is pretty bad. The other special effects that were shot specifically for an episode can be better. The matte lines and other optical garbage that ended up in the shot are blatantly obvious at 1080p when they occur. This release makes it clear why CBS chose to create the new digital effects for the shows transfer to HD, however it is still great to see the original effects in HD and they should be appreciated by the ‘purist’ fans.
…but this comparison (original on left and new digital version on right) shows that even the original iconic matte paintings hold up well to 1080p
For the curious here is what the DVD of TOS-R looks like upscaled to 1080p. Notice the blurier details in the background, Mike and Denise Okuda and the others further back are pretty clear in the HD version above, while in the SD version they are harder to make out.
CBS has an amazing job with the sound on the Blu-ray set. It’s quite a testament to the technology we have today that these discs sound as good as they do. Audio is much harder to restore and squeeze extra clarity from as compared to film (which has lots of rich detail that can be recovered). The audio is stored as DTS-HD Master Audio which is a lossless compression (think of it like a ZIP file for the audio), which means this is as good as it will get. It sounds just like it sounded in the sound engineers booth when they made the Blu-ray discs. The audio is amazingly clear, with dialogue well prioritized, it is never drowned out by other sound effects. Another well designed touch is the sense of ambiance mixed into the surround channels. When on the bridge you are engulfed in the sounds of ship. As mentioned before, this is well done and can be rather subtle so it never detracts from the dialogue.
One of my favorite episodes, and a great test of classic Trek audio, is
"Balance of Terror." The clear metaphor of submarine warfare is continued in the audio cues. It also includes portions of most of the common orchestral themes that were used in season 1. Music is mixed in nicely and envelops the viewer when it is fitting to do so. The handling of the proximity phasers is one that has been tweaked throughout the life span of Trek on DVD. In the first Star Trek DVD release (the one with 2 episodes per volume) the sound mix had an aggressive low rumble as the proximity phasers exploded in a depth charge like way. When I got the first season of TOS-R on HD DVD/DVD I was disappointed that the phaser charge now had nearly zero LFE (low frequency effect) use. This new mix has a brief low rumble as the charges go off, which is more fitting to the new CG effect.
This Remastered set contains many of the excellent interviews and features from the previous DVD sets, with the exception of the “Red Shirt Logs” easter eggs. It also has the original previews aired on NBC in the ’60s for each episode. There are even more than we discuss here, you can see a full list of the features in our press release article.
Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest
Like the HD DVD version before it, disk 7 contains a featurette based on home movies made by Star Trek background actor Billy Blackburn. Blackburn narrates over clips from the show, as well as his own home movies shot on location and on the sound stage. This special feature alone is why the newer TOS-R sets are really worth considering.
Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century
Disc 1 includes Spacelift, which is documentary that we’ve seen much of in STARTREK.COM video clips when TOS-R first was brought to syndication. The crew of CBS and CBS Digital wax poetic about TOS and their project. It is in widescreen and you can see a few seconds of the widescreen CG shots CBS Digital made in case of widescreen versions (This documentary was also shown at the “The Menagerie” screenings held in late 2007).
Blu-ray can mix two video feeds at once, on episodes that are listed under Starfleet Access a running commentary starts in the lower right hand corner of the screen. It will come and go as scenes come up that have commentary associated with it.
BD Live – Online Extras
BD Live is an optional component to Blu-ray that allows for extra content and interactive features to be downloaded or streamed over a high-speed Internet connection. You must have a BD Live (also called Profile 2.0) player and the requisite 1GB (or more) of flash memory connected to your player for download space. Most BD Live extras from the movie studios have been underwhelming to say the least, usually it is simply a portal for the movie studio to pitch more DVDs, Blu-ray discs and upcoming theatrical releases to you from the comfort of your remote. Slowly the movies studios have started to branch out and actually provide bonus content of real value. For example Warner Bros. The Dark Knight had a live chat with director Christopher Nolan and DreamWorks Animation added a bunch of featurettes available for Kung Fu Panda. The good news is that CBS is heading in the right direction with their TOS portal.
The Star Trek client is only 4MB and took less than 2 minutes to download, and then about 2 more to load up the Java environment on my Panasonic BD35 player. It loads an interface that has a menu to choose from various categories:
- Cast – Quick biographies of the cast
- Creative Staff – Quick biographies of the producers, etc.
- Characters – Quick biographies of the characters.
- Database – Text-only alphabetical order descriptions of various sub-categories: Aliens, Ships, Technology, Medicine and Science, and Places
- Photo Galleries – A few low resolution photos of aliens and the crew from season one
- Extra Videos – This is the good stuff, there are 3 videos up at the time of the writing. Filming the Galaxy with Bob Justman, Sounds of Star Trek with D.C. Fontana, and Saving the Show with D.C. Fontana. As you can figure out from the titles, these are extra behind the scenes featurettes. Each runs about 2 minutes and can be downloaded in so called “SD” (~20MB) or “HD” (~50MB) quality. I tested both quality levels, go for the HD version.
Even More Extras
On disc 6 you can find the Interactive Enterprise Tour which is fun, but is only about 10 minutes worth of content; it consists of pre-rendered paths with a navigational control that pops up to pick locations along with a voice tour that explains what each area does. You are shown pre-rendered graphics of a shuttlecraft leaving the hanger bay (you are supposed to be in it), you are then shown around the Enterprise to view key features such as the Impulse Engines, Warp Engines, Shuttlecraft Hanger Desk & Control Room, the Ion Pod, Equipment Bay Doors, a view of the Bridge Dome, Phaser and Photon Torpedo area with a fun little ‘launch torpedo’ button, and the Main Sensor/Navigational Deflector (check out the little maintenance guy in a space suit).
There are two “easter eggs” in the set, both are little extras about TOS-R. They aren’t hard to miss. On both discs the red button has no text next to it, arrow over and select the red button anyway. On disc 2 is a TOS-R “sizzle reel” a best-of CBS Digital’s CG work, in a huge bummer, the reel is only standard definition, as I recall this reel has been available on web for a while. On disc 5 is a TOS-R preview, this is the goofy “Remixed, Remastered, Re-energized…” advertisement that we covered a while back presented here in 1080p. Thanks to our friend Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits for pointing these out!
Lastly, Disc 1 starts with the first version of the trailer for the new Star Trek (2009) movie.
This is basically the ultimate edition of a beloved classic, whether you’re a purist or like the new CG. The remastered series was meant to be seen in HD and looks it. Both the audio and video are fantastic. If you waited, like I did, for the inevitable Blu-ray release of TOS-R, we got a treat because it includes both versions for a complete collection. You’ll love how gorgeous Star Trek can look and how awesome it can sound (proper surround sound and subwoofer required!).
If you’re happy with how the standard definition sets look upscaled from standard DVD, well then I’d say stick with it for now, but I would think about putting the Blu-ray edition on a birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. list and start to replace them with the high definition (and more complete) versions. Also Trek fans with HDTVs should bear in mind that there are a number of additional Blu-ray titles coming out this spring and later in the fall/winter.
The hardest call is for those who bought the HD DVD / DVD hybrid set for Season One and a HD DVD player. There really isn’t enough here to justify the ‘double HD dip’ unless you are converting your library over to solely Blu-ray.
The Star Trek Original Series Season One on Blu-ray comes out April 28th. You can pre-order it now at Amazon.
Amazon pre-order: $72.99 [discounted $129.99]
Coming up Next: TOS movies Blu-ray set
The next Star Trek release is the Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection coming out May 12th. The set contains each of the TOS era feature films in HD with many new special features, including new audio commentaries and new featurettes. There is also a seventh bonus disk called Star Trek Summit,’ which is a new 70-minute roundtable featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes, moderated by Whoopi Goldberg. Look for that review in a couple of weeks.
Amazon pre-order $93.99 [discounted from $139.99]
Here is a preview of the ‘Star Trek Summit’ special feature, which comes on an extra disk.
More upcoming Star Trek DVD and Blu-ray titles…
Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy [Blu Ray & DVD – May 12]
Best Of Star Trek – TOS & TNG [DVD – May 12]