It’s pretty much a known fact that more pixels on a screen results in a better image. That’s why the dramatic shift from the old standard definition (SD) to high definition (HD) was such a huge event. In 2021, all TV shows are produced for HD, and some even for 4K (which delivers an even better image). Almost all Star Trek shows are available in HD — except for Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Why is that?
If you look at the shows in HD that are available for purchase on Blu-ray or to stream, we have all-new Star Trek shows for Paramount+ and a few select series from the past — The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.
The noticeable gap between TNG and Enterprise is frustrating for millions of DS9 and Voyager fans who’d like to watch their favorite series in HD too. Why then are some Trek shows available in HD but not all?
There are a few reasons. The Original Series was filmed on 35mm film, which made the conversion to HD easy — there are hundreds of services that can do this for anyone. The versions available from Netflix or Paramount+ have also been remastered, which means the color and sound were touched up. The planet and ship visual effects were all completely redone with modern computer graphics.
The same goes for The Animated Series, which was drawn by Filmation and shot on 35mm, which could be upgraded. Star Trek: Enterprise was filmed with 35mm film to start, then digitally for the final season.
This leaves TNG, DS9, and Voyager as the outliers, but only one is available in HD. The Next Generation was upgraded to HD at the cost of $10 million, according to producer and director Roger Lay, Jr., who was a part of the team that worked on this project. Some of those TNG blu-ray discs were released for purchase in 2012; a box set with all episodes was available in 2014.
Lay appeared on an episode of The Inglorious Trexperts podcast and shared how the process of scanning the old TNG film was not easy. It turns out that TNG was shot on 35mm film, but the film was transferred to videotape, which is where the special effects were added.
“There was warping,” Lay told the Trexperts. “When you lined it up and scanned the film, it really doesn’t conform together. We had to stabilize and do all of these things to make the [footage] look great.”
Because of these issues, the upgrading process was long and tedious. In an interview with TrekNews.net, Robert Meyer Burnett, known to many Trek fans for his numerous documentary films about TNG and the comedy Free Enterprise. Burnett told TrekNews that there would never be an HD upgrade project for DS9 or Voyager like there was for TNG because of one reason:
“It takes way too much time and money to remaster DS9 and Voyager into HD,” Burnett said. In the article, Burnett laid out even more technical hurdles that the remastering team had to grapple with to put TNG in high definition. As Lay noted, all the original 35mm footage had to be rescanned, color corrected, and all effects recreated from scratch.
He also said that the sales of the blu-ray sets did not offset the costs of this recreation.
“The disc sales didn’t match projections and continued to suffer as more and more people turned to streaming, where Star Trek was already widely available,” said Burnett. He noted that it would likely cost $20 million to upgrade DS9 and Voyager in today’s dollars.
New Hopes Thanks to a Paramount+ Clip
Over the last few weeks, talk rumbled through the fan community when Paramount released a teaser trailer for their new streaming service. This short video, known as “The Expansion Continues,” showed off all the Trek shows available on Paramount+.
Within this clip package was a scene from the DS9 episode, “Sacrifice of Angels.” Many thought that this meant that Paramount had upgraded the DS9 footage en masse, and the new service would grant fans their wish of DS9 and Voyager in HD.
Unfortunately, that clip was created by Adam “Mojo” Lebowitz and David Clark for the DS9 documentary — What We Left Behind. Paramount used that footage in their clip package and cruelly got some hopes up.
The Movement by Fans to Do the Job
In 2020, I interviewed a few Trek fans taking it upon themselves to do this tedious work of upconverting DS9 and Voyager. Rather than rescanning all the old 35mm film, they are using out-of-the-box film conversion tools to do the job.
Joel Hruska, the Senior Editor of ExtremeTech, said that he’d been experimenting with a product called Topaz Video Enhance AI. He’s posted a number of his upconversions onto YouTube.
“I’d love nothing more than to help start a fan movement that convinced Paramount it was worth it to invest in DS9 the way they invested in TNG,” said Hruska. “I think DS9 did incredible things for Star Trek special effects and deserves to be seen in something other than ‘PotatoVision.’”
I also spoke with Billy Reichard, who created the upconverted Voyager footage (seen below) with a different tool than what Hruska used.
“I have heard from many fans that want to collaborate. I did tell them that I personally won’t be a part of a community project of any kind,” said Reichard. “I’m happy doing it for my own collection only.”
All is not lost. Remember that the fans demanded a show starring Anson Mount as Captain Pike, which is now in production. If the fans demanded Strange New Worlds and got it, couldn’t they demand that Paramount spend the money to upgrade two beloved shows as well?
Look at it this way — if it costs Paramount $8 million an episode to create Star Trek: Discovery, paying $20 million for 176 episodes of Deep Space Nine seems like a bargain.
“DS9 hopefully gets the opportunity to get into high def for streaming services or syndication, but it’s certainly not going to be on DVD or home video that will support that effort,” said Lay.
CORRECTION: We mistakenly said that TOS was filmed on 16mm film. That was a mistake. “The Cage,” the first Trek pilot was thought to be lost, except for a 16mm print which Gene Roddenberry had. Roddenberry did show this original version at small venues and museums. TOS, like TNG and all Trek until Enterprise was filmed on 35mm film.