H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng


Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng












Star Trek The Original Series - The Complete First Season (Combo HD DVD and Standard DVD)

(various directors, 1966)


Paramount (USA)

1.78:1 (pillarboxed 1.33:1) 1080p (HD)/1.33:1 480p (SD)

1475 minutes



HD--Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, DD Plus 2.0 surround English,

DD Plus 2.0 mono Spanish

SD--DD 5.1 English, DD 2.0 mono Spanish, DD 2.0 mono French



HD--Optional English SDH and Spanish

SD--Optional Spanish and French


Extras: Starfleet Access; Interactive Enterprise Inspection; Spacelift: Transporting Trek Into the 21st Century; Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories; Star Trek Online game preview; Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier; The Birth of a Timeless Legacy; To Boldy Go...Season 1; Reflections on Spock; Sci-fi Visionaries; Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner; Kiss 'N' Tell: Romance in the 24 th Century; Trek Connections; original episode previews.




Released: November 20th, 2007

Custom HD DVD case

250 chapters in total


As some of you know, I used to work for StarTrek.com.  Therefore, I’m always excited when Paramount Home Entertainment upgrades its presentations of the five Star Trek TV series and ten movies.  While I wait for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Star Trek: Nemesis to hit HD DVD, I have Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1 in my hands.


Paramount originally released Star Trek: TOS on forty individual DVDs with two episodes each.  The studio shifted gears with Star Trek: The Next Generation, choosing to go with complete-season box sets.  Eventually, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager followed suit, with TOS re-mastered into season box sets, too.  Star Trek: Enterprise showed up as complete-season box sets towards the end of its TV run.



In TOS, which began in 1966 and ended in 1969, Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) commands the Enterprise, a starship exploring the galaxy.  Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is Kirk´s half-Vulcan/half-human second-in-command.  (Vulcans are a people who devote their lives to using pure logic.)  Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is the cantankerous doctor who’s always protesting that he’s a doctor and not something else (“I’m a doctor, not an engineer!”).  Rounding out the cast are James Doohan as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, George Takei as Hikaru Sulu, and Nichelle Nichols as communications officer Nyota Uhura.  Grace Lee Whitney played Yeoman Janice Rand for a year, and Walter Koenig joined the cast as Ensign Pavel Chekov in Year Two.

With Season 1, we already have some pretty good episodes.  The most notable one is probably “Space Seed”, which features Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) and was the inspiration for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  When discussing TOS, everyone talks about “City on the Edge of Forever”, which is also a Season-1 outing.  As a fan of the Romulans, I really enjoyed “Balance of Terror”, an episode that introduced viewers to the genetic relationship between Romulans and Vulcans as well as the Romulans’ cloaking device.  Of course, Star Trek is known for its optimistic vision of the future, and that’s on display here with the Enterprise being piloted by an Asian and with Spock representing the harmony that should exist between all intelligent beings.




However, there’s something very troubling about TOS.  While it’s true that there is a black woman on the bridge, she wears the same go-go boots and short-short miniskirts that every other woman wears on the show.  Uhura is usually dismissed as background static, and all the other women are treated rather badly on a steady basis.  In doing research for a paper for my History of TV graduate course, I came across material that suggests that Gene Roddenberry was directly responsible for all the sexist elements in the franchise.  This is evident as late as the late-1980s with TNG Season 1, when Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) engaged in a catfight with a black woman for the favors of a black man, when Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) wore go-go boots and short-short miniskirts, and when everyone treated the female doctor as background static.  Roddenberry’s idea of gender equality was to put men in short-short miniskirts, too.  If you don’t believe me, then re-watch “Encounter at Farpoint”.


The previous TOS S1 SD DVD box set offers four episodes per disc (Disc 8 has one episode).  The new HD DVD/SD DVD combo box set has three episodes per disc (Disc 10 has two episodes).  The original film elements were restored and re-mastered, so the episodes look much cleaner than ever.  New computer-generated visuals replace the 1960s’ use of practical effects such as matte paintings, plastic model ships, and optical effects.  Much of what the characters see on the viewscreen was also changed.  Thus, you no longer see poor quality stock shots and gaffes such as Scotty using a phaser gun that doesn’t shoot a phaser.  The new computer effects are surprisingly not intrusive at all and maintain the spirit of the show’s original aesthetics.  The opening theme was re-recorded with today’s audio technology, and Shatner’s opening monologue was re-mastered.



As HD DVD uses the 1.78:1 aspect ratio for its native frame dimensions, it’s my understanding that 1.33:1 programs such as Star Trek: TOS and Casablanca are simply pillarboxed within a 1.78:1 rectangle.  This isn’t the same as having the HD DVD player generate black bars on the sides for 1.33:1 or non-anamorphic SD DVDs.  (For TOS S1, this explains how the picture can expand to the full width of a 16x9 display for a split-screen effect when an episode continues playing on the left-hand side while the right-hand side shows video footage generated by the HD DVD’s interactive video stream.)  The video encode is 1080p AVC.


With the new transfers, some shots now have a little more information on the top, the bottom, or the sides.  On the whole, you’ll see a marked improvement compared to the previous SD DVD releases.  The most-noticeable differences are the colors, which are now very saturated.  The strong hues and high-def’s resolution emphasize details such as make-up (particularly during close-ups, to the point where Shatner and Nimoy sometimes look like drag queens!).  You’ll also notice just how high and revealing those short-short miniskirts are; I was astonished to see that Nichelle Nichols and Grace Lee Whitney wore costumes that were little more than the swimsuits with skirts from the early 20th Century.


On the downside, the film prints aren’t entirely free of damage or debris.  The use of soft focus and spotlights make some faces look like they’re melting (usually the women to make them “glow”), and this approach to filming is made very apparent because of the sharp contrast between regular focus and soft focus as revealed by high-def video.  Some backgrounds also yield blobbing/blocking.


--SD DVD sides--

The SD DVD sides are native 1.33:1 encodes of the re-mastered episodes with new computer effects.  My comments about the HD DVD transfers apply to the SD DVD sides, though expectations should be reduced as the SD DVD sides are only 480p.  The only way to get the broadcast versions of these episodes is to buy the previous SD DVD box sets or forty individual SD DVDs.


Title Sequence


(Original Boxset release - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. SD from the HD First Season Combo Boxset BOTTOM)



(Original Boxset release - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. SD from the HD First Season Combo Boxset BOTTOM)



(Original Boxset release - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. SD from the HD First Season Combo Boxset BOTTOM)


I wasn't able to get an exact frame match but the HD capture below indicate the superior colors, contrast and lack of digital artifacts.


(Original Boxset release - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. SD from the HD First Season Combo Boxset BOTTOM)



(Original Boxset release - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. SD from the HD First Season Combo Boxset BOTTOM)



Packaging comparisons (Original Boxset vs. HD)


(CLICK to enlarge)




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HD Captures (Timeline bar is non-removable in 'pause' mode)



Grain is noticeable in close-ups... (too much quadrazine!)





Resolution can be so strong that makeup is visible at times.









"Trania - I hope you relish it as much as I..."




The new primary audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English.  The re-recorded theme song sounds much better than the other music and sound effects that weren’t updated.  This is due to the improved dynamic range of today’s audio technology.  The Enterprise’s whooshes from the front of the viewer off to the back sides will cause many heads to turn.  Shatner’s monologue also sounds more commanding and robust than ever.


The remainder is impressive for a 1960s TV show--clean and intelligible, but bear in mind that the audio was originally mixed in mono.  Therefore, some bass response is still rather hollow, and some music cues sound wobbly.




You can also watch the show with DD Plus 2.0 surround English tracks and DD Plus 2.0 mono Spanish dubs.  Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles support the audio.


--SD DVD sides--

The primary audio is DD 5.1 English, a reduced version of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  You can also watch the show with DD 2.0 mono Spanish and DD 2.0 mono French.  Optional Spanish and French subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.



The new extras:

“Starfleet Access”

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “The Menagerie, Part 1”, “The Menagerie, Part 2”, “Balance of Terror”, “The Galileo Seven”, “Space Seed”, and “Errand of Mercy” all have HD-DVD interactive features.  These are similar to Universal’s U-Control features.  Some are simple graphics and text displays with information about what’s happening in an episode, but some are video clips with a wide variety of people talking about trivia or their personal involvement.  When you activate “Starfleet Access”, the episode shifts to the left side of the screen so that the interactive bonuses can be displayed on the right side of the screen.


“Interactive Enterprise Inspection” allows you to “pilot” a shuttlecraft and explore the outside of the Enterprise.


“Spacelift: Transporting Trek Into the 21st Century” reveals how the show was prepped for its new high-def cable broadcasts and HD DVD.


“Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories" is a collection of footage that actor Billy Blackburn shot while he was on the set. The footage has been edited with interviews with Billy Blackburn talking about his experiences.


The “Star Trek Online” game preview gives you a taste of taking the franchise into the MMO world.




--SD DVD sides--

The new extras:

The SD DVD sides don’t have the HD-DVD interactive features, though they also have “Spacelift: Transporting Trek Into the 21st Century”, “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest”, and the “Star Trek Online” game preview.


You also get “Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier”, a 1.5-hour documentary about the months-long process of cataloguing costumes and props for a Christie’s auction.


The extras ported from the previous box set:

“The Birth of a Timeless Legacy” looks at how the show was created.  “To Boldy Go...Season 1” looks at some of the best episodes of the show’s first year.  “Reflections on Spock” offers video clips of Leonard Nimoy talking about his character.  “Sci-fi Visionaries” reflects on the balance of science and drama that was needed to keep viewers interested while maintaining credibility.  “Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner” focuses on Shatner’s love of horses.


The extras that were on the Best-Buy-exclusive bonus disc:

“Kiss ’N’ Tell: Romance in the 24th Century” tracks some of the many romantic encounters involving the lead performers of TOS.


Trek Connections” is a connect-the-actors game.


Finally, you can watch the original episode previews (i.e. “Next week on Star Trek” commercials).


What’s been lost from the previous box set:

You no longer have the Photo Log and the four Easter Eggs.



The discs are held in square plastic trays that are bound together like the pages of a book.  The tray-book is enclosed within a cardboard slipcase.  Instead of a booklet, you get five plastic cards that provide information about the discs’ contents.  Everything is housed inside a plastic shell with a front that has to be pulled forward to open the case.


There’s also a coupon that can be used to redeem a phaser-style remote control for your HD DVD player--provided that you buy an HD DVD player and the box set sometime between 20 November 2007 and 29 February 2008.




My conclusion may surprise you--this is NOT a must-buy, even if you like Star Trek.  This new box set is only for completists...the previous box set is good enough for 90% of fans, especially if you’re a purist at heart.


Due to the heavy use of soft focus and spotlights, many shots look very soft.  Therefore, if you use this to demo your HDTV, then your friends may think that there’s nothing special about any high-def (HD DVD/Blu-ray/cable/satellite/etc.).  The new extras frequently repeat what we’ve seen/read/heard elsewhere.  The HD DVD menus are way too busy, un-clear, clumsy, and counter-intuitive for their own good.  There aren’t any chapter menus, so you’ll have to jump around blindly.  Finally, you don’t get the original mono English mixes.


Paramount and CBS (which owns Star Trek after Viacom split into two companies) should’ve started with restoring the feature films or releasing ENT (which was post-produced in high-def from the beginning).  Things will only get worse with TNG, DS9, and VOY.  Those three series were post-produced completely in 480i video.  Unless they go back to the film shooting elements (which were NOT used for post-production, unlike TOS), then those three series will never look any better than they do now on SD DVD.

-Yunda Eddie Feng


(NOTE: Ed. My $.02 - I think Eddie may have had too much Saurian Brandy (or not enough?). I've only seen about half the set so far - it all looks vastly superior to the old SD - as Eddie correctly indicates. Some of the episodes don't look especially strong for HD quality but others look marvelous - it's kind of hit and miss. There are incredible moments of clarity that strongly benefit the show's presentation. The new bells and whistles are not intrusive at all - purists need not be overly deterred.  I found that watching in HD is close to discovering the series all over again. It's my opinion that if you have HD - or only SD at present - and are a Trek fan - then this makes a monumental addition to your DVD library. - Gary Tooze)








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