Star Trek is divided right now. No, I don’t mean the divisions in the fanbase – though you can read my thoughts on that by clicking or tapping here – instead I’m referring to the fact that The Original Series, The Next Generation, Enterprise, all of the films, and all of the new series are in HD, while Deep Space Nine and Voyager aren’t.
Streaming has quickly become the biggest thing in home entertainment, replacing our DVD collections. Even ViacomCBS realised this, and set up their own streaming service. It’s thanks to the existence of CBS All Access, and the need to provide that new platform with original content, that Star Trek has been renewed at all. But before Star Trek found a new digital home, The Original Series and The Next Generation were remastered in high definition and got Blu-ray releases. Blu-ray, in case you didn’t know, is the optical disc format which was supposed to replace DVD a few years ago. Blu-ray discs can store much more digital data – 25GB as opposed to a mere 4.7GB for DVDs – meaning that full HD video content was possible.
The resulting change from DVD-quality video, which had a resolution for digital video of 720×480 pixels, to Blu-ray, which offers a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, meant that older episodes of Star Trek, filmed for television in the 1960s and 1980s-90s, had to be remastered. The remastering process exposed lower-quality special effects, which had to be entirely redone in order to look presentable at the higher resolution offered by Blu-ray. This was especially notable with some of The Next Generation’s early-90s CGI, which had been designed to be broadcast on the smaller screens of that era. Therefore the remastering process was far less straightforward than simply copying all of the broadcast episodes, upscaled, onto Blu-ray discs. Each episode had to be worked on, and new special effects and digital effects created from scratch, adding to the cost of the work.
By the time The Next Generation’s final season released on Blu-ray in 2014, a combination of factors came together to leave sales underwhelming from CBS’ perspective. Firstly there was the move by many consumers to online video streaming. Blu-ray had seemed exciting in the mid-late 2000s when it was new, but as platforms like Netflix gained traction in the 2010s, Blu-ray just never took off in the same way as DVD had a decade prior. Secondly, many people already owned The Next Generation in full either on VHS, DVD, or both. And despite the promise of remastered episodes with all-new digital effects, we were being asked to essentially buy the same product again for a second or third time. This combination of many fans already owning the full series plus Blu-ray and optical media as a whole feeling decidedly “last-gen” in a world of digital streaming meant many folks, myself included, didn’t pick up The Next Generation on Blu-ray.
I certainly felt, in the mid-2010s, that sooner or later Star Trek would join one of these new streaming platforms and that I could simply watch the HD versions at that time. As someone who had been collecting Star Trek on DVD since the early 2000s (when The Original Series came in chunky plastic boxes), I already had the full collection by the time Blu-ray was out – I even had Enterprise, despite that being my least-favourite Star Trek show! The idea of having to re-start my Star Trek collection on a new format just wasn’t something I was keen on, so I waited it out. And, to be fair, the remastered episodes of both The Original Series and The Next Generation are now available for streaming – on CBS All Access in the US, or on Netflix in the rest of the world (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon Prime Video snaps up the international rights now that they also have Star Trek: Picard).
Unfortunately, though, the lack of interest in The Next Generation on Blu-ray has meant that Deep Space Nine and Voyager never made it to the remastering suite. They remain in their original format, in what we’d call “standard definition” or DVD quality. And there’s nothing wrong with that – they are, still, perfectly watchable on DVD or on streaming. But as television screens get larger and better, the difference in quality between a remastered episode of The Next Generation and an episode of Deep Space Nine, unchanged since its early-90s television debut, is incredibly obvious and offputting.
An increasing number of viewers expect HD content nowadays. With some shows – like Netflix’s The Witcher or Amazon Prime Video’s The Grand Tour – being broadcast in 4K resolution, which is one step higher even than Blu-ray, standard/DVD-quality content just doesn’t look good enough for a lot of people, and they don’t enjoy watching it. On a modern 4K television that could easily have a screen size of fifty inches or more, such content looks mediocre at best, and pretty crappy when compared to anything in HD.
ViacomCBS have their own streaming service now – CBS All Access – which is billed as the new home of Star Trek. However, two of those flagship shows, which people remember with fondness from the 1990s, are not up to current standards when it comes to visual quality, and that’s something ViacomCBS should address.
The remastering of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, combined with their permanent home online, would pull in subscribers to CBS All Access. Even fans who haven’t been moved by Discovery or Picard could be convinced to sign up to the platform if it would be the only place to watch their favourite series in HD. And I’m sure many of them would also give Discovery or Picard a try while they were there – it wouldn’t cost anything extra, after all. There would be no need for an expensive Blu-ray release, with the cost of printing thousands of discs and shipping them all over the world no longer necessary. And I’m sure Netflix and/or Amazon Prime would happily snap up the rights to a newly-remastered “classic” of the 1990s. Nostalgia is a big deal in today’s media landscape, after all.
A lot of folks seem to have given up on the idea of ever seeing those series in HD given the move toward online streaming and The Next Generation’s lacklustre performance on Blu-ray, but CBS All Access should be Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s ticket to a full-HD remaster. The Star Trek brand would then be all together, all remastered, all fully in HD ready for new and old fans to join the party. I’m absolutely certain that, in the long run, ViacomCBS would find it worthwhile. What We Left Behind, the recent documentary about Deep Space Nine, included some remastered scenes, and its successful crowdfunding campaign should demonstrate that there is a viable market for such content.
From a branding point of view, it isn’t a great look for CBS All Access to be offering some of its content for its flagship franchise in DVD quality. Netflix doesn’t do that, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t do that, and Disney+ certainly doesn’t do that. CBS All Access is the only paid-for streaming platform in the world right now offering two full seven-season series in low quality, and that’s bad for the brand. It makes it seem like ViacomCBS can’t be bothered to put in the effort; it makes CBS All Access look cheap. And for fans who don’t follow all the ins and outs of Star Trek, it could be an unexpected disappointment: they sign up, log in for the first time, and choose their favourite episode – only to find that it looks poor on their big-screen TV.
So come on ViacomCBS! Remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Bring the final two Star Trek shows into the 2020s and give your own platform a nice little boost in the process.
The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.