Original Star Wars Trilogy and Close Encounters on HD- via Cable or Satellite!

Talk about rare treats. Spielberg and Lucas became notorious for holding their titles from the DVD market until there was a sufficient install base for them to do killer sales numbers on release. This meant it was years into the format until we saw Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. This pattern is holding true on Blu-ray and HD DVD- they're both Lucas and Spielberg free so far.

But there's a big BUT! If you've got the HD package from your local cable company or satellite provider, lately you've been treated to some of S&L's bigget hits. Making the rounds on HBO HD for the last month or so, I've dropped all of the 1990's "revised" versions of the original Star Wars trilogy on my TiVo. And the prequel trilogy- Episodes 1-3- have been running regularly as well. In addition, a couple of months back the director's cut of Close Encounters ran on HDNet Movies, and Jaws has also shown up on Universal HD.

That's not a bad run. The HBO feeds are the the poorest in terms of quality, at least on DirecTV. HBO is notorious for compressing their HD feeds to 12-14Mbps compared to the approximately 20Mbps seen from Showtime HD, Universal HD and HDNet Movies. HBO also has the bad habit of requesting "scope" 2.35:1 widescreen movies to be cropped to 1.78:1 so that there are no black bars on a 16:9 display. Props to Lucas for refusing- all of the Star Wars broadcasts I've seen on HBO have been presented in their 2:35:1 glory. The Star Wars movies look better than their DVD counterparts in color depth and lack of compression artifacts and the like, but they aren't tremendously more detailed like they'd be at higher data rates, or as tremendous they'll be on Blu-ray or HD DVD.

Close Enounters on HDNet Movies looked quite a bit better, more noticeably detailed and striking in that regard at the higher data rate. This isn't perfect compared to what these titles would be on Blu-ray or HD DVD, but it'll tide me over, for a while anyway...

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Chris McGrath's picture

Shane, How are these HD broadcasts created? What is the source material and how is it converted to HD?

Shane's picture

I'm speaking very generally and admitting up front that I'm not as familiar with post production practices as i was a few years ago. But, in the case of the original Star Wars films, Lowry digital remastered them from film at 4k x 2k resolution, which is approximately twice the resolution of current 1920x1080 HD. Rather than working on the analog film elements, Lowry does all of the restoration and clean up in the digital domain. The HD and standard-def DVD versions are downconverted from those restored hi-res digital masters. The new Star Wars prequel films (at least Clones and Sith) were shot on digital HD cameras at 1920x1080 and are direct digital transfers. Close Encounters was probably transferred from film to HD digital video at 1920x1080. I know that's generic, but there you go.

Chris McGrath's picture

So do the cable channels (HBO etc.) have the Lowry 4k masters and then down-convert them or do the channels have access to a 1920X1080 copy that isn't available to the public? In essence, does HBO get a blu-HD disc before the public?

Shane's picture

Chris- No, my understanding is that the studios supply the 1920x1080 masters to HBO and the other cable/satellite providers. In the case of Star Wars, they're already down-converted.

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