Star Trek: The Next Generation Collector's Edition Page 1

Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Denise Crosby. Aspect ratio: 4:3. Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English). 48 discs. 132 hours. 1987–1994. Paramount Home Video. NR. $139.99 per season.

All Star Trek fans worth their dilithium know that, of all the series spun from Gene Roddenberry's creative vision of the future, The Next Generation is probably the best. Yes, it got off to a rocky start; like many fans, I was very disappointed in the first few episodes. But over a total of seven seasons, the show matured into a fine series of stories from the 24th century, when humanity has learned tolerance and respect for all sentient individuals, eliminated poverty, and founded the United Federation of Planets.

As a fairly hard-core trekkie (an appellation I don't mind, but to which other fans often object, preferring "trekker"), I was thrilled when Paramount announced they would be releasing a DVD collection of The Next Generation (or TNG, as it is affectionately known in fandom). They decided to package each season as a separate collector's set and release them one at a time, every two months or so, over the course of 2002. Now that all seven seasons are available, I can report that, for the most part, it was well worth the wait.

Each season includes seven discs (except Season 2, which has six), and each disc (except the last disc in each set) contains four episodes that last about 45 minutes each without commercials. The last disc in each set includes two episodes, in addition to lots of documentary bonus materials that should satisfy even the geekiest fan. For example, the tribute to Gene Roddenberry, who died during the fifth season, ends with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard doing a song and dance with straw hat and cane on the Enterprise bridge.

When we received the first three seasons, I watched a couple of episodes with SGHT editor Tom Norton on his megasystem, which then included a Terenex video processor and a Reference Imaging CinePro 9X CRT projector firing onto a Stewart StudioTek 130 screen (16:9, 78 inches wide). We played the disc on a Pioneer DV-737, and the Terenex was set to scale the image to 720p/60. I insisted that we watch in a 4:3 windowbox to see the program as the producers intended.

We saw some slight edge enhancement, which was visible only during some scenes, particularly on the edges of uniforms. Despite this, some segments were noticeably soft, especially outdoor scenes; we found that switching to 1080i/60 was better, and 1080p/24 was the sharpest of all. More troublesome were the obvious shimmering artifacts in any bright blue areas of the Enterprise exterior, such as the main deflector and warp nacelles; this also affected the blue text in the opening and closing credits.

Fortunately, these problems largely vanished on my systems at home. I couldn't do much watching on my main theater system, which includes a Loewe Aconda 38-inch widescreen HDTV and Panasonic DVD-RP56 progressive player. This is a great system for widescreen movies, but the Loewe can't apply its 4:3 aspect ratio to the component input, and the Panasonic DVD player can't compensate for this shortcoming. As a result, 4:3 images are stretched to fill the 16:9 screen, making everything look distorted. I did watch enough to reveal that the problems we saw on TJN's system were not evident here.

I did most of my watching on my bedroom system, which includes a Panasonic 32-inch analog TV (with a component input) and a Panasonic interlaced DVD player. Again, the problems noted on TJN's system were mostly absent. Of course, there were some interlacing artifacts, but no more than in broadcast television. Flesh tones were natural and colors were rich and well-saturated. The edge enhancement TJN and I had seen was obscured in this case, which is more representative of the typical system on which these DVDs will be enjoyed.

Overall, the sound is quite good, with excellent dialogue intelligibility. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack spreads the music to the rear channels, and speeding starships whoosh through the surround soundfield reasonably convincingly, but the dialogue remains fixed in the center, even for characters off to one side. I did detect some high-frequency emphasis, especially in the occasionally prominent dialogue sibilants.

It's wonderful to watch these episodes in their original, uncut form; the dramatic flow is much better than the versions seen on TV today, in which every extraneous moment has been excised to leave more room for commercials. Speaking of which, it took me a while to stop reaching for the remote at commercial breaks, which are only momentary pauses on the DVDs.

This collection is a must-have for all trekkies (and trekkers) who have the resources to afford it—and at $100 per season (street price), they'll need a lot of latinum. Still, that should matter little to true devotees, who will pay any price to be transported to the Enterprise, where humans live in harmony with each other and myriad other species while defending the Federation from any who would threaten it. This DVD collection definitely makes it a trip worth taking, so if you'll excuse me, I have a date with Deanna Troi on the holodeck.—Scott Wilkinson