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Terrible picture quality. An open letter to the bigwigs.


JimmyD123
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First off let me say that I adore TCM. For movie fans there's nothing else like it around and without it all of our lives would be a little bit emptier. The content, guests, and of course Mr. Osborne are second to none.

 

That being said, the picture quality on many, if not most, of the HD broadcasts make the channel nearly unwatchable. And I'm not talking about the fact that these are mostly old movies that were of poor quality to begin with, I'm talking about the fact that TCM seems incapable of broadcasting in HD. Everything looks to be upconverted from SD (and poor SD at that) and just looks terrible.

 

Last night TCM aired Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I've probably seen this film one hundred times and didn't feel like watching it again. So I just DVR'd it to hear Mr. Osborne's intro and outro and to see how the picture quality would be (as this is an issue I'm often peeved about). As usual Mr. Osborne was wonderful and the picture quality was terrible. I actually already had this film on my DVR from when it aired on Encore a few months back so I was able to compare them.

 

The Encore broadcast looks like a Blu-ray of a film that was made in the last decade or so, not 35 years ago. The picture is sharp and bright, the colors are rich and vivid and it looks exactly like what you'd find on any movie playing on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc. The TCM broadcast looks like the source material was VHS tape. And not just VHS tape, but a copy, of a copy, of a copy of a VHS tape.

 

The same can be said of Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Pretty Woman, and tons of other MODERN movies that are available in 1080p at any Best Buy, but look like they're being played through cheesecloth when they air on TCM.

 

Even the studio segments where Mr. Osborne or Mr. Mankiewicz give us all the juicy behind the scenes info or interview a guest are not filmed/presented in HD. Why? You can't even buy a camera or a TV these days that isn't HD so why is a channel as esteemed as TCM not comforming to broadcasting norms. And why are they faking the audio output as AC3 (5.1) for EVERYTHING on the channel. Even silent movies that air on TCM carry "5.1 surround sound." Amazing.

 

I understand that for many of the people who work at TCM it's probably a labor of love and that there aren't huge sacks of money sitting around to just buy new equipment or source material with, but we're not talking about some mom-and-pop here either. Like it says at the bottom of this page, "TCM is part of the Turner Sports and Entertainment Digital Network - Turner Classic Movies, A Time Warner Company."

 

I just don't understand how a channel so devoted to the art of film and film preservation can have such disregard for the image and sound quality of its broadcasts.

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I won't agree in general with the OP, but I did watch CLOSE ENCOUNTERS last night as I only recently traded up to HD boxes and I thought that the print looked terrible. Muddy and with lots of what I call dandruff. Lots of specks going on, especially apparent in the dark scenes.

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clore wrote:I won't agree in general with the OP, but I did watch CLOSE ENCOUNTERS last night as I only recently traded up to HD boxes and I thought that the print looked terrible. Muddy and with lots of what I call dandruff. Lots of specks going on, especially apparent in the dark scenes.

 

"unacceptable" is the nicest thing that can be said about the quality of this film.

 

"terrible" is the runner-up.

 

Is this what happens when everyone is on a cruise and no one is at home minding the store?

 

 

Musikone

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> {quote:title=JimmyD123 wrote:}{quote}That being said, the picture quality on many, if not most, of the HD broadcasts make the channel nearly unwatchable. And I'm not talking about the fact that these are mostly old movies that were of poor quality to begin with, I'm talking about the fact that TCM seems incapable of broadcasting in HD. Everything looks to be upconverted from SD (and poor SD at that) and just looks terrible.

Maybe you worded it poorly but those old movies aren't visually "of poor quality".

 

As stated below (and too many times elsewhere) "TCMHD" isn't an actual HD channel. There are reasons for this, chiefly that although a large number of HD telecine transfers for older films exist, TCM needs to collect a large amount of them before starting legitimate HD broadcasting. They don't want an uneven mix of HD & SD material.

 

TCM should seriously consider running a disclaimer on the HD feed - maybe on the TV rating screen before films start. The existence of the HD channel is already causing enough confusion and we don't need people coming in here every other day complaining about it.

> {quote:title=JimmyD123 wrote:}{quote}The TCM broadcast looks like the source material was VHS tape. And not just VHS tape, but a copy, of a copy, of a copy of a VHS tape.

This is more than an overreaction - I find the quality wanting on widescreen color films but this is a completely wrong statement.

> {quote:title=JimmyD123 wrote:}{quote}Even silent movies that air on TCM carry "5.1 surround sound." Amazing.

I know it's not what you're going on about but it should be pointed out that there are a lot of silent film transfers available with newly composed 5.1 scores.

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Good points, Jonas. Add to that, simply because the audio is Dolby Digital (aka AC3) 5.1 doesn't necessarily mean that all five channels are being used for the audio. I've even gotten some DVD's which had "Dolby Digital 5.1" audio, and yet the music (or the entire soundtrack for sound films) was ONLY on the left and right front channels. 5.1 doesn't always mean ALL the sound (music-only or otherwise) is used on all the channels.

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JimmyD123 wrote:

<< understand that for many of the people who work at TCM it's probably a labor of love and that there aren't huge sacks of money sitting around to just buy new equipment or source material with >>

 

You answered your own question. Encore and other such channels get their money through subscription fees and can afford better quality equipment and material. Same can be said for Pay-per-view.

 

TCM's signal has always never been substandard for me so the data path has to be taken into consideration. I live only a few miles from one of my local TV stations and I get some digital dropout once in a while on their HD channels even though its piped through cable.

 

Regarding source material, sometimes NEW material doesn't guarantee *better* picture or sound quality. I use to have a CED disc of "Smokey and the Bandit" and its sound was great even for mono. I had to get a DVD replacement and was shocked at the lesser sound quality, it was different (think its a bad remix). Before anyone ask, its a legal MCA DVD, *not* a pirated copy.

 

I also had to replace the "Close Encounter" CED with a Laserdisc which is in widescreen. Bought it back in the 1990s before people appreciated widescreen. Some today *still* don't even after all the explanation the TCM documentary about widescreen tried to express. Its picture and sound quality is about the same.

 

I never used Dolby 5.1 equipment because I mostly used Reralistic Pro-60 headphones and equalizers can not be connected. Like the basic stereo amps which is no nonsense and less to worry about. Got enough cable connections as it is and 5.1 is simple overkill like 3D. What's next "Smell-A-Vision"?

 

Far as silents being in stereo, the new scores has always been for the past 10+ years and love it.

 

TCM could afford better equipment and material but the only way they can get funding would be through *commercials* and NO ONE wants that tradeoff.

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> {quote:title=hamradio wrote:}{quote}.

> Regarding source material, sometimes NEW material doesn't guarantee *better* picture or sound quality. I use to have a CED disc of "Smokey and the Bandit" and its sound was great even for mono. I had to get a DVD replacement and was shocked at the lesser sound quality, it was different (think its a bad remix). Before anyone ask, its a legal MCA DVD, *not* a pirated copy.

>

> I also had to replace the "Close Encounter" CED with a Laserdisc which is in widescreen. Bought it back in the 1990s before people appreciated widescreen. Some today *still* don't even after all the explanation the TCM documentary about widescreen tried to express. Its picture and sound quality is about the same.

>

That DVD of Smokey....which originally had a mono soundtrack...got a Dolby Digital stereo remix. The disc...unfortunately on the part of the decision of Universal...did NOT include the original mono soundtrack. I thought the stereo remix sounded fine, but for purist's sake would like to have also had the original mono mix. That's an unfortunate decision/compulsion on the part of many studios and companies...they often seem to feeel that because a DVD can have multichannel audio a movie HAS to be remixed into Dolby Digital multichannel sound. Add to that, even if a mono or original stereo mix audio option is included, it is often a NEW mixdown from the multi-track elements used for the stereo remix, and is not simply a straight transfer from the original audio elements (another problem purists have also noticed on many DVD releases). In many instances, for some B movies or cases where multitrack elements are not available to do a PROPER stereo remix, a company will simply do a "faux stereo" mix into DD 5.1...rather like the old technique of "electronically rechannelled for stereo" thing that used to be done on record albums and some older video releases. Unfortunately, such faux stereo mixes usually sound horrendous...like being played in a tin can...and when I watch something like that which does have a mono track, I always choose the mono. I have a few movies with stereo soundtracks that simply did NOT sound the way I've always heard them on the DVD releases...so I kept either my older laserdiscs or made DVD recordings of the lasers because they had the ORIGINAL stereo or original Dolby sound mixes....which sound better, IMHO (two examples are Xanadu, and Flash Gordon, both from 1980).

 

Yep....people STILL don't understand the point of widescreen, even with the fact that televisions today have widescreen (16x9) dimensions. Add to THAT the fact that some HD transfers of movie done in a 2.35:1 "scope" ratio actually get CROPPED down to a 1.85:1 ratio which matches the dimensions of a 16x9 tv screen (as opposed to a 2.35:1 movie having those black borders above and below the image area to preserve the original aspect ratio). That's rather like "two steps forward, and one step back" as it were. Such HD transfers (I've seen several examples online) unwittingly are ADVOCATING panning-and-scanning/cropping again!

 

 

Yes, there's also been many reviews and comments I've seen online about how older laserdisc (and even some VHS) releases looked BETTER than newer DVD masters...or how some DVD releases looked TOO "clean" and perfect. Studios/video companies try TOO hard to make an image look perfectly smooth and flawless, not understanding that some movies were MEANT to have a certain look that they have.

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I don't know all the technical vernacular so bear with me( I also don't know half of what y'all are talking about!).

 

I have two copies of this movie. Both are on VHS( Yes, I still watch tape). One is the original release version, the other the re-release which shows Dreyfus inside the spaceship.

 

Even on tape the picture quality is good. I still regularily clean my heads and store my tapes carefully, so that helps. I watched the broadcast the other night and found the picture quality to be acceptable. Could have been better, but still good enough. Of course, I don't HAVE HD. Can't afford it. But as far as I know, those who DO have HD on their service package have the ability to use it as an option. Might have been, if you switched to viewing the broadcast WITHOUT HD, it might have looked better to you? Have you tried it at the time? You didn't say.

 

I do notice that even on tape, as I recall when first seeing it in the movie theater, there IS a marked change in image quality between those scenes shot outdoors and those scenes shot in studio. Most of the outdoor night scenes were shot indoors on sets contained in an old airplane hangar, so lighting and image could more easily be controlled. Notice how different it looks when Dreyfus, Dillon and...Duckworth( same actor, isn't it?) are climbing the hill as it gets dark to how it looks when Dreyfus and Dillon are onlookers to the activity at the "base camp". Obviously shot inside the hangar. Speilberg MUST have faced the dilema of how to film those outdoor scenes at dusk. To ADD light could have made it look phony. A faster film might have been WAY too grainy. I think he made the right choice.

 

As movie viewers, it helps if we are aware of technical limitations and overlook them. Just imerse yourself in the story and have a blast!

Sepiatone

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Personally I could care less....like when people make comments about or point out "wires on the ships" or "miniatures" or "matte paintings" or "matte lines" as if it's a defect in the film. That's the way some things were done before computers, so just enjoy the film and immerse yourself in that world. Same thing applies to older films which have a grainer look than films today...or, for that matter, older films which have used modern digital technology to remove said grain. That's how thew film was supposed to look...so leave it alone. Heck, I've seen movies theatrically in the past which had a somewhat grainy look, and then they turn up on DVD today and look SMOOTH....they don't look the same.

 

Oh...and as much as I love CE3K, Spielberg has tampered with the film way too much (almost as badly as Lucas with the Star Wars films). I have the 3 disc 30th Anniversary DVD set, but I also have a fanedit edition which combines ALL the footage from the three editions (along with a bit more deleted scenes) into a single, longer edition that runs 2 3/4 hours long.

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Krieger, don't you mean you COULDN'T care less?

 

Oh, well...anyway...

 

To push your point, after seeing "Wizard of Oz" a gazzilion times, one might notice that in the scene where the flying monkeys are carrying Dorothy back to the witch's castle that it's a MECHANICAL Dorothy kicking it's legs. SO WHAT? Do I hate the movie now in light of that fact?

 

No.

Sepiatone

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