UPDATE: Success! See the bottom of the page for details.
An overview of the BBC’s pretty shoddy response to their pretty shoddy Blu-Ray release.
Red Dwarf on Blu-Ray!
Those of you who are fans of Red Dwarf may, like me, have been looking forward to the release of Series 1–8 on Blu-Ray for months. The release was announced some significant time ago, then was pulled from the schedules when creator Doug Naylor was reportedly unhappy with the budget set aside to master the episodes, and then re-appeared after the BBC apparently increased the budget for restoration. The Blu-Ray set came out in January 2019, at the very reasonable price of under £40 for eight series.
The DVD releases of Red Dwarf were a strange mix of the brilliant and the disappointing, back in the day. While the sets had excellent special features – probably some of the best of any DVD out there – they were hamstrung by awful menus which were difficult to navigate, and problematic encoding of the episodes themselves. Red Dwarf began in 1988, and was shot, like many BBC productions of the day, on 1-inch tape. Due to various requirements for editing and special effects work, the actual master tapes of the earlier series are several-generations down from the original, and their quality suffers noticeably as a result. Series One and Three, in particular, look soft and often poorly saturated. However, as these are the only masters, this is hard-coded into the episodes and they are the best that there is to work with.
Unfortunately, when the DVDs were released, this lesser-quality source material was made even poorer by some of the worst mpeg encoding ever seen on a DVD. Series One is covered in noise and compression artefacts. The flat grey sets glitter with colour and compression effects, and freeze-framing shows clearly the level and strength of the problems. The later series look a little better (though Series 6 on Blu-Ray retains a strange double-vision-style ghosting which is presumably inherent in the source material).
The news of the series’ release on Blu-Ray was therefore of considerable interest. Although the series was shot in SD, it seemed certain that upscaling to faux-HD and the increased storage capacity of Blu-ray would allow a re-encoding of the episodes and do away with the visual noise. The news that the episodes were also to be lightly processed and colour-graded only added to the idea that this release would finally see these episodes presented in the best quality they could possibly be.
And then the Blu-Rays landed.
To be charitable, generally the release has been put together well, and with the best of intentions. Almost all of the special features from previous releases have been ported over; there are revised, navigable menus; and the sensitive colour-grading is generally very well-rendered. There are some minor issues with information loss as a result of this – the text on the rear end of the Blue Midget ship in Thanks for the Memory is more or less unreadable, and it wasn’t unreadable on the DVD release – but it’s not significantly problematic.
And yet the release is chocker with errors. Issues with the box art give some hint that the release has not been handled quite how it should have been: the Red Dwarf logo has been re-drawn and misses off a significant portion of the A and the W (a problem also affecting the Series 12 release), the Red Dwarf spaceship on the interior box art is missing half of its ram scoop, and the back cover copy features some slightly-awkward grammar that could have been easily tidied up. The episode Thanks for the Memory is mislabelled as Thanks for the Memories on the menu screen. A shame; not a deal-breaker, but symptomatic of the lack of quality control and proofing on this release. The episodes are also slightly zoomed in for no apparent reason, cropping the edges of the image – something that is often done to stabilise film sources but is largely pointless with video.
So then we come to the major issue, which frankly spoils the entire box set: 9 episodes of the series have been de-interlaced.
It’s worth explaining how significant this error is. My apologies if the following seems overly simplistic, but having attempted to explain it several times *to the BBC themselves*, I feel the need to elucidate it here in layman’s terms. I’m by no means an expert myself, but the problem is so obviously visible on viewing that it’s worth drawing out in full.
As we’ve noted, Red Dwarf was shot on 1-inch videotape. It wasn’t ‘filmed’, it was taped, first at BBC Manchester and later at Shepperton Studios. For archival purposes, the 1-inch tapes of the completed episodes were later transferred to the DigiBeta format, where they are still held today (as we’ll see). There are two ways of displaying videotape on a television, called interlaced scan and progressive scan. Progressive scan shows each frame of video for a fraction of a second, and the collection of these frames simulates motion, much like in film (and it is a relatively rarely used system). In the UK, PAL video runs at 25 frames per second, which means progressive scan has 25 images making up each second of movement. Interlaced video is made up of 25 frames too, but each is split into two fields. The frames are drawn onto the screen in lines, so that every even line of video is drawn, then every odd line of video is drawn, then every even line is replaced, then every odd line is replaced, and so on. This provides a smoother motion effect than that given by progressive scan, as half of each image is essentially re-drawn every 50th of a second, rather than the whole image being re-drawn every 25th of a second. The upshot is that the footage has twice as much perceived resolution in temporal terms with exactly the same amount of picture resolution (i.e. you essentially appear to get twice as smooth a motion with no extra storage). Red Dwarf, like most telly of its day, was shot using interlaced video, and was released on DVD retaining this interlaced scan. As a result, it shows up correctly when you watch it on your television. This scanning method is one of the main reasons that motion on video tends to look different to that of film.
For this new Blu-Ray release, the BBC have incorrectly converted 9 interlaced episodes of the series into an artificially de-interlaced format. The separate odd- and even- fields from the interlaced video have been synthetically combined to produce 25 frames from the 50 individual fields. This significantly reduces the quality of movement.
…and the Blu-Ray.
The entirety of Series 3 and the last three episodes of Series 5 have been de-interlaced in this way at some point during the production process, presumably accidentally as part of the colour-grading. This causes them to be rendered incorrectly on televisions, reduces the overall temporal resolution, and introduces problems in the quality of the motion. In practice, it has the effect of adding what’s often termed a ‘film effect’ to the video (albeit, badly!), by reducing the amount of temporal information in the video. You can spot it very clearly in juddering / motion blur-like effects when things move. If you have the set, check out the end credits for Series 5 episodes 1-3 compared to episodes 4-6 to see the problem very clearly.
There’s an excellent example of the issue from a viewer here. You may need to adjust the settings on your display to see the full effect:
This is not a minor issue: this is a major technical fault which substantially renders these episodes less correctly than the DVDs. The episodes are not of broadcast standard: by which I mean that if the episodes had been presented for broadcast on BBC Television, they would fail QC and would not be broadcast. This is the kind of major technical failing that should surely result in an immediate disc recall and replacement. A serious error, and one which means that the series as released is not as advertised.
The official Red Dwarf website states:
‘The set collects the entire BBC-broadcast run of Red Dwarf, with the episodes painstakingly restored and upscaled into high-definition – with colour grading, sound enhancement and all manner of other tweaks and loving touches that show off the original episodes in their best possible light. You can read more about the restoration process here, but just to reiterate, we’re not changing the content – this isn’t Remastered, it’s original-flavour Red Dwarf, just… better looking.’ (http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2019/01/11/blu-ray-landing/)
Series 3 and half or Series 5 are not better looking, or in ‘the best possible light’. The site further states:
‘Putting Red Dwarf onto Blu-ray means taking a show that was made before high-definition home viewing was ever even conceived of, and presenting it in such a way that it will still look good at 1080p resolution (for comparison, the DVD releases of these eight series, from 2002 to 2006, were at 480p – all in all, Blu-ray puts six times as many pixels on the screen as DVD).’ (http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2018/12/07/red-to-blu/)
Well, they don’t look good. (Indeed, I would argue that the release is so far from advertised that it may be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act, which requires that goods be:
Of satisfactory quality.
Fit for the consumer’s particular purpose.
– because they’re not.)
It’s been suggested by commentators online that the Quality Control for this release may have been carried out on PCs with progressive scan displays where the problem would not be as noticeable as it would on proper television screens. Whatever the cause, other people have noticed the mistake, and recorded it online in places such as BluRay.com and Roobarb’s forum. Doug Naylor is also apparently aware – thanks to tweets such as this one:
…has seriously compounded the problem, and is the chief reason for this blog post.
Since the issue come to light, it seems a number of people have been in touch with the BBC to draw their attention to it. Their response has repeatedly been dismissive, confused, and factually inaccurate.
Having been looking forward to this release for months, I’m angry about the fault the remastering has introduced, but I’ve been *incensed* with the BBC’s responses to it. Their Customer Services team have replied to queries with pathetic form replies filled with falsehoods, and give the impression that they genuinely do not understand the issue. They have repeatedly attempted to indicate that the fault is with the Red Dwarf source master tapes, when it is manifestly not (indeed, the DVD releases prove this). Below are some typical responses from them, which have been replicated identically in a number of other people’s communications that I have been made aware of. These are my own emails to them and the replies I have received.
I’ve recently purchased the complete Series 1-8 of Red Dwarf on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, several of the discs contain episodes which have been transferred incorrectly, materially affecting the quality of the episodes.
Red Dwarf III was shot on 1-inch tape and has been released on DVD in the past. Unfortunately, uniquely to this Blu-ray release, the episodes appear to have been mistakenly de-interlaced during the workflow, meaning that they apply a bad faux-film effect to a PAL video source. I’ve noticed the same error on several episodes of Series V too. To be clear, this is not an archival problem, it is a direct technical error made during production of this Blu-ray release. (If the episodes had been delivered for broadcast like this, they would fail QC and be rejected!)
* These issues are not due to faults in the source masters: they are not present in the DVD copies of the episodes and are new mistakes made in the production of this Blu-ray. *
As the release was advertised as presenting these episodes in the best quality they have ever been, I would like to suggest that replacement discs are provided to correct the errors. I would be happy to return my existing copies as evidence. I would rather not have to seek a refund for the set!
I thank you for looking into this.
Their form response, identical to that which I later discovered others have received.
We are sorry you are not completely satisfied with this release.
Unfortunately the issues perceived are present in the only source masters available to us.
BBC DVD Support
This response is not only terse and does not address my concerns, it is also untrue. I attempt to clarify this, while attempting to remain polite. The legal stuff was largely childish rhetoric on my part:
Thank you for your speedy reply!
Unfortunately, I think you misunderstand the nature of my email. The issue is not one regarding the source masters for the series (the DVD masters do not have this issue), it is a technical error you have introduced during the mastering of the Blu-ray. This is not a ‘perceived error’, it is an evidential technical fault which fundamentally changes the nature of at least 9 episodes. The release does not present the episodes as intended, to the point that they are not suitable for broadcast or release. I presume your team are planning a re-pressing to fix the error, as the release as it stands is not suitable (and as it is not as advertised, is potentially in breach of the law. At the risk of getting legal, I understand that under the Consumer Rights Act, I have the right to get faulty goods replaced or repaired; goods must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality. These are not).
I would be grateful if you could you please forward this email to your manager and/or someone with a technical background so that you can provide a detailed response to the points I have raised, and provide details of the replacement disks when available.
The response below has come from Management and the teams responsible for the authoring of the Blu-ray discs.
BBC DVD Support
which is not only less detailed, but utter rubbish. At this point I naturally get annoyed with this nonsense and again attempt to elicit a proper response. After seeing others online being fobbed off, I decide to copy in Tim Davie, the CEO of BBC Studios. Over the top, probably, but I felt I was hitting my head against a brick wall, and surely this will get someone’s attention.
Thank you, but it doesn’t address their failure, nor explain how I can acquire replacement discs. Could you please forward this to your manager and ask them to reply to me responding to my points in detail? The release is faulty, the goods are not as described, not fit for purpose and not of satisfactory quality. Having spent a significant amount of money on the release I believe it is your duty to provide a replacement.
I am copying in Tim Davie, CEO of BBC Studios, in the hope that he can resolve this fault which, frankly, has been exacerbated by some terrible customer service and form-replies which do not address the issue.
I then got this response from a manager:
Dear Mr Orton,
I would like to thank you for purchasing the complete series of Red Dwarf on Blu-ray.
We do apologise that you are not completely satisfied with this Blu-ray release and that you have not received a clear response to your production questions.
I hope I can shed some light on those queries.
The only master tapes that now exist for these series in our BBC Archives are on DigiBeta tape format. Due to the age of the content it is likely that it has been transferred from the original 1” TX tape to DigiBeta, as part of our process of archive reconciliation. We are no longer in possession of the original masters that were used for broadcast.
We have had our QC team check the DigiBeta masters we used for this release, and the mix of progressive and interlaced material you note is indeed present on them, so the issues you are experiencing actually exist on DigiBeta tape and were not introduced in the Blu-ray encode. Unfortunately these are the only masters we have to work with for this title and therefore we cannot fix this issue.
We worked very closely with the original producers to get the best possible result with the content we had at our disposal and we are sorry that you are disappointed with the outcome.
You are of course completely within your consumer rights to return it to the retailer from which you purchased it and obtain a refund.
Thank you so much for raising this issue.
This is the most bizarre response of them all, and suggests that the real problem is that the people in charge of Blu-Ray production apparently don’t understand the technical issue with the Blu-Ray production. The DigiBeta is contains interlaced content because that’s how the programme was made – the issue with the Blu-Ray is that it has not retained this format from the master, not that it has retained it. I try to explain this. Patience admittedly wearing thin.
Thank you for your reply, which is welcome after previously getting form responses from your customer services staff.
Unfortunately, I fear you have also misunderstood the technical issue with this release. Of course the DigiBeta tape has a mixture of progressive and interlaced material which was transferred from the 1-inch tape – that was how the programme was made. The problem I am describing to you here is that this new release *does not* use this mix of progressive and interlaced material. The video footage has been *artificially deinterlaced* specifically for this release, rather than correctly retaining the content of the DigiBeta. This is a technical error introduced for the first time in constructing this Blu-Ray. Your email expressly describes the DigiBeta in the *correct* format: it is the Blu-Ray that is not.
Note that on the Series 5 disc, three episodes correctly represent the mix of progressive and deinterlaced material on the master, but three episodes do not, and have this new problem.
I don’t wish to be awkward, but I can’t explain this any more clearly: *there is a major technical fault that you have introduced in this new release* which has nothing to do with the content of the DigiBeta. It sticks out a mile when watching the discs! Presumably QC has been carried out on progressive PC monitors rather than televisions, so that your QC staff have not spotted the error?
This is not a minor issue: this is a major problem which renders the Blu-Ray of significantly lesser quality than the DVD, and I hope it can be rectified immediately.
I have yet to receive a response to this recent message.
I’m completely (and somewhat uncharacteristically!) furious about the response I’ve received to the issue. If you have the box set, I strongly urge you also to contact the BBC yourself, in the hope that a greater volume of correspondence can help to convince them to fix their error and release the discs that they have advertised. If you haven’t yet purchased the discs, I would strongly suggest that you do not until the issues are fixed. I would like to call upon the BBC to do the right thing and correct and reissue the discs that they have managed to mess up. A recall and replacement discs are essential.
Feel free to provide a link to this post if it is at all helpful. Do let me know in the comments section how you get on. It’s such a shame that a great release like this has been so disappointing.
Apologies for coming across all righteous, but they’ve really pissed me off. Generally if one makes an honest mistake, one makes an attempt to rectify it.
PS: Note that there’s also a further issue with Series 3 involving an attempted patch of the upper right corner of the scene at 2m38s into The Last Day, presumably to fix a problem with the master. I haven’t yet checked if this is present on the DVD, but unfortunately, the patched area of the screen does not move as the camera moves, so that the top of the image slides around as the camera pans. I can just about cope with this…
EDIT: I’m now informed of further further issues with the Blu-Ray by reader ‘Brandon’, in the form of sound problems in the episode Marooned (reportedly a high-pitched sound throughout parts of the episode). I haven’t been able to verify this yet, but it may be worth looking into.
EDIT 2/2/19: I’ve received another reply from Andrew Moultrie of BBC Studios:
Based on your feedback we are currently investigating further with our suppliers on where and what the root cause of the problem could be. I don’t have an answer as of yet and do expect feedback early next week.
We do take your feedback seriously and I apologise if it is felt that this has not been the case.
I do appreciate your patience as we attempt to resolve this issue.
EDIT 26/2/19:Success! A further communication from Andrew Moultrie:
Thank you for your continued patience while we investigated the issue with the Red Dwarf Blu-ray set.
After a comprehensive review with all our suppliers involved in the manufacturing of this product we have now identified the source of the problem. De-interlacing did occur at tape to digital capture stage with one of the suppliers. This was not part of the Blu-ray authoring process as we originally had reason to believe.
The mastering of this release was a multistage process involving three separate suppliers. I hope you will understand that it would be inappropriate for us to say specifically where this fault occurred as we are remedying this with the company concerned.
We have started the process of recreating the masters and re-authoring these discs which will take approximately six weeks.
Details of how to obtain your replacement can be obtained by e-mailing our customer support line atDVDSupport@bbc.com. If you have any problems obtaining your replacement product please feel free to contact me direct to sort out.
I truly am sorry the discs were not correct to start with and thank you for drawing this to our attention.
And my reply:
Thank you very much for following this issue up and resolving it. While I’m somewhat frustrated at the amount of effort required to reach this stage (chiefly with the business of convincing / causing your team to understand the issue), I can appreciate that your organisation is likely to receive a great deal of correspondence and attempts to quell as much of this at possible at first point of contact. I would suggest, humbly, a review of processes in order that form replies containing clear inaccurate statements are not sent out in future cases like this.
However, that said, I am delighted that this has come to a positive conclusion, and the issue has been identified and a resolution with replacement discs reached. I’m pleased that you’re following this up with your supplier, and hope you’re speaking to them about more robust QC in future. Basic issues such as deinterlacing – or ‘page one of how telly is made’ – seem remarkable in 2019, especially when dealing with a consumer base of whom many work in this industry. Recent errors with two Doctor Who Blu-Ray sets, one of which also required two replacement discs, suggest that less care is being taken with releases than perhaps they deserve, and I’d hope measures are being taken to address this in future.
Thank you again for your work on this, genuinely, and I look forward to the replacement discs in due course.
I’m delighted that the issue is being sorted, even though it took a long time to reach this stage. To paraphrase Norman Lovett, ‘sometimes it’s worth moaning.’
Right, now I’m off to sort out Third World debt and that business with the European Union.