Old movies transfered to HD - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 3 Old 11-02-07, 01:15 AM Thread Starter
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Old movies transfered to HD

I just watched Grand Prix HD on my XA2. I was really looking forward to watching this since I remembered it having some great racing scenes and I remembered it as having pretty good two channel sound for it's day.
Boy, was I disappointed. PQ was OK. I was really disappointed in the sound. I played with speaker volumes from both the receiver and the XA2 to see if I could get a better surround sound but nothing helped much. I guess I was expecting to hear the cars drive across my room as they went across the screen. The only time I really noticed much was when the camera was in one car that was following another. The engine sound all went to the rear speakers. I'm not sure if I was listening to the engine in the car the camera was riding in or it was supposed to be the sound of the car in front. Even that wasn't consistent though, as cars went into tunnels the sound all switched to the front speakers then to the backs as they exited the tunnel. Oh well.
Anyone else played this movie? Your impressions? Do older movies just not translate into HD and surround sound well?
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post #2 of 3 Old 11-02-07, 05:18 AM
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Re: Old movies transfered to HD

"Grand Prix" was one of the early single panel 70mm Cinerama films. The last three panel film was
"How the West Was Won" and first single panel release was "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World".
Technically single panel Cinerama was nearly identical to Todd-A0 since they both projected 70mm
on a deeply curved screen.

It's important to remember that the 5.1 sound system used on DVDs is different to the ones used
in 70mm movies decades ago. 70mm prior to the late seventies contained five front speakers and a mono rear channel. The dialogue, sound effects and music were spread across the five front speakers
directionally so that the sound came out of the appropriate place of the action on screen. The
rear channel wasn't used like today's surround sound but rather for specific rear channel effects
as needed. Otherwise it was silent.

After "Star Wars" and "Apocalypse Now", the industry altered the six track 70mm format to have
three front speakers (left/center/right) and a rear speaker that was used more along the lines
of surround sound with rear channel effects and general ambience (city sounds, jungle sounds etc.)
rather than for just an occasional background sound effects. The extra right and left channel were
used for subwoofer effects. They also added Dolby noise reduction to the tracks to reduce analog magnetic sound hiss. They tended to keep dialogue center channel since that made it easier
to remix the film for foreign release. In fact, in most cases all the foreign distributors had to do was
to replace the center channel dialogue with a dubbed language. The rest of the tracks could play without alteration.

The DVD 5.1 system is different than both of these 70mm formats as you know. Three front speakers
with most if not all dialogue coming out of the center speaker only and stereo surround/rear channels along a mono subwoofer track to simulate the extra L/R from the post-Star Wars era.
That means that the old 70mm six track mixes have to be re-mixed for this format. Even if they just fold down the extra left and right channels into the standard L/R, the rear channels have to be split and remixed into surround channels. How effectively this is done tends to vary on a film by film basis. I've seen some of the older 70mm movies in their original formats and the sound is quite different than the
DVD versions. Not necessarily better or worse...just different. I remember seeing
"Oklahoma!" in 70mm Todd-AO in the 1983 re-issue in NYC and you could hear a
person's dialogue move from speaker to speaker as they walked by. The same with the music which had directional singing. It was very effective although might seem
a bit gimmicky if not distracting today if you're used to contemoporary mixes.

I didn't see "Grand Prix" in 70mm Cinerama back in the sixties so I cannot say whether the current 5.1 re-mix is less effective than the original six channel mix. In any event, it's not the same one that was used in cinemas way back when.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-02-07 at 05:29 AM.
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post #3 of 3 Old 11-02-07, 05:49 AM
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Re: Old movies transfered to HD

I forgot to add that there were some other stereophonic formats. Three panel Cinerama did have
seven channel sound with two rear speakers for stereo sound effects. It was only used on the seven
movies produced in that process. There was also the four
track CinemaScope format. Three front speakers (with directional dialogue) and a single rear
channel that was rarely used. For example, I screened a four track print of "Sign of the Pagan"
and the rear channel was silent for the entire feature. The four track magnetic prints of "Mary
Poppins" also had an empty rear channel even though they could've used it for the fireworks sequence
at the end. The film was remixed for DVD.

Perspecta sound was a directional format with three front speakers only. The sound was mixed mono but had sub-audio tones that channeled the dialogue or sound effects directionally into the front three speakers. In other words if someone was speaking screen right, it would come out of the right speaker and so on. Although advertised as stereophonic is really wasn't. Just directional mono sound. Most people don't know that some of Hitchcock's features were mixed this way. "The Trouble with Harry",
"To Catch a Thief" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" all contained directional Perspecta sound.
In theory they could be decoded and released on DVD this way (three front speakers with no
rear channel surrounds) if Universal and Paramount chose to as an alternate track. Since Hitchcock
never mentioned Perspecta sound in any of his interviews it's possible that the sub audio tones
were added by the studios without his participation. The sole advantage of Perspecta sound is
that it can play as a regular mono track in theaters that don't have the decoder. The stereo magnetic
systems required a 'penthouse' attachment that went on the top of the projector (really a dubber with
magnetic heads) for playback along with a complete rewiring of the sound system. 35mm magnetic prints also had a different type of sprocket which was smaller and square (referred to as 'Fox holes' since that studio created it) which was another modification. All the sprockets on the projector
had to be replaced. That's why some theaters went with Perspecta sound since all they needed was
a decoder and two additional speakers. No other changes were required in terms of equipment.

This actually brings up a rather complex and controversial debate...
Are DVDs screened in your home theater simmulating
the original moviegoing experiences in theaters or altering them.
The short answer is...they are altering them. Aside from the obvious
differences between film emulsion and pixels...the quality of the projected
image, persistence of vision and sound field are totally different in
each format. In some cases better...in other cases worse.

Whether you have a high definition player and projector or standard
DVD format, there is simply no way of replicating the quality of a 70mm
print at home. The same applies to a 35mm Technicolor print. Both
have unique qualities due to their format. 70mm had extremelly fine
grain emulsion that can be enlarged to enormous sizes (i.e. 60 feet wide)
without any loss of resolution. HD DVD imagery does have it's limits and
if you project it on too large a screen, you'll see the pixel grid (screen
door effect). The brilliant, glowing colors of a Technicolor print are
unique to that process and film stock. They look like Kodachrome slides
when projected.

This is not to suggest that you can't get a very good image at home
on a DLP that looks very sharp and has excellent, saturated color and
good contrast. In fact, it can look great but the colors will still not
glow like a Technicolor print and you cannot enlarge it beyond a certain
limit without seeing the pixels. You also cannot curve your screen like they
did with Todd-AO and Cinerama films. They designed special lenses that
compensated for this while keeping the image in focus.

So the home theater experience is a different one than sitting in a theater
watching a movie on a
much larger screen.

On the other hand, the prints shown in most megaplexes today are rather
poor and quality control is far superior on DVD so you have to factor that
in. The sound in even the best cinemas is a compromise depending on where
you sit. You can create a perfect, custom designed sound field in your home
theater so I would say that in this respect, sound is better in your house.

Then comes the controversy over the remixed tracks. The 5.1 remix of
"Singin' in the Rain" sounds great and enhances the film in my home theater.
However that is not what audiences heard back in 1952. The movie was
mixed in mono. It was a very good mono mix since MGM had excellent
sound equipment but it did not create the sound field that you can get at
home. The top of the line digital transfers show up details in the original negatives
that was not contained in the release prints. For example, Gene Kelly was
40 when he made this picture and in the origiinal Technicolor prints he can
pass for about 30 which was appropriate for the role he was playing. Now on DVD,
the details have been so enhanced I can see his crows feet, facial scar and other wrinkles in far greater detail through the heavy make up. The darker contrast
of the Technicolor print disguised them but on DVD, he looks his age. Curiously,
the rich colors pop out similar to the 35mm release prints but now there is a lot
more detail within the imagery...detail they probably didn't want you to see back
in 1952.

Then add the debate about aspect ratio. Should the DVD show the entire
available frame contained on the negative or the cropped frame shown in theaters?
For example, the actual exposed frame in 65mm is slightly wider than the
projected 2.21 x 1. The applies to original 2.55 x 1 CinemaScope. Part
of the left and right sides of the image in both formats was cropped by the
thin magnetic stripes. But there is picture information under the mag stripes.
Should you incorporate them when mastering the film to DVD? VistaVision
also had a larger frame area than what was actually shown in cinemas
(most cropped it to 1.85). SuperScope movies were shot full frame 1.33
and then cropped and enlarged to 2 x 1. However both flat and scope
prints were released. So what is the official aspect ratio of "Invasion of
the Body Snatchers"? There isn't any since both ratios were available at time.

Want to make this even more confusing? Some early CinemaScope movies
were shot twice in 1.33 and in anamorphic widescreen including "The Robe",
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", "Brigadoon" and "Lady and the Tramp".
So there are two negatives and versions of each movie. "Around the World in 80 Days" was also shot twice in 65mm (one negative was 30 frames per second for
Todd-AO prints and the other 24 frames per second for anamorphic reduction
prints in 35mm).

So these are things that distributors, consumers and reviewers have to consider while transferring and screening old movies to HD and standard DVD.
It is my no means as clear cut as threading up the negative or fine grain
master, scanning it digitally then outputting the
masters. You have to consider how sharp and detailed you want it. Will too
much detail change the 'look' of the film? Age the actors? If you brighten
the contrast, you might uncover things the director and cinematographer
were trying to hide. How
much image should be transferred and what kind of sound field you want
to create from the stereo masters? Should you enhance the image or leave
it as origiinally shown, warts and all (i.e. wires on the actors in "Fantastic Voyage") Add some picture information to the sides that was originally cropped out of the theatrical prints? Remove magnetic tape hiss (and some of the original sound) or keep it true to the source material? Take the rear channel effects track and
remix it into a surround track by adding background ambience?

The key word is 'trade offs'. 35mm camera negatives and pre-print (interpositives, fine grain masters) are low contrast materials that contain a lot more information than high contrast release prints. That's why when you thread them into a scanner
you'll say 'hey I never saw that before'. The trouble is, that's probably because
the filmmaker didn't want you to see it. Video has a different contrast ratio
than film prints which is why they don't use them for mastering. A film print would
look too dark and lack detail if used for DVD authoring. So the pre-print has to be
adapted to video taking into consideration all of the trade offs detailed above.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-02-07 at 08:23 AM.
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