Monday, May 08, 2006

Correcting what isn't broken

Sometimes being a bootlegger blows.

There's a lot that goes in to doing it: finding something you actually want to release, finding masters for it, working on a subtitle track and any dubs if you've got them... but the worst part is when you're a dedicated bootlegger.

Let me explain this for a minute. There are a lot of guys out there that can rip a DVD. Sometimes that means just making a 1:1 copy of an available DVD. I don't do this. I don't fault those who do though. There's a lot of DVD's - and I mean a LOT - released in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and elsewhere that though they have English versions available, simply aren't playable on American DVD players - who, at least from my little perspective are my target audience. So, when somebody releases a direct copy of a Japanese DVD and they buy it for $15 on eBay I don't fault the guy who spent $70 on the original and is making a DVD-R sans the region code and copy protection.

There are also jackoffs who buy the US version for $20, make 1:1 copies of the official release, and sell them on cheap-ass DVD-R's for $5. These guys suck ass. They give well meaning psycho loons like myself a bad name. They don't work. They don't create DVD's. They steal them. I create DVD's. I just steal the films on the DVD. That's different. Sort of.

But then there's guys like me. I'm working on a yaoi title for my bootleg label right now. A very rarely seen yaoi title from 1987. It's a damn fine one too. But there's a problem. The master I have to work from is a DVD-R of the original VHS tape. From 1987. I don't have access to the original tape anymore, and while there is a laserdisc floating around which would likely give me beautiful results... I've never seen it for sale. It seems to be about as rare as a snippet of Jesus Christ's foreskin. Regardless, the VHS-to-DVD transfer turned out fairly good, and looks worlds better than the aincent VHS fansub that the Techno Girls did in the late 90's. But there are two problems I'm dealing with.

1) I couldn't use a Time Base Corrector. Usually they take the wobbly un-synched image and re-synch it. What this means is that wobbly lines that should have been straight become straight, geometry gets fixed... the balance is restored. All that crap. Thing is, if your timecode is fucked beyond recognition, it'll do as much harm as good. What I ended up with was 90% of the tape looking great, and 10% of it jittering like the tape was on drugs. So, too late now, but often times a stand alone TBC (like I was using) adds ringing and washes out colors anyway. Ah, ringing is when you get like an outline around a solid color. Like a white outline to the side of a black outline. The original tape had some pretty bad ringing, and I'll be damned if I was going to add ANOTHER layer of that crap.

2) The DVD-R wasn't color corrected. Color Correction is, to be perfectly honest, the only "simple" step in remastering video. A lot of people like to use Digital Video Noise Reduction (DVNR) which acts as a sort of a temporal smoother. In other words, it takes uneven patches of color - like splotches or print damage or film grain - and makes them all one solid color. Sounds like a good idea... 'till you realize that it might smooth out actual detail that's supposed to be there. Similar filtering is more or less B.S. - you trade too much softness for too much edge enhancement, too many dark scenes for too many gray scenes. Restoring films really has to be done at the film level, and the telecine (when you change film frames to video masters) itself is often the most important step. So fixing color levels is about all that can be done once the telecine is finished.

But here's the fun part: fresh telecines are done to Digibeta tapes, or a similar lossless tape that looks as good as a video master literally can. I have a DVD master. DVD's are compressed to anywhere from 2 to 10 megabits per second. The more compressed the image, or the less well done the compression, the more of those lovely little blockey artifacts crop up. So I'm artifacting the artifacts. It's sexy, in a way. The taboo-ness and all. But mostly it's fugly. Another secret of compression that nobody tells you is that dark scenes artifact more. I dunno' why people said "you can use lower bitrates in dark scenes". Maybe because most people have their TV's set so dark that black levels become a soup of inky black. But they artifact like a mother humper.

So what happens when I take the too-dark-and-already-compressed yaoi DVD master and re-encode it with proper bright, happy colors? I get a blockier but brighter image. It's not perfect... but crap, it's the best I can do short of someone magically finding me the original LD, which I'd capture uncompressed, color correct and THEN compress. But that's a damned pipe dream. So the yaoi fans will just have to deal.

Besides. I defy anyone out there to show me a better print.

Tune in next time when I talk about the second episode of the Lolita Anime series from Nikkatsu!

Yes, you read that right.

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