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DVD recording qualityBuyer Beware


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16 replies to this topic

#1 atm711

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Posted 06 December 2011 - 10:40 AM

I have a large collection of DVDs which I have transferred from the original tape to DVD. Lately, many of these have been issued commercially. I have bought a few and I am usually disappointed in the quality---they are rarely better than what I have, apparently nothing is done to improve the quality. The latest one I purchased is the Dance Horizons Antony Tudor---no better than the one I own, in fact, mine is better. I was about to purchase the commercially issued 'Baryshnikov dances Sinatra' but a review on Amazon (after all the Kudos) said that the quality "was lousy" and it could have passed as a pirated copy.. I also had the same experience with the Dance Theatre of Harlem's Giselle---my copy is fading, but
instead of purchasing the commercial product, I got a copy from the Library and it was also pretty bad. At least, I was not duped this time.

#2 SandyMcKean

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Posted 06 December 2011 - 11:04 AM

I have a large collection of DVDs which I have transferred from the original tape to DVD. Lately, many of these have been issued commercially. I have bought a few and I am usually disappointed in the quality---they are rarely better than what I have, apparently nothing is done to improve the quality.


Actually, that may not be surprising. Altho it is possible to degrade the original recording quality when making a video tape or a DVD, it is unlikely anyone would do that (at least not on purpose). So the quality of what you see is usually dependent on the quality of the original recording device and media. In buying the DVD, all you've likely done is given yourself a different vehicle for playing it back (i.e., DVDs are far more convenient that video tape). The DVDs you purchased were likely created using the same quality original. Altho DVD is capable of higher resolution than video tape, there is no way that simply using DVD as the distribution media can improve on the quality of the original recording.

Now perhaps you mean that the video tape you have, you yourself made by recording off of a TV broadcast back when TV was an analog signal. In that case, I would expect the DVD to be of a better quality since analog TV is 240 lines and DVD is 480 lines, so the DVD should show a marked improvement (unless the original source was so bad that 240 lines was good enough in the first place).

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 06 December 2011 - 10:19 PM

There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason I can discover in this - for example, as many of us have noticed, the "Choreography by Balanchine" videos released by Nonesuch were better sounding and the audio was in sync with the video in the VHS editions, but - at least on my equipment - while the picture quality is a little better on the DVD, the sync between the audio and video is sometimes off by as much as two seconds or so. I agree that the DVD format is capable of better picture quality than "small-format" video tape, and that it will not reproduce better quality than is recorded onto it from the source used at the time the transfer to the new medium is made. But what happens when older material is reissued in a newer format is anyone's guess - the history of some music recordings shows that anything at all can happen, from welcome clarification to accidental or even well-meaning obscuration, as though concealing some perceived shortcoming at the cost of concealing some desirable quality along with it were a good compromise.

#4 Natalia

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 05:02 AM

The interesting thing is that folks who recorded off TV sets ca-1980 using BETA tapes have exceedingly sharp recordings of these grand old 'Dance in America' shows even now.

Couldn't the makers of the Nonesuch series of DVDs have dubbed off BETA -- rather than grainier VHS -- tapes? [I'm still mourning the death of BETA after all of these years.]

#5 puppytreats

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 07:24 AM

I watched "Chaconne" from the Dance in America DVD last night. Knowing this dance came from the Orpheus opera, I expected deeply emotional displays. Everyone who has suffered loss after passionate love can understand this. Indeed, at times, I have felt like I would like to enter the underworld to reunite with departed loved ones, and I would be devastated by the inevitable failure of this endeavor. However, the choreography and dancing were beautiful, icy, and entirely rational, without a hint of emotion. I am overwhelmed by the genius of the choreographer's commentary, and of course, disturbed.

#6 SandyMcKean

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 09:15 AM

There might be a misunderstanding here. When I say "original recording" I mean the recording that was done in the theater, or studio, or where ever the live dancers were when someone used some sort of recording device to capture the live action onto some sort of media. When someone like Nonesuch makes a DVD, or whatever, I have little doubt they go back to that original recording -- assuming it has not been lost.

I suppose that in some situations the only existing recording of some performance is some old VHS derivative copy or what have you. If that's true, then no matter what they do in re-issuing the recording, the quality can never be any better than this old derivative copy.

P.S. Now this is not to say that in re-issuing the recording in a new format, the creators can't mess around with how the audio and video relate (in all recording techniques the video and the audio are recorded separately and the play back device uses various time codes etc to sync the video with the audio). This can be messed up, not only by the creators, but by your play back device at home if your device doesn't understand these sync codes properly (there is a lot of incompatibility in the world of digital media techniques). I suppose the creator could even attempt to substitute a different audio track if they could find or create one at the same tempo. I've seen this done in a Russian release of an opera where it appears that the creators had some singers lip sync a new audio track in a studio to replace the original audio track.

#7 Natalia

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 09:25 AM

....I suppose that in some situations the only existing recording of some performance is some old VHS derivative copy or what have you. If that's true, then no matter what they do in re-issuing the recording, the quality can never be any better than this old derivative copy.


If they go back to someone or some institution that has the a copy made in BETA format of tape (rather than VHS, which became prevalent after 1985), it should be sharper than anything on VHS.

#8 SandyMcKean

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 09:58 AM

If they go back to someone or some institution that has the a copy made in BETA format of tape (rather than VHS, which became prevalent after 1985), it should be sharper than anything on VHS.


True, if such an old BETA recording exists. But this would be true if they had any other recording at a higher resolution than standard VHS (BETA always had a higher resolution capability than VHS). There were other standards in use too such as Super-VHS which had approx the same resolution capability as BETA did; plus plenty of others. There's nothing magic about BETA (BTW, the actual name is BetaMax), there are lots of recording standards; all that matters is the resolution capacity of the standard whether you call it Beta, VHS, Super-VHS, or Mickey Mouse (the MM standard I presume,,,Posted Image).

P.S. Since some folks seem interested in the details, I will need to correct what I said above somewhat. Analog TV resolution is actually 525 lines of which about 480 are visible. However TVs did something call "interlacing" so in reality only 240 of those 480 were displayed at any given moment (in the next moment the other 240 lines were displayed between the previous set of lines -- your brain combined them into what appeared to you as 480 lines). VHS and Beta only recorded 240 of those 480 lines (altho beta did it better and therefore looked better). So when I said that if you recorded off a TV in the old days that you would only capture 240 lines, that was because of the VHS or Beta limitation, not the TV's limitation. When DVDs came out, there was finally a way to use all 480 lines that an analog TV was capable of (in the USA), so that's why DVDs looked so much better. Today digital HDTVs can do the equivalent of some 1300+ lines -- which only Blu-ray can deliver in a consumer recorded product. (Yeah, I know....probably more than you wanted to know.....Posted Image).

#9 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 12:31 PM

There were other standards in use too such as Super-VHS which had approx the same resolution capability as BETA did; plus plenty of others.
...
(Yeah, I know....probably more than you wanted to know.....Posted Image).


No, not yet. First, are "Super-VHS" and "S-VHS" just two different terms for the exact same format?

I had never used the BetaMax format, but I had heard it was superior to plain-vanilla VHS even at the latter's top speed, so I'm glad to know the reasons, Sandy, thank you.

Instead of Betamax, I wound up recording on the format variously called "U-Matic" (the Sony trademark name, right?), or "3/4 inch" (the familiar name, I think, based on the width of the tape, compared to 1/2 inch for BetaMax and VHS, which therefore worked with cassettes the size of paper-back books - remember books? - compared to the hard-cover novel-sized U-Matic cassettes), or "U-Standard" (the official, generic term, I think), or maybe something else yet for the compatible machines made by JVC for a while.

So, secondly, to get to the point of this, can you say how the resolution capacity of that old format, "3/4-inch" or whatever you want to call it, compares with the others you've discussed? DVD (at the usual two-hour speed, I assume) and S-VHS, in particular?

(The point about the possibility of the original recording being lost is an important one. I haven't heard nearly as much about archiving, or the lack of it, of film and video recordings of ballet as I have about the archiving, or the lack of it, of audio recordings of music, but there's a certain amount of grief involved in that subject.)

#10 4mrdncr

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 08:33 PM

Ok, here goes my videotape 101 explanation (with this caveat: I'm not a certified video engineer and have an aging memory)...

First let me state that the beta format did win over VHS, but only in the professional world--(see below for why it lost at home)

PROFESSIONAL USE: In the old days...(at professional facilities) the quality of the tape was determined by the WIDTH of the tape--wider width allowed more info to be recorded so better quality. Most professional recordings were made on what we called "2-inch quad" tape--the tape was 2" wide and came on reels the size of a car hubcap. (We used to move them around the station by grocery cart). The recording machines themselves were the size of a large washing machine.

Eventually, (1970's?) the engineers got the quality to be just as good on 1" tape and now the reels were the size of a small dinner plate. Consequently, the recording machines were smaller, and there was even a portable version (it weighed 55lbs, the camera on my other shoulder weiged 25lbs, and I weighed 102lbs then, so you figure out how easy it was to shoot in the field!)

Shortly afterwards, 3/4" U-matic (the name actually indicated the shape of the tape path over the 'heads') cassettes were invented making it easier to shoot in the field. But the vcr was still separate from the camera. Studio and multi-cam mobile units still mastered on 1" until at least the late 1980's. So my guess is most of the "Dance in America" or similar time-period recordings were on 1" tape and earlier versions on either 2" or film. (I still have many masters on 3/4" and it's getting difficult to find anyone who can transfer them outside of NY/LA)

Finally, (Sony) Betacam (NOT betamax which is different) was invented, where the vcr was actually an integrated part of the camera--ie. a camcorder--rather than two separate machines, and betacam cassettes were smaller, lighter, and easier to pack/carry. (hooray!) By then, the quality was determined not by the width of the tape, but by the size of the recorded 'slant-track' and speed of the recording; in beta, more slant-track was laid down (ie. allowing more info to be recorded) during each pass over the heads but consequently using more tape so the cassettes weren't as long because of this. Beta-SP was the next upgrade (cassette size, tape width remained the same), and now there is Digi-beta etc.etc.etc.

HOME USE: Sony's Betamax was intended for home use. The beta name again came from the shape of the tape-path, and like its professional cousin used wider slant-track so recorded more info, but also used more tape in the process so cassettes weren't as long. THAT is why beta was better than VHS (or even S-VHS), and also why beta lost out to VHS for home use.....VHS tapes lasted 2-4 hrs depending at what speed you recorded; the same beta tape only recorded 1hr or less. So what do home users record most?---movies and sports, so the tape with the longer record time won--even though home-viewers still had no idea how much the quality sucked in comparision to beta.

The other factor affecting image quality is the cameras in those days...Professional studio cameras required enormous amounts of light, and had lag and flare problems. Chip cameras helped to improve that, as did so many of the digital innovations used today.

So finally...The quality of a commercially available DVD depends on many factors, but probably the performance's original recording format, and original camera and lighting situation(s) affected it most.

Edited by 4mrdncr, 07 December 2011 - 08:41 PM.


#11 Natalia

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Posted 08 December 2011 - 04:16 AM

All I know is that all of the shows that I recorded on my Sony BETAMAX unit, bought in Jan 1980, produced beautiful, pristene tapes that are still beautiful and pristene. My unit came with a 'free' one-hr tape but I always purchased 2-hr tapes. I have seen commercial DVD versions of certain shows that look better on my dusty tapes than on the spanking DVDs.

I once tried 'Super VHS' and it did not come close to the pristene sharpness of Beta.

Maybe the commercial DVD people should reach out to institutions (if not individuals) that still possess Beta tapes in their collections, before they release dull & fuzzy "crappola" of earlier taped releases?

#12 sandik

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Posted 08 December 2011 - 08:15 AM

I love the trip down video memory lane -- I think I've got stuff on almost every format (I used to own Giselle on laser disc as well...) Back a million years ago I worked with one of the first supposedly portable recorders that Sony manufactured. They called it the Portapac, and it did indeed have a shoulder strap, but I think a professional linebacker in full regalia would be hard pressed to actually walk very far carrying one of those.

The twist, of course, is that the actual quality of the image is far down the list when it comes to decisions about source materials when companies release commercial recordings. Our lovely beta tapes are barely legal when we watch them ourselves -- they are absolutely verboten as a master for commercial releases.

#13 Jack Reed

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Posted 08 December 2011 - 11:18 AM

... I used to own Giselle on laser disc as well...


I think I still have an LD of the Makarova-Baryshnikov one somewhere, although I couldn't find it the last time I looked. I thought that was supposed to be a top-quality format. So why did you let it go?

Our lovely beta tapes are barely legal when we watch them ourselves -- they are absolutely verboten as a master for commercial releases.


Verboten? I'm surprised, but then, I'm ignorant, too. I would have thought legal ownership of the rights to the recording would carry with it entitlement to use it in whatever form or copy it turned up, and that one of us, say, offering it for use to the rights owner, would be liable only if we had acquired it illegally. I thought the famous "BetaMax case" ensured that we could legally record broadcasts of copyright material and even copy them for our own use, but that we might cross the line if we distributed that record or copy, for example, gave one to someone else who is not the owner of the rights. (Presumably, someone wanting to publish the recording commercially would have to get permission from the rights owner, typically for some "consideration" - read, "money" - of course.)

So, if I'm not hopelessly snarled on this, maybe you can help me out.

#14 SandyMcKean

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Posted 08 December 2011 - 06:34 PM

Thanks, 4mrdncr, for the very informative history. I'm sort of the techie-geek, so I like this stuff.

#15 sandik

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Posted 08 December 2011 - 09:57 PM


... I used to own Giselle on laser disc as well...


I think I still have an LD of the Makarova-Baryshnikov one somewhere, although I couldn't find it the last time I looked. I thought that was supposed to be a top-quality format. So why did you let it go?


The player finally gave up the ghost, and we couldn't get it mended. I had the same experience with one of those combined turntable/amplifier/speaker units -- it had been my parents and I loved it, but the techies at the shop I use couldn't get the components they needed to mend the amp.

Our lovely beta tapes are barely legal when we watch them ourselves -- they are absolutely verboten as a master for commercial releases.


... I thought the famous "BetaMax case" ensured that we could legally record broadcasts of copyright material and even copy them for our own use, but that we might cross the line if we distributed that record or copy, for example, gave one to someone else who is not the owner of the rights. (Presumably, someone wanting to publish the recording commercially would have to get permission from the rights owner, typically for some "consideration" - read, "money" - of course.)

So, if I'm not hopelessly snarled on this, maybe you can help me out.


If I understand it correctly, Fair Use lets us tape work for our own pleasure as long as no money changes hands, and we do not keep the legal owners of the material from realizing whatever profit they might off of their materials.


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