How Do Publishers Decide Whether To Release A Blu-ray Remaster?

by Justin Sevakis,

It's a holiday weekend, so we'll take an easy one this time.

Nadeem asks:

I buy physical media as I am a collector. With that said, I've been trying to improve my collection by purchasing Blu-rays instead of DVDs or upgrading my older DVDs to Blu-rays where possible. This is also due to my limited shelf space and the resilience of the media. My question to you is: how does a company decide whether to produce Blu-rays or DVDs for older titles? This question intrigues me more with some companies going the route of SD on BD or at least considering it.

There are a few factors. The biggest one is, "do I have or can I get an HD master to make a Blu-ray from?" For an old anime that was shot on film, this usually means that someone in Japan had to pull out the old film elements and have a new digital scan made of that film. For a digitally animated show (post-2002 or so), the master tape needs to look good enough to cleanly up-convert to high definition with video processing software.

If those remasters are done properly, it's definitely worth making a Blu-ray. But they're not always done properly. Some Japanese publishers have just taken their beat-up old master tapes that date back from the Laserdisc era, run the video through a scan converter, and slapped that on a Blu-ray. Some of them take further steps to clean up the video, but do so with very heavy-handed filtering that makes the end result look blurry and awful -- and sometimes have even less fine detail than the old laserdiscs!

Usually, the Japanese licensors only want the US publishers to use the remasters they're given. This is a shame. Funimation took an early lead on making upscaled masters of old shows, and while they had a few problematic releases in the beginning, they got really good at the process -- far better than many of the production companies in Japan that do the work. But very often the Western publishers are stuck with whatever Japan gives them, and if the "HD remaster" doesn't look so hot, it's probably not worth releasing.

If there are good looking masters out there, sometimes the US company simply doesn't have permission to use them. Some licensing agreements only specify a DVD release and not a Blu-ray one (although those are rare these days). Other times, the remaster was done by a third party in Japan (the home video company there, perhaps) and the licensor doesn't even have permission to re-use those sources in other countries. If the show still has a lot of fans, the licensor may not want other companies to get a Blu-ray release before Japan does.

Finally, if the US publisher has good HD masters and permission to release them, they then must ask themselves if such a release will be worth it financially. Blu-rays are still quite a bit more expensive to produce than DVDs, both in authoring and in replication. If the disc in question will only sell a few hundred copies, it's unlikely that the publisher will make back that investment, and so a Blu-ray release is probably not a good idea. But DVD is something that is relatively cheap and easy to make, so putting that version out would be far less risky.

There are shows that will never be properly remastered in HD, and shows where the US publisher just can't make a Blu-ray release work. But more and more often these days, old shows are getting dusted off and given the treatment they deserve.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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