Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Trouble with Digital Noise Reduction

For those who don't know, there's been controversy brewing on internet forums regarding the picture quality of Blu-Ray releases.  DNR is a process being used to reduce the amount of grain present in Blu-Ray picture.  For most of the past 115 years movies have been shot on film, thus making grain an inherent part of the image.  The advent of HD has all but completely eliminated the grain layer to modern movies.  However, with Blu-Rays becoming the new "DVD" there has been a swell of classic films being released in the HD format.  With most of these films having been shot on film there is a dispute over the use of DNR to get rid of or reduce the grain that these films carry.

The case against DNR is it takes away from what the director intended his vision to be.  Since, as I said, grain is inherent in film a lot of people feel that the Non-DNR'd look should be preserved on Blu-Ray, grain and all, straight off the 35 or 70mm master.  Most feel that grain gives the Blu-Ray a film look that replicates what was experienced in theater.  All this is sounds like a good idea on paper, but I have one big problem with this thought process.  Most people have 1080p LCD Flat Screen TVs, and nothing on them looks even remotely like film.  The only thing that looks like film, is film.  On top of that HD TVs are not very flattering to films that haven't had any kind of DNR applied.  The grain makes the colors extremely blotchy and it looks more like it's being tuned in on an antenna rather than being projected in a darkened theater.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm an avid supporter of DNR.  Excessive grain on an HD TV is way more distracting than a 35mm or 70mm projection. Movie theaters get away with this because the projection is usually soft and somewhat dim.  With modern TV's pretty much every pixel is prominent.  Here's another question, if film geeks think grain should be put in to give a movie a "film" look what about those projection picture jitters? That shaky look that occurs from a strip of celluloid zipping past a light bulb? Thats an inherent part of film, should blu ray try to recreate that?

That is my big problem with this whole debate, how much DNR is too much? How much is too little?  Is it acceptable in some movies and not in others? What makes a movie acceptable for DNR? What makes it unacceptable?  Everyone has a different answer, even the most acclaimed blu-rays with re-mastered picture have someone bitching about too much DNR or too little or someone saying none should've been used at all.  Also, where was this debate with DVDs?  When it came to DVDs all people cared about was the clearest picture possible, why the shift all the sudden?  DVD's aren't too far behind in picture quality.

Although I am opinionated I am not unreasonable, with most Blu-Rays having enough room for two versions of a film I would like to see one DNR'd and one straight off the 35mm or 70mm transfer.  That way everyone is somewhat pleased. With 50 GB of space on Blu-Ray I can't imagine this being a hard thing to do.  Though even if this was common practice, someone would find something to complain about.