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How can a movie from 1987 be better in HD than SD? Does that apply to all movies that were recorded on old-style film?

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Could you elaborate on what you base this claim? Any examples of movies that are better in HD than SD? –  Ivo Flipse Feb 9 '13 at 20:26
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@IvoFlipse Star Trek: TOS and Twilight Zone are two blu-ray releases that spring to mind as embodying this issue. –  user209 Feb 11 '13 at 16:44

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up vote 29 down vote accepted

Because the resolution of film is better than the resolution of standard-definition TV. It is difficult to define the resolution of 'film' since it is not a digital, pixel based media. But film is designed to be sharp even on much larger screens than any television. We can however use the resolution of digital cinema projectors as a good proxy figure.

So to compare the resolutions:

  • The technology used for Digital Cinema on large movie theatres are called '4k' projectors, and have a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels (8.8 megapixels). Smaller screens can use '2k' systems 2048 x 1080 pixels (2.2 megapixels), but the 4k systems are probably the closer proxy to film which can be projected onto very large screens.

  • Analogue SD TV has a vertical resolution of 480 or 576 interlaced lines. Digital SD also varies in resolution, but the ATSD format is 720 x 480 pixels (under 0.4 megapixels).

  • Digital HD TV again has several formats, 720p and 1080p are the most common. 1080p has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (2.1 megapixels) - close to the lower standards of digital cinema projectors currently used.

As you can see from the figures above, the resolution of film exceeds the resolution of SD television by some margin. The resolution of HD TV approaches that of digital cinema.

So a transfer of a movie shot on film to HD TV is going to result in a more faithful copy than than a transfer to SD TV. So a movie shot in the 1980s (or even the 1930s) is going to look better in an HD transfer than an SD one.

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I tried to answer this earlier, but SE on the iPad sucks :) Anyhoo - to add to iandotkelly's excellent answer, providing the original negatives are available for scanning and converting to digital, then yes, the image will be superior. Many film purists maintain that a well made (lit) film is equal to, if not richer in color and detail, than anything shot on HD. –  Nobby Feb 9 '13 at 21:44
    
I'd also add the SD is often cropped, and HD is 16:9 so you see more of the original film. Unless the SD version was letter boxed (which made it even worse). –  Mathew Foscarini Feb 9 '13 at 23:55
    
It is a good answer, but it would be even better if you included some data about the effective pixel resolutions of SD, HD and digital cinema displays (the last would give a good approximation of the equivalent resolution of projected film as modern digital projectors are getting close in resolution and better in stability). –  matt_black Feb 10 '13 at 18:56
    
@matt_black - excellent suggestion, I've completely revised the answer to reflect that approach. –  iandotkelly Feb 10 '13 at 20:49
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@iandotkelly Excellent work, I wish I could vote again! –  matt_black Feb 10 '13 at 21:13

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