Customer Review

36 of 66 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great material-- lousy video transfer, June 17, 2013
This review is from: The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes (DVD)
(N.B. - This review is based upon viewing a copy of the finished DVD set purchased by the author directly from Shout! Factory, the manufacturer of the product.)

While the material on this set is **marvelous**, and pretty much beyond reproach, it's a pity that for all that is written about the alleged "restoration" of these kinescopes in the accompanying booklet, this DVD set looks like it was transferred by dropping the films off at Walmart.

It's unbelievable that in 2013, we would have to watch a DVD that contains film elements that were transferred on a telecine that used 1960's technology. Instead of a clean and **professional** archival transfer, where every frame is registered separately and distinctly to allow for proper motion upon viewing, what we have here are films that have been transferred with every frame blended together with one or two others (which causes noticeable and distracting "ghosting" to the image), and then to top it off, one out of every five frames repeats. The result is a jerky, stuttery mess that becomes increasingly distracting with any movement within the frame.

It's quite possible that some viewers will not notice or care about these all-too-easily avoidable deficiencies. As I mentioned, it's such a joy to have any new Benny material available that many may be able to overlook the technical aspects of the presentation. But the point must be made that this is not an accurate representation of what vintage television can look like. Whether or not more advanced restoration methods are used in the final production, the basis of any modern video presentation should begin with an accurate and professional transfer of the underlying material. For whatever reason, that was not done in this case.

So unfortunately, buyer beware.
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Comments

Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 17, 2013 8:36:21 PM PDT
fuzz says:
The great Mr Benny has been so neglected for so long that I really hate to see anyone give this set a bad review (even for valid technical reasons). I'm sure you are correct in your statements but unfortunately we live in a world that is on the verge of forgetting Benny altogether ... generations of Americans do not even know who he is. This is disastrous. Benny, along with so many great entertainers of the past need to be remembered and if a revival of interest needs to start with a less than perfect transfer, then so be it. Better late than never and better less than perfect quality than lost forever. Given the business attitudes surrounding a release like this I'd say we have to be glad it has been made available at all. Possibly this will change ... it certainly should. You are right, a set like this deserves the best treatment possible, but I hate to hear or say anything that will discourage sales and/or future releases.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2013 5:16:36 AM PDT
Andre M. says:
I agree fuzz. These technophiles can sometimes be too perfectionist for their own good. I'm personally just glad to see this stuff at all since most early TV was not made with posterity in mind.

Posted on Jun 20, 2013 12:09:37 AM PDT
jachorn says:
So my question is how do you know what the quality of the DVD is when it won't be released for another month? This always mystifies me - people writing reviews about products before they're released. If you have had an advanced copy it would be much more helpful if you stated the fact, or did I over look something?
If you have actually previewed the specific DVD then my tendency would be to give you more credence.
Clarification please?
(And were there any positives about the DVD beyond the negatives?)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2013 2:46:47 AM PDT
Kevin Segura says:
I received a copy of the DVD set direct from Shout! Factory, who are issuing it a month early to customers that ordered it directly from their website. My apologies for neglecting to mention that.

Are there positives? Of course-- the packaging is nice and the accompanying text is well-written and informative. And as I said, the material itself is **marvelous**-- it's live episodes of the Benny program that haven't been seen since their original broadcast, so on that basis alone, it's an important release. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the DVD production crew made such an abysmal decision regarding the transfer of the original kinescope film elements. And I'm certainly not telling people not to buy it, I'm just pointing out the noticeable and unnecessarily inferior quality of what they're going to receive.

To address the comment that I'm too picky about picture quality-- whether the material involved was a major theatrical movie or just a weekly TV show, if you're doing a transfer of a film element to a video format, the bare minimum that anyone should ask for (and consumers should be able to expect) is a clean, professional transfer of the images on the film. How would "Gone With the Wind" (or any major motion picture) look if every frame was double exposed, and the motion was broken up by the insertion of duplicate frames? Alternately, if you're say, a music fan-- how enjoyable would it be for anyone to try to listen to their favorite piece of music if it was mixed out of synch, and had six stutters inserted every second?

Unfortunately, **that's** exactly the level of degraded quality that we're talking about with this set. I'm not saying that it's unwatchable (the Benny program is relatively static, in terms of camera work, and most of the actors are fairly low-key, so those factors limit the viewing difficulty). But once your eye catches the ghosting (from the frame blending) and choppy motion artifacts (from the duplicate frames), and it **will** at some point, you'll start seeing them all through the set. And there's no reason those defects should be there in the first place. It's simply that someone didn't care enough to notice and/or correct it.

So having said that, I'll get off the soapbox. It really pains me to have to report these flaws in a set that I was very much looking forward to. But I simply can't stand silently by and let other people pay their money, try to watch these shows, and then come away thinking that this is what classic TV programs look like. Because I know better, and now so does everyone else that is reading this. Jack Benny and his show are part of our cultural heritage, and we should rightfully expect that they receive better treatment than this.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2013 6:51:44 PM PDT
jachorn says:
Thanks for your informative reply - it helps me a lot. I agree about the transfer quality issue - we are way too far into the digital/HD age to have to accept standards more common back in the 80s and 90s.

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 8:06:49 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 1, 2013 1:42:14 PM PDT]

Posted on Jun 27, 2013 5:03:31 PM PDT
Kinescopes were film copies made by pointing a camera directly at a TV monitor. Blurred interlacing between frames is part of the transfer process from live video to film. Once the frames are merged on film like that, no amount of restoration will separate them again.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2013 1:22:25 AM PDT
Kevin Segura says:
That's true-- a minor amount of blending did inherently occur in the kinescoping process (although in practice, the special monitor screens used for kinescoping were specifically sized and had an increased decay time that effectively eliminated a large percentage of the artifacts that you might expect to see).

All the more reason therefore, to insure that a clean and accurate transfer of such material is performed for video -- there's no reason to unnecessarily compound motion artifacts, film grain, etc. by cutting corners and pinching pennies with such an important part of the video process.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2013 11:28:12 PM PDT
TheBigClock says:
"...cutting corners and pinching pennies..."

THAT'S Jack Benny!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 12, 2013 10:51:38 AM PDT
Trainmaster says:
Mr. Worth is on the money here.
These are the early kinescopes that were used for airing in different time zones, as there was no way to 'properly' record a live TV show back then. Videotape was several years down the road. They also were given to the sponsor as a compliance check. This last use is why many older shows exist today - because the sponsor (or agency) saved a copy!
Kinescope quality varied tremendously in the early 50's, from acceptable to poor - but that is what you saw in your time zone! In most cases only one time zone would get a live feed, usually that was the East Coast. Don't forget the TV cameras used during the actual show - the Iconoscopes! Very poor images with lots of artifacts in the image.
Kinescope equipment varied tremendously from station to station and from network to network. Yes, special monitors were used sometimes, but also, facilities used homemade rigs. Coupled with the fact that virtually all kinescopes were made using a special 16mm B&W film stock from Kodak or Dupont -the resolution suffers.
So, when this release comes out, I can only hope that at least:
1. The dirt and scratches are removed.
2. The image has been sharpened - this can be very effective.
3. The contrast adjusted.
Not much else can be done.
I'm OK with that!
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