A little over two years ago, I launched the Deep Space Nine and Voyager Upscale Project (DS9VUP). In the eight months since my last update I have shattered my previous quality records and discovered a method for converting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager that produces far better final output than I believed was possible. It is possible to restore Deep Space Nine and Voyager to 720p HD-equivalent quality. I have done so. It’s time to start seriously asking why Paramount apparently can’t afford to hire a couple of interns to fix the current version of the show.
This is a long article and it covers a lot of ground. It also contains a fair number of video clips and images. The slideshow below should help you decide up-front if you want to spend some time here or not. Each one of the slides in the slideshow below is a 2560×1920 frame from an episode I’ve restored. Each slide will open full-size in a new window if clicked on. Ctrl-click if you want to stay focused on ET while opening a slide in the background.
I’ve included frames from multiple Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager episodes above, with additional images and videos in the article below. We’ll also make use of the imgsli.com image comparison tool. Imgsli is a free tool that allows an end-user to compare two more images with an easy-to-adjust slider. I recommend it to anyone who needs to perform an A/B comparison between two or more equal-resolution images.
There is, unfortunately, an inevitable quality hit associated with using YouTube to share work like this. I regret that I do not have a better solution for sharing samples in top quality.
Previously On… the Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Voyager Upscale Project
If this is your first time discovering the Voyager and Deep Space Nine Upscale project, welcome. A little over two years ago, I launched a personal and completely unofficial effort to remaster Star Trek: Deep Space Nine based on the original DVD source, using then-new software like Topaz Video Enhance AI. After some initial success with DS9, I decided to extend the project to Star Trek: Voyager. I have surpassed my own hopes as far as absolute restored quality.
My goal, from the beginning, has been to create a tutorial for restoring these TV shows that anyone can follow. I published a guide for Deep Space Nine last year. The process has changed significantly since last summer and that tutorial is now outdated. It will be updated and a new tutorial published for Voyager in the near future.
The work I’m showing today is not based on the same workflow I’ll eventually recommend people follow for the show. The workflow that created this content does not map easily to a one-size-fits all tutorial.
One of the guiding precepts of this project has been to rely on free software to the greatest extent possible. While Topaz Video Enhance AI is a paid product, the other applications I use are either completely free (AviSynth, VapourSynth) or offer a free version capable of doing what we need for this project, like DaVinci Resolve.
What Does It Mean to Restore Voyager and Deep Space Nine to High Definition?
The acronym HD (High Definition) surprisingly doesn’t have a universal, formal definition. It is generally understood to refer to video content with a native resolution of either 1280×720 (720p) or 1920×1080 (1080p). Voyager and Deep Space Nine are both encoded at the standard DVD resolution of 720×480, well below even 720p. By default, neither qualify.
On a subjective, personal level, my standard for HD is this: If I can’t tell I’m watching a DVD, it qualifies as HD. The reason I avoided the term in the past is because none of my work was good enough to qualify by either the technical or the informal standard. That’s no longer the case. Here’s the latest version of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine credits. While I wouldn’t claim they look 4K, I’d believe this was an early 720p source without batting an eyelash.
All previous issues related to line waver and flicker have been resolved. Improper focus in some parts of the station flyby has been resolved. Line resolution through the station is excellent. Color in the above video has been lightly graded but not dramatically. All of this was achievable without access to the master tape Paramount has locked in a vault somewhere.
Let me be clear: When I say I can restore DS9 and Voyager to HD-equivalent quality, I do not mean that this is achievable in literally every frame and scene. There are still places where the DVD encoded very little detail, leaving the upscaler next to nothing to work with. I can no more summon 720p-equivalent output in these circumstances than I can flap my arms and fly. When this happens, the best way to deal with it is to find settings that minimize the visibility of the damage rather than amplifying or emphasizing it within the scene. A little strategic blurring can work wonders.
But, as the introduction scene from Trials and Tribble-ations shows, the total uplift can be remarkable. When I say Deep Space Nine can be upscaled to HD quality and sustain that quality across an entire episode, this is what I mean. The clip below transitions between multiple environments and lighting schemes, showing off the range of improvement in a variety of areas. Set the video to the highest resolution your monitor supports for best results.
The sparkling starfield at the beginning of the clip appears on the original DVD as well.
I do not want to give a false impression. Not every Deep Space Nine or Voyager episode is encoded well enough to make this level of improvement possible when using consumer-grade tools and software. Every episode can be substantially improved, however, and many can be improved to the point that they look like early era HD content — which wasn’t exactly error-free itself. The weaker episodes can be improved to the level of “Much better looking DVD.”
The level of improvement potentially available to Paramount more than justifies the far-lower cost of restoring the show without remastering the entire thing from source. While a source remaster is the best and most-preferred option, there are cheaper alternatives that would still deliver real gains.
Once More Unto the Breach
When last I wrote, I planned to pivot directly from DS9 to VOY and begin a restoration episode for that show. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — I made the mistake of pivoting and testing my own recommended upscale method on the Season 3 episode “Defiant.” The results were… bad. Unacceptably bad.
I warned in my previous article that the method in that article didn’t work as well for early Deep Space Nine, but I hadn’t reckoned with exactly how lousy the early seasons were. I’ve spent the last eight months learning how to improve them. It turns out that virtually everything I learned transfers to and improves Voyager as well. I’ve waited to do a major update until I could discuss both shows simultaneously because I promised Voyager fans they were next.
Then, earlier this week, my primary project drive and main SSD died without warning. While I had some backups, they predated my work of the last few weeks. I was forced to recreate most of the footage in this article from scratch.
The Deep Space Nine Upscale Project is an unofficial fan restoration run by a highly competitive porcupine who enjoys lost causes and sucks at giving up on things. It is not blessed, encouraged, endorsed, or sanctified by Paramount.
I do not endorse piracy. If you intend to restore Deep Space Nine and Voyager, you will need the original DVDs to do it. Either PAL or NTSC will work (NTSC is preferred for quality reasons) but whatever ripped versions are available online most likely will not. Those files have already been encoded, throwing away at least some of the detail we want to preserve.
Let’s talk about the episodes.
I picked Endgame to show off my first serious Voyager effort because Season 7 was well-encoded and the episode has some great moments and special effects shots. It’s also the only episode that survived the SSD failure — “Year of Hell” (Parts I & II) didn’t survive the Great Corsair MP600 Failure of 2022.
While I’m quite pleased with the quality of these clips overall, I’m afraid there are some small motion errors at several points. A recent change to my workflow had an unexpected impact on DaVinci Resolve’s ability to create motion-perfect video output, even when given a sequence of PNG frames to assemble. So far, it looks as though the solution is to output files to TIF instead of having Resolve assemble the file. This requires an enormous amount of storage space and I’ve been busy recreating a lot of footage on top of it.
I will replace these clips with motion-perfect ones as soon as possible.
I chose Endgame to restore because it tells a unique story in Star Trek history. The interaction between older and younger versions of Janeway lets Kate Mulgrew show both the person that her character is and the woman she’ll be a few decades later. Seeing an admiral dress down a captain isn’t particularly new on Star Trek, but this is the only time we see both parts played by the same person. The psychological impact of realizing your future self had come back in time to wipe away their own existence would likely be significant.
There are still a few rough spots in this footage and the lighting is challenging, but I’m confident I can resolve the issues and continue improving Voyager‘s overall quality. While most of what I have learned about DS9 transfers to Voyager there are still some issues peculiar to each. The more time I spend with the show, the better I’ll know how to fix them.
Season 7 of Voyager is in good shape and restores well. Like all finales, Endgame had a tough job — it isn’t easy to wrap up seven years of plot lines and explain how the USS Voyager got home in the first place. The Seven / Chakotay romance plotline doesn’t hold up well, but the episode itself cleans up beautifully.
DS9: Trials and Tribble-ations
Trials and Tribble-ations is a unique episode of Deep Space Nine. For Star Trek’s 30th Anniversary, DS9 revisited a highly rated TOS episode through the magic of time travel. I have had the opportunity to talk with some of the original DS9 crew about the effort to recreate TOS costumes, sets, lighting, and set design.
Recently developed (at the time) digital compositing techniques were used to insert the Deep Space Nine cast into classic, TOS footage while a new studio model of the Enterprise was built for special effect shots. A great deal of care was taken to duplicate TOS as exactly as possible. This wasn’t easy, given the numerous technological changes over the time period. Background graphics on the bridge, blinking light patterns, and overhead lighting were all studied and replicated, right down to the Starship-class plaque on the Enterprise bridge.
Many of the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine were lifetime fans of The Original Series. Trials and Tribble-ations offered them a chance to rebuild the Enterprise of their childhood. For those who were too young to work on the original show, rebuilding the sets, lighting, makeup, and costumes of the original was the next best thing. Jadzia Dax’s thrill at being back in the 23rd century was a nod to how excited the cast and crew were to be working on a TOS episode. The scene below with O’Brien and Bashir nods to the grandfather paradox a few years before Fry would have his own encounter on Futurama.
What’s striking about T&T is how well the digital effects wizardry holds up 26 years later. The team that designed Trials and Tribble-ations made a critically important decision not to try to do too much with the footage and technology of the time. Direct interactions between the classic crew of the Enterprise and the crew of the TNG-era are limited. Ultimately, this works in the episode’s favor.
This is one of a handful of Deep Space Nine I specifically remember watching when it aired. While I liked the original Star Trek, it was difficult to love the special effects after growing up on Star Wars and TNG. I remember being excited to see what the original Enterprise would look like when filmed with modern equipment and an actual budget. Features like the hull plates on the rebuilt model always existed but were invisible when filmed in the 1960s using the budget and technology of the era.
This episode is a gem of Star Trek history and it deserves a better fate than languishing on DVD.
What About Lower-Quality Episodes?
I’ve got some footage from the Deep Space Nine Season 3 episode “Defiant” to show what can be achieved with lower-quality encodes. It took me several months to figure out how to achieve this kind of uplift and it’s not a particularly straightforward process, but it can be done.
Again, there are still some absolute limits and places where insufficient detail exists. The holodeck scene at the beginning of Emissary is still a trainwreck, for example. But there are fewer areas of bad footage than I used to think there were, and even poorer-quality episodes can be meaningfully improved.
I created a clip from Defiant for this article but YouTube is chewing it up badly enough that I want to try and recreate it first. As a consolation, here’s the rebuilt Defiant battle scene from “Way of the Warrior,” newly remastered for this project.
Are there still problems I don’t know how to fix? Sure. But that’s actually a good thing. It means there are still further gains that could be realized from these TV shows, if someone were to put the work in to doing so. I have barely touched color grading, and good color grading can make a tremendous difference in perceived quality.
The worst episodes of DS9 and Voyager could look better than the best ones do today on DVD. The best-encoded episodes could match the TNG remaster.
Why the Hell Can’t Paramount Do This?
Every time I’ve written about this project, someone pops up to note that Paramount could do this better than I can. That person is always right. I’m working from low-quality DVD transfers. Paramount has the original master footage.
The explanation for why Paramount can’t remaster these shows has been blamed on the expense of recreating the CGI, combined with the cost of rescanning the film at higher resolution. After seeing the quality I’ve been able to achieve when working with the DVDs, I’d like to call this what it is: Horseshit.
First, the original CGI footage does not need to be recreated in order to be restored. The early physical shots used in DS9 can be scanned from the source again while the late-season CGI can be brushed up via AI. This also applies to Voyager.
Second, footage doesn’t need to be re-scanned from film source to bring the show back to high quality. While that would be the best way to do it, the above clips show it’s not the only option to achieve meaningful improvement.
Third, even in the event that the studio chose to recreate the CGI, we aren’t talking about tons and tons of footage or a great deal of money. Even the most special effects-heavy episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager only used these effects for a few minutes of footage per episode.
Shows like Star Trek: Discovery have a budget of $8.5 million per episode. According to people I’ve spoken to in the VFX industry, the estimated cost of remastering both DS9 and Voyager is a fraction the cost of Discovery. It might be possible to do the entirety of both shows for roughly the cost of one (1) Discovery episode.
Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine may not have reached TNG’s heights of popularity, but both shows have powerful episodes that stand among the best science-fiction ever filmed. Episodes like “Latent Image” explore the nature of AI and ethical decision-making in moments of crisis. “Far Beyond the Stars” is a powerful civil rights story and exploration of the biases and prejudices Black people faced in the mid-20th century and, in some cases, still face today. While Deep Space Nine is my favorite TNG-era show, my opinion of Voyager has risen as I’ve watched it again.
I started the Deep Space Nine and Voyager Upscale Project over two years ago because I was unhappy about the state of the show on Netflix. Now that I’ve seen just how much quality can be squeezed out of the DVDs, there’s no excuse for the condition of either show as they exist on the streaming market. Paramount could fund the creation of a full-scale HD remaster, which is what I still hope they’d do. Failing that, they could work with some of the enthusiastic people in the user community, including myself, to create a restored version of the show with their own formal imprimatur.
But no matter what Paramount does, or refuses to do, it’s time for the general Star Trek community to know that the only reason Voyager and Deep Space Nine are trapped in low-resolution purgatory is because Paramount chooses to leave them there. A full remaster would be the gold standard. It’s not the only option available that delivers real improvement.