For a long time this show was rumored to be problematic, because it was produced before the prevalence of our current HD formats. All nine seasons were shot on film, but post-production was completed in standard definition (SD). Thus, in order for us to get a proper version of the show in HD any post-production image-manipulation would have to be redone. This includes every single visual effect shot, and possibly any shot with text, both the opening credits and the establishing shots throughout the show.
On top of the resolution problems there's the format issue.
Like I said, from the start the show was shot on 35mm film. It was apparently framed in a way so that the 16:9 aspect ratio could be utilized in the future, even though the first four seasons of the show were originally transmitted in 4:3, standard academy.
So, here we are.
While we wait for The Complete Series Blu-ray box set we can take a look at the VOD HD version of the show, and compare it to the original DVD release.
I've chosen one of my favorite episodes: End Game - curiously, and somewhat disturbingly, misnamed in the iTunes store (They call it 'End Games'),
Season 2, Episode 2x17
Original airdate February 17, 1995
Disclaimer: These are not pixel-perfect, 100% completely accurate screenshots. They may not be a completely fair representation of the final product, when this episode make its way to Blu-ray. However, the images have not been touched up, or altered in any way.
These examples show the vast difference in resolution, plus they demonstrate how the re-framing from 4:3 to 16:9 looks:
Notice here how the text has been moved to fit the new framing:
Here's another example.
Let's look a little closer at this shot.
First, here the two versions have been placed on top of each other. As you'll notice, the widescreen version has lost image near the bottom, but gained some at both the left and right side. These discrepancies will likely vary from shot to shot, depending on the situation.
Finally, here is a blowup of the DVD image side by side with the HD image, so it's easier to appreciate the new clarity.
There's no doubt that the iTunes HD version represent a vast improvement in image quality. I'm a little more concerned about the framing issues. Even though the show was shot 'safe' for both 4:3 and 16:9, I find it hard to believe that both framings were given equal consideration for every single shot. I hope they framed for 16:9, and made sure the 4:3 frame was at least usable, but that seems unlikely too, when one considers that the show did not go to 16:9 transmission for FOUR YEARS.
I'm also curious about how the effects and other SD elements look in their upgraded versions. We'll get a chance to look at this in detail in December, when the complete super duper Blu-ray box arrives. I've already pre-ordered mine. I want to watch this show in the highest possible resolution.
And that's why they put the 'eye' in F.B.I....