The Deep Space Nine Upscale Project is an unofficial fan effort and not affiliated with Paramount in any way.
After three months of work, the Deep Space Nine Upscale Project (DS9UP) has hit some milestones that I feel comfortable showing off in greater detail. While there’s still more to do to bring Deep Space Nine into the modern era, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the past three months.
I’ve included a broader array of videos in this article. If you’ve wanted to see more head-to-head comparisons and examples of how different settings play against each other, you’ll like what we’ve got in store for you. Footage sources compared here are:
Original DVD: Not much point to the comparison if I don’t show you where we started from. There’s a lot I don’t like about Deep Space Nine on DVD, but I’d recommend anyone buy them compared to streaming the show. In-article designation: “DVD.”
Upscaled MKV: This is the toughest comparison for DS9UP. Topaz Video Enhance AI has a 30-day free trial and a $199 – $299 list price depending if it’s on sale. The DVD set costs ~$110. If I can’t demonstrate a better version of Deep Space Nine than you’d see from upscaling a DVD rip, there’s literally no point in what I’m doing. In-article designation: “MKV.” Original MKV from the DS9 rips I did ~15 years ago.
DS9UP Encode Process: My own work. Because this is an ongoing series of articles and I want to be able to refer to my own encode workflows without confusing people, I’ve decided to use codenames for the major “releases,” as it were. Fortunately, there’s a ready supply of thematically appropriate names near to hand. Say hello to Rubicon, a 23.976fps constant frame rate conversion of DS9’s original variable frame rate content. It’s currently created with Handbrake, StaxRip (AviSynth, not VapourSynth), and DaVinci Studio Resolve. Details on why I’m using Handbrake instead of MakeMKV will be forthcoming in an upcoming article.
Rubicon isn’t perfect — it’s got a ~100ms audio synchronization bug in a couple of clips that I still need to fix, but I’ll iron it out. Besides, it wouldn’t be Star Trek if Season 1 didn’t end with a few bugs to work out.
Previously, On Deep Space Nine The Deep Space 9 Upscale Project…
I was inspired to undertake this project by the work of CaptRobau, who published the first screenshots and video of what an upscaled Deep Space Nine could look like. I investigated the possibility of upscaling the show myself, but the performance figures were daunting and Gigapixel AI often crashes if you attempt to load too many images at once. The idea of manually converting each episode in batches of 2,500 to 5,000 frames was anything but appealing.
The release of Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI took this idea from pipe dream to possible. While the application is still very new and in need of some bug fixes, its long-term potential is demonstrably tremendous.
Deep Space Nine is, unfortunately, an ideal candidate for this kind of restoration. While Paramount created an absolutely beautiful Star Trek: The Next Generation remaster, the company has claimed the boxed set didn’t sell well enough to justify making an effort for the later shows like Deep Space Nine and Voyager. For reference, this sort of image quality is what major stream providers like Netflix believe is acceptable:
DS9’s lousy streaming quality isn’t news to longtime fans of the show. It’s just that now, there’s something to be done about it. I decided that if Paramount wasn’t willing to treat DS9 with the respect it deserved, I’d take on the challenge myself, despite having no previous experience or education in video editing. Rubicon isn’t perfect, but I think it represents a significant uplift worth talking about.
Up until now, my clips have either lacked audio or had audio badly out of sync with the video feed. That’s no longer the case. So let’s get started:
Tips for Best Viewing, Notes on Quality Comparisons
Be advised that the audio on some of the Rubicon clips is off by a fixed ~100ms. This can be easily corrected for in a video player, but I haven’t had time to figure out why it happened in the first place.
Always set Netflix to play in 4K or the highest available quality, even if you do not have a 4K monitor. This will improve the quality of the stream regardless. The quality differences between Rubicon, an MKV, and the other versions of Deep Space Nine are less apparent at lower quality levels.
Be aware that the largest gap in quality, at least in my opinion, is between the streamed services and the DVDs. That’s not an absolute — there are some scenes where the DVDs are quite poor — but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.
The gap between the upscaled MKV file we’ve included in this coverage and what Rubicon can achieve is much smaller than the leap from DVD to upscaled footage. When I wrote my first article on upscaling Deep Space Nine, I said that I felt as if running an MKV through Topaz VEAI got you 75 – 80 percent of the improvement that might be reasonably squeezed out of the DVD source, and that still seems like a pretty fair assessment.
Initial Fleet Flyby
The DVD looks pretty good here, honestly. There’s not a lot of great detail on the distant ships, but the nearby Excelsior comes through quite nicely.
The MKV looks really nice, here. I don’t expect to see the Rubicon encode recover much more detail than we have already.
The hitch at the front of the video is because of where I cut the frame. Apart from that, Rubicon and the MKV tie here. Not much difference.
Most of my comparisons have been battle comparisons to-date, but not much of Deep Space Nine actually involves combat. This short clip focuses on a range of characters — shows like DS9 have a lot of skin tones, and some AI upscalers handle them oddly.
The DVD is dark — Deep Space Nine feels dark overall — but the detail is pretty solid. Dax’s face looks oddly low-detail, though.
The GCG preset brings out some nice detail in the clip, but it also creates an odd aberation on the bulkhead over Sisko’s left shoulder at one point. This appears to be an error in the upscaler — the problem isn’t present on the regular version of the MKV — but it shows how important it is to keep every bit of detail, since it isn’t present in Rubicon, either.
I don’t think there’s all that much difference between the MKV and the Rubicon upscale in this clip, either. That’s not to say I can’t see a difference — if you pause both videos on exactly the same frame, you can usually find a few details that favor Rubicon, and in a few spots, places that favor the MKV. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure how much of the detail is visible. Rubicon has a ~100ms audio delay in this clip that I didn’t notice until it was too late to fix for this article.
First Fleet Engagement
This sequence is one of the great battle shots of Deep Space Nine. The show had been showing us fleet engagements all throughout Season 6, but Sacrifice of Angels was teased hard as something that was going to be extra-special. This isn’t the first fleet skirmish — those have been going on for a while by this point in the episode — but this is the largest pure Federation fleet we’ve ever seen opening up on-screen.
The DVD looks like it was recorded off someone’s old VCR tapes. The ships going by in the background look like vague little miniatures. The image is downright ugly and robbed of most of the impact.
The MKV file is a huge improvement over the DVD. The noise is gone and you can get a sense for just how large an engagement this was intended to look like. Tremendous improvement.
This is another area where the improvements from Rubicon over MKV are small, but definite. Watch the leading edge on the saucer on the lead Galaxy-class vessel in the two clips and you’ll see that it’s blurrier. Rubicon is slightly sharper overall, and it’s easier to follow the Galaxy-class vessels as they move from the background to the foreground of the video. Until I upscaled this scene, I didn’t realize that the Galaxy-class ships moving through it near the end had even been visible in the back of the video. When I said you’ve never really seen this footage until you upscale it, I really wasn’t kidding.
Second Fleet Engagement:
The second, climactic battle of Sacrifice of Angels. I’ve showed short clips of this fight sequence before, but this is the first time I’ve shown the whole thing. This was one of the all-time high watermarks for DS9’s VFX team.
The DVD is, once again, badly marred by noise. It’s difficult to read the hull letters on the Miranda-class ships and there’s a weird aliased grill on the bottom of the Miranda saucer. Several interlaced frames are prominently visible. It’s a dismal way to experience such a beautiful set of scenes.
The MKVs, as expected, dramatically clean up the show. Again, I can’t argue with anybody who says this footage looks gorgeous in upscale. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
Rubicon eliminates all but a trace of the aliased pattern on the underside of the Miranda-class hull, smooths out the motion overall, and cleans the noise out of the smoke billowing around on the Defiant’s bridge until it just looks like, well, smoke. Detail levels in the Rubicon clip are just a touch higher.
How About Some Footage From a Different Episode? Any Episode?
No matter how bored you are of looking at Sacrifice of Angels, I promise you, you are not as tired of it as I am. I’m literally better at lip-reading than I was before I started this project. With that said? Your wish is my command:
It was important to me to demonstrate that Rubicon could stand up to footage in other seasons without modification. I used exactly the same process to render “The Die is Cast” that I did for the rest of the show.
Looking Ahead to Season 2
I’m declaring this the end of “Season 1” of DS9UP for several reasons. First, I’ve got a move coming up, and need to turn my attention towards it. Second, I’m long past due to circle back and talk to some folks who have either wanted to help with this project or are already actively working on efforts of their own. Third, I want to pause long enough to hammer some remaining issues out of my workflow, understand some of the problems I’ve had over the past few months a bit better, and return to the idea of improving the color balance of Deep Space Nine through some judicious changes.
As things stand, I’ll be writing a follow-up article to this one over the next week or so, with some additional examples of alternate workflows and outcomes when using applications like AviSynth. In addition to 5Sharp, I’ve got a ~48 fps and ~60 fps version of Deep Space Nine that have their own strengths and weaknesses. We’ll also finally be taking a look at Gaia-HQ.
I couldn’t have completed the work I’ve accomplished to-date without help from a number of people, including Gary Huff, Mark Renoden, Steve Reeve for some deinterlacing solution ideas, and help from several members of the Doom9 forum. Shortstack, I still hope to chat with you about recoloring ideas. Anybody else who deserves to be on this list, I sweartogod I’ll update it as soon as I’ve slept.
What We Brought Ahead
Deep Space Nine is too good of a show to be left rotting on DVD-era source. For all Paramount’s talk about the high costs of remastering, I’d love to see the breakout of recutting all of DS9 and Voyager compared with the cost of a single episode of Discovery. Back in 2017, leaked data showed the budget for Discovery at $8M – $8.5M per episode. Supposedly TNG’s episodes cost $70K each to remaster, but let’s assume VOY and DS9 are more expensive, at $100K each. The $34.8M it would take to remaster 348 episodes of TV works out to… about 4.5 episodes of Discovery?
Paramount could build a better version of the show than I could even hope to create — but since they aren’t going to bother, I figure I’ll keep up my own efforts.
On the night the last episode of Deep Space Nine aired, I carried my IBM K6-233 tower out to the living room, ran a 3.5mm cable from the audio-out port on our VCR into the line-in port on my sound card, and made a recording of the following. It’s been one of my favorite moments of the show ever since it aired, and I can’t think of a better way to end what I feel has been a very successful “season” thus far, than with a little James Darren.
Rubicon’s credits. I’m actually a little more partial to the ones I released back on April 27, but the Defiant’s motion is better here.
To the actors, artists, creators, directors, set crew, sound crew, and anyone else I’ve forgotten: Thanks for creating a show so damn good, people still rally around it 25 years later to see it treated with the respect it deserves.
May the Prophets guide you.