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This thread contains assumptions about old TV shows. Most old shows available through BDUs have been originated from tapes originally mastered in standard definition, 4:3 aspect ratio for broadcast services but this does not necessarily mean the original material is not high definition.

In the US, most dramatic television series have been shot on 35mm motion picture film since the beginning of commercial television. The quality of the original negatives or finished programs (on film) is much greater than the resolution of SD television. If the economics are favourable, the program owners will probably remaster these shows in high definition. I don't have any list of remastered series I but have the British series 'The Prisoner' on Blu-Ray which is more of a cult series than mainstream. If they are doing cult titles then it seems reasonable to expect that more mainstream titles will be converted. I think Blu-Ray and VOD will probably drive the process but once the conversions are done then broadcasters will have the opportunity to license the HD versions.

Several options exist for creating HD masters. In the most basic approach, the finished program on film can be scanned in the original production aspect ratio. Scanning is not a simple process because film damage, dirt, scratches and color must be corrected. A more sophisticated approach goes back to the original negatives and allows for re-editing and creation of a new audio track which may be 5.1 format. Television production technology evolved over the years and it became commonplace during the 80s to originate on film then edit and finish the program on tape. These shows are only complete in SD so the edit and finish stages would have to be repeated. In some cases, like the original Star Trek series, the special effects will be recreated using current technology. Finally, some productions may lend themselves to pan and scan of the original film to extract a 16:9 aspect ratio version. Pristine negatives would be critical to a successful outcome.

Starting in the 1990s, some television programs were shot in 16:9 aspect ratio with all critical action confined to the 4:3 area at the center. British and German broadcasters started to transmit SD widescreen using using Pal plus technology and wanted shows produced in widescreen format. Shoot 4:3 and protect 16:9 allowed program producers' to accommodate both aspect ratios. Any program shot this way can be readily remastered to 16:9 HD.

Outside the US, 16mm and Super 16mm film was used for origination in some cases because the cost of 35mm was too high. About 10 years ago, CBS did some testing of film formats and concluded that 16mm was not adequate for HD origination. The CBS tests suggest that HD remasters from 16mm/Super 16mm negatives may not be very successful however improvements in scanning and image processing may have overcome earlier limits and allow for creation of acceptable HD images.

Many types of television program were normally produced on videotape such as gameshows, variety and news magazines. There is no HD source for these programs so the opportunity to create HD versions does not exist using current technology. Perhaps some future image processing algorithms will provide tools to synthesize HD quality from SD video.

With regard to Dalek Prime's original question, I watch SD programs on HDTV sets. The quality of SD programs on a professional tape format is much better than NTSC analog or typical SD digital provides to the home. Transmission of these programs as upconverts on an HD channel preserves the quality.
 

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^^^^
Commericial television had been going for years, before filming became common. Broadcast TV started prior to WW2 in Britain, Germany and the U.S. It wasn't until the '50s that film originals became common. The sitcom "I Love Lucy" was one of the first shows to use film for production. This is why so few shows from the "Golden Age of TV" are available, unless kinescopes were made. One exception was very early in Germany, when cameras, as we know them, were not available, they used film, with very fast processing, run through a scanner to produce "live" TV. This is how the 1936 olympics were broadcast. The other technique they used back then was to scan the set with a flying dot of light and the reflections were picked up by a detector. This, of course, greatly limited the size of the set and the performer had to work in a dark room, so they could be scanned.
 

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Before the 1960s TV was generally live as a rule, and shot with video cameras. Archiving was done with kinescope (video to film), in the later 1950s, video tape was used for time shifting and short term archiving (tape was expensive so was re-used quite often). Out of studio dramatic programming was filmed, as was a lot of news.

Into the 1960s Sitcoms were generally filmed and post produced the same as a dramatic series.

In the later 1960s, some sitcoms went to tape, and some continued to be filmed. Into the 1980s, it was most common for sitcom to be filmed, and a US network dramatic series to the filmed.

Most variety shows were taped, at least after 1960.
 
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