Monday, March 25, 2019

The Relentless Pursuit of (Analog) Perfection

As readers of my blog (or my comments on BakaBT) know, I have been highly skeptical of the seemingly endless "one-upping" of digital media encodes. Each new release claims to have better this or less that, when all I see is ever increasing bloat. Thus, it gives me a queasy feeling to find that Orphan may be doing something similar with its analog encodes, with v2s and maybe v3s and v4s.

Some of this is understandable. Orphan started off using Internet sources for almost everything. As the team got access to original media, it was natural to encode the new media and release a new version (for example, Kage, Kakyuusei 1995, A Girl, Tsuki ga Noboru made ni). Sometimes, a title was released in higher definition on streaming media or even Blu-ray (for example, Dallos, I am Son Goku, Techno Police 21C, the Animerama titles). However, technology improvements in capturing and encoding analog sources provide endless opportunities for releasing better raws - the encoding equivalent of Editor's Remorse.

For Orphan's laserdisc projects, the evolution has been from good lossy capture to fully lossless capture of the RF output - an enormous leap forward.
  • Good lossy capture was done with a high-quality, near professional setup.
  • Encoding has been improved by using color calibration discs to set color levels.
  • The Domesday Duplicator allows for capture of the RF output - as close to an archival level transcription as possible.
The first results from the Duplicator are pretty impressive, although the processing software is still rough around the edges. There are now Duplicator setups in both the US and Japan.

For Orphan's VHS projects, the evolution has been from bad lossy capture to better lossy capture to lossless capture:
  • Bad lossy capture was done with an S-VHS recorder into an el-cheapo USB capture device. It frequently lost sync and could not cope with copy protection.
  • Better lossy capture was done with a D-VHS recorder that produced a digital output on Firewire. However, the built-in compression seemed to play havoc with scene transitions, which appeared to smear over multiple frames.
  • Fully lossless capture is done with an ancient All in Wonder card on an equally ancient XP system. It throws the entire burden of cleaning up the capture on software, which has a much wider array of filters and fixers available than the hardware would.
The first trials of lossless capture are out for encoding now. If it produces significant results, we could be redoing almost all of our VHS releases.

So where does the possibility (or threat) of endless versions come from? The Duplicator hardware appears to be the definitive answer for capturing laserdiscs and is quite stable. However, the Duplicator software has endless possibilities for improvement. Some of the roadmap is already known - decoding digital audio, decoding analog audio with noise reduction, implementing a 3D-comb filter, implementing IVTC. After that, who knows? Oil companies have reprocessed their seismic shot data from the 1950s almost every decade, as computers and algorithms have improved, and they keep finding new features of interest. I think (or fear) this may be this case with the Duplicator laserdisc captures.

For VHS tapes, the promise (or threat) is something like the Duplicator for VHS tapes - that is, a device that would capture the output of the helical scan read head directly. Because tape reading is a contact sport, the quality of the capture would still depend on the quality of the deck (and the tape, of course). However, this technique would bypass the analog electronics in the VHS deck and allow for advanced signal processing techniques to be applied. This has already been demonstrated with computer tapes, where oversampling using modern read heads and application of advanced signal processing techniques has allowed data to be recovered despite print through, tape stretch, and other physical blemishes.

For me and the other members of the Orphan team, the dilemma posed by all these opportunities is where to draw the line and make a new release. The laserdisc Duplicator software is almost there - all it really needs is reasonable audio decoding. Old captures that were done with the wrong frame rates (like Tomoe ga Yuko) or uncalibrated color compensation are prime candidates for new captures and encodes. The VHS situation is more fluid. We still don't know whether lossless capture really improves the results enough to matter. It's certainly better than the Internet VHS raws we've used (like Meisou-ou Border).

So I must beg our faithful followers - all ten of you - for forbearance as Orphan revisits its sins of the past and tries to make amends. The digital side of the equation is straightforward. The team now has DVD ISOs for Amatsuki (the DmzJ raws are at the wrong frame rate) and Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 2 (the aF raws are corrupt and R2E to boot), and at some point we'll make new encodes and re-release. The analog side, though... the sky's the limit. Unfortunately.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. BTW, I capped Tomoe 1-2 with the Domesday Duplicator, but episode 1 bombs out during the decode process. Bug reported. Sigh.

    If any if you want to play with the Domesday software, see for a sample clip and some instructions.

  3. Hey, I’m new here and interested in watching some of your fansubs, but I don’t know where to find them. Where should I go to download them?

    1. As Dyhalto said, on Bakabt for instance or nyaa or irc orphan|arutha.

  4. @Anthony : Do you have a BakaBT account? If so, there.

    Hey team. I was wondering, do you take requests?
    I couldn't find Contact Us or a forum so I apologize for asking this in a blog instead of somewhere appropriate. The one I'm interested in, if you do accept requests, is Shinken Legend Tight Road. It's so perfectly 90s, it hurts :D

    1. No raws available; no media on the usual Japanese second-hand sites or streaming media sites.

    2. Shucks...
      But hey. Thanks for looking into it! Much appreciated :)