A Closer Look at U2’s Video Refresh
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2021-03-01)
We have all been enjoying those new uploads to U2’s YouTube channel. Each week since September, there’s been one or two new videos uploaded, featuring songs that were previously available, as well as new content which has never been posted to U2’s account before. Here at U2Songs, we have been covering the uploads as they happen on our social media accounts, and also are keeping a list of videos as they are uploaded. We’ve also been getting a lot of questions in relation to those posts. In the article that follows we take a look at the project and try to answer a few things we’ve been asked in recent days.
First of all, this isn’t a U2 only project. Many other acts are doing the same, and Universal (U2’s record label) got involved in mid-2019. On June 19, 2019, Universal Music announced they were teaming up with YouTube to remaster close to 1000 music videos from a wide range of artists. This included artists such as Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, the Beastie Boys, The Killers and more. In the announcement YouTube mentioned that videos on the service were uploaded in “outdated standards originally intended for tube televisions with mono speakers.” This was certainly true of many of the U2 videos uploaded, as many were at 240p or 360p, which is less than DVD quality. At the time U2 was not part of the list of artists. The initial announcement was accompanied by 100 upgraded videos the day of launch, all tagged with #Remastered. The release mentioned that Universal wanted to have 1000 titles available by the end of the calendar year at the new upgraded quality. Michael Nash, Vice President of Digital Strategy at Universal said, “Our recording artists and video directors imbued these videos with so much creativity; it’s great to enable the full experience of their vision and music. These videos not only look amazing on any screen now, they will be enjoyed by music fans for decades to come.”
The project is being driven by Universal and YouTube, and they are collaborating with the original directors where possible. For example, with the Beastie Boys video “Sabotage,” director Spike Jonze was consulted to make sure that the upgrading process didn’t interfere with his vision of a 1970’s television show. And they are going back to original film formats where possible. David Moffitt from Universal mentions “everything from original film to Digibeta, HDCAM to one-inch Cs and Betacam SPs to D2s”. This may mean some dated elements are kept to keep the feel of the original video, instead of removing them completely, such as the time code along the bottom of the “One Tree Hill” video. Rather than implement sweeping changes, they are attempting to retain the feel as much as possible through this program.
U2 were announced to be joining the program on September 17, 2020 in a separate announcement. The announcement on U2.Com announced, “Over the next year the band’s music video catalogue will be remastered in HD and launched exclusively on YouTube in that format. As new and remastered content is added, U2’s YouTube channel will become a hub to celebrate the band’s 40 year legacy and the evolution of their approach to video.” And true to that announcement, the band has been releasing a couple of videos each week since that time. They started with videos related to All That You Can’t Leave Behind for the first few weeks to promote the release of the 20th anniversary edition, but have since switched and are now working through most of U2’s videos in chronological order. They will be starting on videos from Rattle and Hum this week. The initial announcement mentioned there would be over a hundred new and upgraded videos in total posted to the account. Work on U2’s account began in February 2020 behind the scenes, with a fall launch.
One point of confusion, is not all of these new upgrades is being posted as a new video. As part of the 2019 launch, YouTube gave artists the ability to replace a video at lower quality with a higher quality version, while maintaining all of the view counts, comments, and also the original upload date. The only way to know these are upgraded is to view the video itself. As each is replaced they are adding #Remastered to the video description. But these videos that are replaced don’t appear at the top of the list in U2’s overall video listings. They remain further back, where the original video was listed. Other changes were also made behind the scenes. It is now possible for an artist to transfer a video to their account from another account, and maintain the view counts and upload dates, even if those were not originally under their own account.
Videos are being uploaded at two different resolutions. Resolution generally refers to the number of pixels used to display a video. The more pixels that are present the better the quality generally. The new upgraded U2 shows are being uploaded at 1080p or at 2160p (4K). Both are considered to be high definition formats. The 4K videos have been videos that have been produced on film or other high resolution media, and which can support a conversion to 4K. Videos that were originally filmed on lower resolution media such as videocassette, or where they are working with a lower quality master are being upscaled to a video quality of 1080p. This process takes the pixels present and stretches the image over more pixels. It makes no sense to offer these at an even higher resolution, as they are already being stretched to make a 1080p video. Those videos at 4K are quite striking to see, and if you only want to check out a few videos, those are the ones to try first. Please note however, if watching on a screen that doesn’t support the 4K resolution, you won’t be seeing it in 4K, YouTube offers a range of lower resolutions as well, to match devices in use and will play the default resolution for the screen that you are using to view.
Other artists are further along on the upgrade process. From some of those artists we can see that the videos being focused on, are the video clips used to promote the song. Items such as live videos are not generally being touched, even if they exist on the artists channels. Each artist promotes the video releases in their own way, via social media and their own webpages. U2 to date has not posted any comparison videos, but Madonna has shared videos comparing before and after on her social media. Check it out above, it shows you a bit of how the process alters the video, not only in overall quality, but there is some colour retouching and other clean up being done.
And although this effort to upgrade U2’s video catalog is being driven by YouTube and Universal, Universal is also releasing some of these videos to digital services. New videos have been uploaded to services such as iTunes and Tidal as they have unveiled videos on YouTube. The same day that the new high definition version of “Red Hill Mining Town” appeared on YouTube a standard definition version appeared on various music services.
Expected this week are two versions of the “Desire” video, the studio version of the song, as well as the video that accompanied the Hollywood Remix of the song. The remainder of March will see them replace the Rattle and Hum videos currently on YouTube, and they will upload those that are not currently on the system. Achtung Baby should follow in April, including lesser known videos like the one for “Love is Blindness.”
As mentioned above a few things aren’t getting the upgrade treatment. Live videos such as “I Will Follow” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” used to promote Under A Blood Red Sky haven’t appeared. But a live version of One Tree Hill which first appeared on The Best of 1980-1990 home video has appeared, so there is hope that they will do some live material. It was certainly mentioned in the initial announcement of the U2 catalog refresh. They have also missed the faces version of “Pride (In the Name Of Love)” filmed by Anton Corbijn in a hotel near Heathrow. There are also two different versions of “The Unforgettable Fire” with subtle differences between the two versions, only one version was posted. Likewise, there are two different versions of “Where the Streets Have No Name” with slight differences, and only one version, the longer video, was posted.