May 14, 2009

Blu-ray Discs for Home Theater Demos

My friend Mike recently asked for some suggestions on Blu-ray discs for demoing one’s home theater setup:

Could you recommend a Blu-ray movie that would make a good “demo” to show off the capabilities of a new A/V system? From the few Blu-ray movies I&Rsquo;ve seen, the encoding quality varies dramatically from disc to disc. I’m sure that some of the variation is due to lower quality or older original film stock, but even a few “new’ movies sometimes have picture quality more like DVD than Blu-ray.

For that, I’ve found The Blu-Ray Picture Quality Thread at AVSForum to be rather handy. There, commenters suggest rankings for movies and the thread maintainers aggregate those into overall rankings. More specifically, they group movies into six categories from best to worst:

  • Tier 0 — Blu (Reference): Blu-ray titles in this tier consistently offer reference level high-definition picture quality.

  • Tier 1 — Gold (Excellent): Blu-rays in this tier are demo-worthy and exhibit many of the same image qualities as titles in tier zero, albeit with a few qualifications.

  • Tier 2 — Silver (Good): The titles in this tier are representative of good picture quality that is above-average and a significant upgrade over standard definition.

  • Tier 3 — Bronze (Average): The titles in this tier are representative of average picture quality considering all Blu-rays.

  • Tier 4 — Copper (Below Average): The titles in this tier typically represent below-average picture quality that is subpar for the Blu-ray format.

  • Tier 5 — Coal (Unacceptable): The titles in this tier have severe limitations in their picture quality that is strongly underwhelming compared to the average Blu-ray.

In general, a good approach might be to look over the list, particularly the movies in the “Blu” and “Gold” tiers, and pick out a few flicks that you personally enjoy.

Just to get things started, here’re a few that I might go for:

Baraka (Tier 0 — Blu): As High-Def Digest put it in their review:

The 1080p/VC-1 transfer is framed at the original 2.20:1 aspect ratio of its 70mm source. The image is very sharp and detailed, often breathtakingly so. Even the widest of master shots exhibit a tremendous clarity throughout the frame. Facial expressions can be read on individuals within a huge crowd. Colors are vivid, yet always natural, without looking digitally manipulated. […]

The Dark Knight (Tier ‘1.25’ — Gold): Also from a review at High-Def Digest:

Don’t worry — ‘The Dark Knight’ does not disappoint. Easily Warner's flagship title for the year — if not the most highly-anticipated Blu-ray of all-time — this is a superlative 1080p/VC-1 encode that is guaranteed to be the new demo disc of choice in home theaters around the world.

The Fall (Tier ‘1.25’ — Gold): And, again, from a High-Def Digest review:

‘The Fall’ features a stunning, near-flawless 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that’s ripe with vibrant primaries, lush bronzed tones, and exquisitely inky blacks. Contrast is spot on and never buckles under the intensity of the beating sun or the low lighting of Alexandria’s hospital. Detail is remarkable and precise as well. Every cracked rock, parched patch of skin, and tattered costume reveals fine textures and minute imperfections that simply could not be achieved on DVD. […]

In addition to the scores in that AVSForum thread, there're also lists published elsewhere such as this 10 Best Movies to Show Off Your Home Theater article from PCWorld.com. On the plus-side, those types of articles often suggest specific chapters within movies, which can be handy, but on the other hand, they do eventually become dated as more movies come out.

For instance, that article offers these scene suggestions for Baraka and The Dark Knight respectively:

[Baraka]

Chapter 1: After some stunning shots of mountains, the camera zeros in on a monkey sitting in a hot spring, surrounded by snow. I found myself looking at one hair wiggling in the wind.

Chapter 4: As the camera slowly moves across terraced gardens, you feel the movement. When it glides through a tunnel, people’s voices seem to come from all around you. When it finds a large crowd of men performing a “monkey” chant, it just stuns you. […]

[The Dark Knight]

Chapter 1: After nearly a minute of logos, you get an astonishingly clear and detailed IMAX cityscape, bringing you into a weirdly funny yet shockingly violent bank robbery. Shot entirely in bright daylight, it’s crystal clear.

Chapter 20 and 21: A big chase, this one at night, shot in IMAX and showing plenty of shadow detail. It also shows a big rig turning over. And the sounds, coming from all directions, show why Dolby 5.1 was invented. At 1 hour and 16 minutes into the film, gunshots fire all around you. Duck! […]

In the end, it’s up to you. There’re plenty of good discs at the AVSForum thread and if you find a movie that you like within, say, the Blu (Tier 0) or Gold (Tier 1) groups, I think you’ll be off to a good start.

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3 Responses to “Blu-ray Discs for Home Theater Demos”
  1. Movie Debate says:

    Dark knight quality is what I was wondering about. I think I will have to pick it up as it appears the Blue ray version was almost like being at the movie theatre.

  2. Alex says:

    I have heard good things about the The Dark Knight on Blu-ray. If that’s a movie you like, go for it.

  3. craig says:

    The Dark Knight truly is a reference disc for both sound and video and unless you’re comparing the Blu-ray to the Imax version the blu-ray version is superior to experiencing it in theaters. My personal favorite however has to be The Watchmen Directors Cut on Blu-ray. The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is simply awesome and is done at the highest bit-rate I have seen on any blu-ray movie and the picture is also second to none. Those two blu-rays should be in everybody’s Home Theater demo arsenal.

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