Top 10 Blu-ray Demos
Apr 19, 2010 11:40 AM,
By Jason Bovberg
Like many people new to high-definition home theater, you’re eager to show off your new system to its fullest potential. You’ve finished your install, and everything is thrumming and ready to rock. Yes, the installer’s truck has rumbled off into the distance, and your man (or woman) cave is awaiting an audience. What’s the first experience you enjoy?
Surely, the first source you feed into your spiffy new equipment wouldn’t be a DVD from the vast collection you amassed through the years before constructing your new setup. That would be like playing an old Atari 2600 game on your new Xbox 360. (Sure, there’s a fun, nostalgic place for that kind of thing, but it just doesn’t push the system to its limits.) And you wouldn’t want to show your eager audience a TV program off standard cable. HD cable would come closer, particularly a sporting event, but to really make sure your system is firing on all cylinders, you want to load up a Blu-ray disc.
So, you need to go shopping, and before you do that, you need to know which Blu-ray discs offer the greatest AV presentations. You need to know which discs are going to make your new theater absolutely shine, roar, and make your audience members salivate. Without further ado, here are 10 of the finest Blu-ray discs on the market today.
10. Speed Racer
This eye-popping, candy-coated update of the old cartoon, care of the Wachowski brothers (of Matrix fame) swirls onto Blu-ray with such depth that it seems 3D at times. This movie is the equivalent of a sugar binge, and you’ll lap up every frame. The detail is crisp and gorgeous, and the oversaturated colors will really bring out the best in your monitor. Unfortunately, the sound presentation is regular Dolby Digital as opposed to the high-definition knockout it could be—which is why this otherwise exquisite Blu-ray disc lands at number 10.
Henry Selick’s beautifully subtle adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s young-adult fantasy novel is faithfully tweaked for home viewing: It’s dark and haunting in all the right ways, and it will surely test your system’s black levels. You’re in for a grim treat: wonderful storytelling, intricate stop-motion animation, and a fabulously odd, fabric-inspired design. See if those black-button eyes don’t stay with you into the night. (The disc comes with 3D glasses for a substandard 3D port, but trust me, the 2D presentation is the one that shines here.)
8. District 9
Shot on high-def Red Digital Cinema Red One videocameras, Neill Blomkamp’s film (produced by Peter Jackson) is a grimy sci-fi tale that’s huge on sociopolitical allegory. Admittedly, the symbolism is potent—if overbearing—but what’s really exciting is the emotional thrust of this movie’s narrative and the explosiveness of its action. The digital imagery really pops in the home theater, boasting startlingly fine detail, and the lossless soundtrack is completely enveloping and rich. Blomkamp is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
This whiz-bang kid actioner is the first 2D animation from the John Lasseter-helmed Disney Animation Studio, and it’s one of the biggest surprises to come out of that studio in a long time. As with most animation on Blu-ray, this is a spectacularly clear, detailed video experience, and the lossless audio packs a bass-pounding wallop. Watch the opening action scene for 10 minutes of pure home-theater joy. This isn’t just a kick for the kids; it’s a true pleasure for all ages.
6. Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s dystopian masterpiece has had a rocky history in home video, from its murky VHS and DVD incarnations to its multiple special edition versions. Last year, the film arrived in a definitive HD DVD and Blu-ray editions, and very special attention was paid to cleaning up the print and—best of all—digitally fixing some imperfections in the film. (Watch the included featurette about this restoration.) Blade Runner has never looked or sounded better: It’s filled with fine detail you’ve never noticed before, and its Vangelis score will burst magnificently from every loudspeaker in your setup.
5. Drag Me to Hell
Need to show off your loudspeaker system? You can do no better than Sam Raimi’s over-the-top horror flick, which boasts the most wildly energetic surround-sound mixes I’ve ever heard. The Evil Dead director concocted this silly, horrifying, grotesque B movie for his die-hard fans, and we ate it up like The Three Stooges fans we are. Sure, Raimi’s brand of shock filmmaking is an acquired taste, but if you’re in the right mood, it’s a laugh riot. And your loudspeakers, tasked with blaring out blistering frights from all directions, will be panting by the time the credits roll.
4. Planet Earth
This spectacular BBC documentary, narrated by David Attenborough (get the right one!), is such an ambitious, breathtaking look at our natural world that you’ll be left with your mouth hanging open at the conclusion of each chapter. When this Blu-ray (and HD DVD) release debuted, it became instant demo material—no computer graphics or special effects, just the beauty of our world. The audio is merely Dolby Digital (not lossless), but it’s not a barnburner soundtrack anyway. The visuals steal the show here.
3. The Wizard of Oz
A pristine restoration of the 1939 Technicolor classic arrives on Blu-ray, and for the first time (after countless viewings), I could behold the burlap makeup on the Scarecrow’s face, Judy Garland’s freckles, the elaborate Oz set design, and just the wealth of fine details in every background. Brittle frames have been repaired, and fading colors have been magnificently enriched. Watching this movie in Blu is a revelation. Although the original mono soundtrack is nothing to get excited about, the lossless representation is warm and accurate. The “If I Only Had a Brain” scene is a favorite demo in my theater.
2. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s dark comic-book behemoth arrived on Blu-ray fresh off IMAX screens. In theaters, only about 20 minutes of the film—some action sequences and some panoramic shots—took full advantage of the gigantic IMAX screen, and on disc those scenes get the full 1.85:1 presentation while the rest of the film reverts to 2.35:1. The solution isn’t perfect, but those image-maxed scenes are plenty powerful on Blu-ray, and the thumping bass boosts the effect. A regular demo scene at my place is the armored-car sequence in the middle of the movie. It’s a powerhouse.
1. The Pixar Films
Whether your favorite Pixar film on Blu-ray is Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Wall-E, or Up, it’s going to boast the very best AV presentation available for the home theater. Rock-solid imagery, lossless sound presentations, and just plain wonderful storytelling make the Pixar films an old standby for demos in my theater. Favorite individual scenes include the moving-van chase at the end of Toy Story, the attack on the grasshoppers in A Bug’s Life, “Jessie’s Song” from Toy Story 2, the door-warehouse chase in Monsters Inc., the river-escape at the beginning of Ratatouille, the arrival of Eve in Wall-E, and—of course—the beautifully emotional first 10 minutes of Up.
Now you’ve got your demo discs and scenes, so, fire up that new home theater and show it off to your friends, family, and neighbors! Don’t forget the popcorn! Chime in below in the comments section with your favorite Blu-ray discs!
Jason Bovberg is a senior editor for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server magazine and a regular contributor to Residential AV Presents Connected Home. He specializes in networking, mobile and wireless, hardware, and home computing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing. He can be reached at [email protected].