Many Blu-rays no better than DVDs

by , Technology Researcher Technology 14 November 2010
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Is high-definition all it’s cracked up to be? Not on many Blu-ray movies as it turns out. Despite the routine claims that Blu-ray delivers ‘the maximum HD experience’ some barely look better than their DVD counterparts.

Wet Blu-ray disc

Blu-ray is the gold standard of high-definition home viewing. Better resolution means more pixels, more detail, better colour and more natural pictures than anything broadcast in HD.

And it’s certainly streets ahead of poor old standard definition DVD. Right? Well as it turns out, rather than replying with a resounding ‘yes’, it’s more of a ‘well yes, hmm maybe, err not really’ depending on which Blu-ray movie you happen to buy.

Blu-ray test gives mixed results

In a recent Which? investigation, we uncovered a real gulf between the best and the worst. It should make everyone think twice about shelling out.

Don’t get me wrong. Blu-ray can look fantastic. New movies produced since the format launched in 2006 are optimized for HD and transfer brilliantly to Blu-ray. And there’s plenty of older movies worth the cover price too.

Zulu, Wizard of Oz and From Russia with Love are classic movies that span the decades, but still manage to look like they could have been filmed yesterday (though the 60s fashion sensibilities in Bond could give it away).

Yet, if you’re a movie fan like me and feel the urge to ‘upgrade’ some of the classics from your collection, you’ll be in for a shock. There are some real stinkers that put the format to shame. Ghostbusters, Die Hard and The Graduate are shocking examples of Blu-rays that offer little more than the DVD versions – other than over-saturated colour and an inflated cover price.

How can we pick out the good ones?

Andrew Vandervell has already bemoaned the lack of HD broadcast content for those without the deep pockets for Sky+HD, so I’m aware that this isn’t what HD TV owners want to hear. But don’t despair. When they get it right, the studios do deliver. Zulu really does look like a different film on Blu-ray – the colour and detail is simply magnificent.

But how can you pick out a gem from the duds? Unfortunately, you can’t tell from the packaging. Most discs are routinely labeled ‘full-HD quality’, and there are no industry plans for any ‘mastered from the original source’ logos on the horizon.

So what’s your experience of Blu-rays? Do you have any in your collection that look no better than DVDs, or do you have a bunch that live up to the high-definition hype?

18 comments

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You can’t expect the studios to give the full treatment to their entire back catalogue – it would bankrupt then, but I agree that there needs to be a clearer labelling system so you know what you’re buying – and the cost should reflect the quality.

As Blu-ray player owner and buyer, I’m always pretty careful which I choose to buy. If in doubt, try and rent it first. LoveFilm is a godsend!

Ben – I would say if we can’t expect the studios to give the full treatment to all their BD releases, then we have every right to expect them to label appropriately and drop their prices accordingly.

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Josh

For me a great site for looking at video/audio quality plus extra features and a review is blu-ray.com

[Hello Josh, we just edited your comment as it read a bit like spam. Thanks for the recommendation, but next time it would be great to see an opinion about the Conversation as well!]

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Jason

They all look better than the DVD counterpart and most importantly, they sound much better. Lossless audio is just as important as image quality.

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dude

It’s just like a pc. You can rate a good computer with its Cpu, Graphic card or Ram. Everything needs to be take into consideration: Hardware combinaison, compatibility, Updates, Cables, etc, etc.

Same apply for Blu-Ray. BD mean more capacity, but its up to the movie maker to use that quantity and to the owner to get the most out of it by setting correctly their TV/player settings, installing recent firmware and getting good cables.

Dude – we totally agree on the hardware front. No good having a top quality BD transfer if you’ve just bought an M&S telly and Bush BD player. Which is why we ironed out as many variables as possible and tried the discs out on the same high quality equipment using the same settings. On the cables though I’d disagree. We’ve tested out cable quality in the past. Makes no difference on HDMI. On Scart just avoid the cheapest of the cheap (no screening)

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rsknight

I own about 60 BDs and all look amaizing, including some old movies like The Godfather. But I bought one that really let me down, and the shocking part is that its a CG animation: Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. This movie is in SD quality same as the DVD version but the Blu-ray cover says “Full HD”, so now I’m more carefull before I buy a BD and not just assume that if it’s a BD then it must be better than the DVD. Though I could say that this movie comes from Square-Enix, which is a studio that has gone down the toilet pretty badly :(

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plmko

Some transfers are ****** yes, but did they forget that 50% of the enjoyment of watching a movie is from sound?

I don’t think DVDs can ever match Blu-ray sound.

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BigBlenderOfTech

One of the main problems with Blu-ray is that studios are using the same HD Masters they used for DVD releases for their Blu-ray releases. Duplicating from a master that has the same resolution as your target media is never going to give good results. This was the case with the Gladiator Blu-ray release.

A master should always be a step or two steps above the resolution you are duplicating. Budgetary constraints / small market demand are often why transfers are poor or not even done in the first place.

A good example is Bladerunner that had a 4K transfer for the Blu-ray disc. There is an excellent article that explains the Bladerunner transfer here :

http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/content/blade-runner-cutting-edge

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baward

I’ve never seen a Blue Ray disc, and this article hasn’t really made me any more disposed to! I think I will stick with my DVD collection for now at least :-)

I’d agree with Andrew, Lovefilm et al are a godsend.

Ben

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BD-fan

Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more that some Blu-rays are barely upgrades, if at all, of their dvd counterparts, but I don’t really understand which metrics your using to decide which films are good transfers and which are not. The first link in the article only confuses the issue further for me.

I’m thinking particularly about your comments regarding North by Northwest. “The colour on the Blu-ray version had been ramped up, but resolution didn’t appear to have improved and some of the detail was actually ‘crushed’ by the deeper colours.” I wholly disagree with that statement. North by Northwest is an amazing blu-ray transfer that preserves the films original look while squeezing every last bit of detail out of the aging print. I honestly don’t know what could cause you to have such a negative reaction to the transfer; is it a hardware problem, or an improperly calibrated set? I honestly don’t know, but North by Northwest is one of, if not the, best restorations of an catalog title to be released on blu ray.

http://bluray.highdefdigest.com/309/northbynorthwest.html

The above link is for a review of this particular disc, and I have to say that that reviewer hit the nail right on the head. Coming full circle I’d like to restate that I do agree with the premise of this article, but I’m not sure what exactly in your estimation makes a blu ray transfer good or bad. In my opinion faithfully reproducing the film the way it was meant to be seen when it was released is the goal of any good blu-ray.

And for the rest of you concerned about blu-ray quality before you purchase you really should check out http://www.highdefdigest.com. They generally have the best objective blu-ray reviews around.

BD-fan, thanks for your post and cheers for the link tips. Our panel are typically looking for a well balanced picture, offering the right mix of detail, depth, good contrast and natural colours – nothing overly sharp or artificial looking. North by North West did look better than DVD, no doubt there, but our viewers both felt it lacked the level of detail and natural colour of the outstanding discs we watched. The colour had been changed and though it looked better it did make images seem glossier and crushed the detail out of the blacks. Images sometimes looked softer than the sd version too and we just felt it lacked the wow factor we were expecting from a 70mm print. Better overall? Yes. Outstanding? No.

Set-up was the same for everything we watched, so nothing changed for this particular disc. But to put it in context each BD against the DVD version but also benchmarking against the outstanding discs we watched. Alot of these films could and should look better than they do (and not just a bit better than DVD).

One thought that struck me though – we should always be wary of duff batches of discs. It’s something we spotted with a copy of Matrix kicking around the lab. It looked awful – terrible picture noise, poor contrast, milky blacks, the works – nothing like the Matrix we all new. Put on another disc (these were both DVDs) and it looked as good as we all remembered. A naff batch press? Probably.

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Dave

I have to agree with Jason and plmko, I am surprised that this article makes no mention of the difference Blu-Ray makes by offering uncompressed audio. The difference, for example, between the 5.1 surround track on the Gladiator DVD and the Blu-Ray is phenomenal, and I often use these discs to demo the difference.

The author’s criteria used to determine what makes a “good” blu-ray transfer are unclear. The author appears to be of the view that a good transfer is one that has been processed to death so it looks all sharp, shiny and “filmed yesterday”, whereas many film fans would rather the transfer make it look as close to how it was originally intended to look, which may include some grain or softness.

Some excellent Blu-Ray’s I’ve picked up recently include Wizard of Oz, the Bourne trilogy, Die Hard 4, and Beauty and the Beast – all highly recommended.

Dave – yup there’s another test in here somwehere! We were pretty much focused on picture quality this time round as that’s where we thought we’d find some interesting gaps in the quality step-up (which we did).

Re what makes a good transfer – we’re certainly not looking for over-sharo and shiny. For us it’s all about the balance between everything you mention. Softness isn’t necessarily a bad thing on a picture – and in fact works wonders with lower quality video (DVB-T)

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Colin

There are of course many variables in determining the quality of Blu Ray video but the the primary concern should be as stated in the review, is it better than the DVD. If for example you are into Asian films then you should steer clear of most Blu Rays as they seem the original masters have not been kept in good condition never mind the reproduction on to Blu Ray.

The argument about what makes a good Blu Ray, sharp vs realistic etc is a lot more difficult and one that will not help the average consumer. However, its not too difficult to get a reasonable idea of how good or bad a Blu Ray is by looking at the online reviews. Check out multiple sites to be sure that you are getting an all round picture (no pun intended) as to how good or otherwise a disk is.

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Thomas Goodearl

I agree that there are some Blu-Rays that are not full HD, like some of the older Warner Brothers Blu-Rays are clearly directly copied from the HD-DVD’s which was to me almost but not quite HD which is why I always favored Blu-Ray as it looked truly HD to me compared to HD-DVD and warner should have done a better job transferring them over. I work in an entertainment store and I have had people returning “True Romance” and “Goodfellas” as they weren’t satisfied with the HD quality and after seeing the Blu-Ray of “Goodfellas” I agree. But some smaller studios also don’t deliver alot of the time. Optimum is one that struggles to get decent HD Blu-Rays, all three Optimum films I have purchased were not HD, 20th Century Fox have been lazy in the past but are getting better, compare the original “Predator” release to the newer one and you’l see that they are finally taking Blu-Ray seriously. Disney are by far the best Blu-Ray makers out there, all there releases on Blu-Ray have looked stunning, no one has come up 100% right on there releases other than Disney in my opinion as they are constantly cleaning up there films and re-mastering them, especially as they are constantly re-releasing their films. Universal and good on the mark as well. If in doubt read reviews before you purchase and don’t let this put you off buying a Blu-Ray player as the quality is top notch (well, every now & then). Also, they are called Blu-Rays, not Blu-Ray DVD’s! There I said it, lol.

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Karl

This is an interesting article,personally I can’t tell the difference between Blu-Ray and DVD,but then again I don’t have a massive screen and top notch equipment,I have a 27 inch HD Monitor and PS3,I think you need a £1000.00 Blu-Ray Player and a £1000.00 plus TV that’s over 40 inches corner to corner with expensive HDMI Cables then you need to sit no more than 4 feet from the screen,but the thing is the difference is so slight it isn’t worth it especially as Blu-Ray costs 3 to 5 times more than DVD’S,I just think it’s a big con to get more money out of the general public,then in the future once everybody’s been conned into buying this over hyped format they’ll be another one to replace it promising even better quality.

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