Saturday , March 2 2024
Looking at Blu-ray specs and players and the second half of the top ten titles you must own.

The Top Ten Blu-ray Discs You Must Own: Part II

Read the first part of this article for the first half of the top ten titles. 

Before I wrap up the list of top ten Blu-ray discs you must own, we should all breathe a sigh of relief to celebrate the fact that the format war is over. As everyone knows, Toshiba has pulled the plug on HD DVD and will no longer be competing against Blu-ray. Microsoft is shelving their HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 and I am sure we will see HD DVD fire sales shortly. This is great news for the consumer as long as we do not see any price fixing to inflate the cost of the next generation format that won the war.

Now that we have Blu-ray as the only option for high definition video we need to understand some things. Toward that end, we'll talk about the three Blu-ray specifications that the format can support and what the best players are from a value and performance perspective.

Blu-ray has three distinct specifications; each successive one adds distinct features to the multimedia performance. This has caused some concern in people who have first generation players like the Samsung BDP 1000 which cannot even play some Blu-ray 1.1  movies. Hopefully showing you the players to note and explaining the differences in specifications will help you decide what device you want to have in your home.

  • Blu-ray specification 1.0 is the launch profile, and secondary audio and video decoders are optional, as is local storage and network connectivity. The majority of standalone players fit into this category.
  • Blu-Ray specification 1.1 is the newer profile, and to take advantage of these discs, players need a secondary audio and video decoder to handle picture-in-picture, as well as at least 256MB of local storage for content.
  • Blu-Ray specification 2.0 is the profile of the future, requiring the two secondary decoders, 1GB of local storage for updates and content, and an Internet connection.
  • What does this mean? Well, in a nutshell they are planning by 2.0 (or BD-Live) to have interactive content, web-enabled extras, and picture-in-picture extra features. Currently the only player on the market that can support 2.0 is the PlayStation 3 as it is Internet ready and has a hard drive. What this also means is that most 1.0 players cannot be upgraded to support the new features as they do not have the extra decoders or memory available.

    On to the players… I will be listing players that are 1.1 compatible as there are no 2.0 players on the market at this time. It is a future specification, so do your research before you buy. To be clear, 1.0 and 1.1 players will play the movies on Blu-ray discs, but the supplementary or BD-Live features will not be available.

  • PlayStation 3 – This is currently the best Blu-ray player as far as value and future proofing. The PlayStation 3 will be 2.0 compliant by May or June and has already been upgraded to the 1.1 specification via a firmware update. At $399 US for the base 40GB model, the PlayStation 3 is not only a very affordable player, it also outputs a great image and stunning audio. Let's also not forget that it is a very capable multimedia device (supporting DivX, DVD upsampling, SA-CD, every major audio format, and CD upsampling) as well as a cutting edge video game console.
  • Panasonic DMP-BD10A – This standalone Blu-ray player is not only more expensive then the PS3, but it is not future proofed for version 2.0. Having said that, this is a great 1.1 player that outputs amazing Blu-ray visuals and upsampled DVD streams. It supports on-board decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution audio formats, and at its price point those are amazing features. If you want a standalone Blu-ray player this is the one to buy (until the Sony BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 players come out).
  • Panasonic DMP-BD30K – Rounding out the list is another Panasonic player that, while it does not have on-board decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution audio formats, is a very capable 1.1 compliant Blu-ray player that supports HDMI 1.3b output (the DMP-BD10A does not). The output quality from Blu-ray discs is excellent with a clear image and very few issues even in complex scenes; upsampled DVDs also fare very well, with crisp visuals. Even though there is no on-board decoding for HD audio, the player will output it and if your receiver can, it will receive the signal. While this player is also not future-proofed it is a great unit as a standalone Blu-ray player.
  • Now that many people will start to buy players and movies in the format as confidence in Blu-ray rises daily it is fitting to have a list of the top 10 Blu-rays to have for your shiny player or PS3. The list presents the best Blu-ray discs to own whether it be for value, quality, innovation or a mix of many reasons. Not all of these movies are Academy Award worthy, but they are all great films and demonstration quality Blu-rays for your collection. Often I will refer to a proper setup in the movie notes; a proper setup in my mind for reference is the following:

    • 1080p display
    • 5.1 or 7.1 receiver
    • 5.1 or greater speaker setup with a powered sub-woofer

    #5 – Cars

    click to view larger imageCars was the Pixar movie that had the least positive hype when it was close to release. Pixar was about to leave Disney and this was the last contracted movie and the fear was that it would be a quick cash-out for the famed developer. Our fears were for naught; Cars is another highlight on the stellar track record for the famed company. The movie follows the exploits of the arrogant rookie Lightning McQueen as he races towards winning the championship in the Piston Cup. Over the course of the movie he learns lessons in humility and valuing teamwork and friendship.

    The characters, visuals, story, and voices are great and it is an incredibly entertaining movie for adults and children alike. This Blu-ray gives us a video presentation that is just stunning; the transfer is 2.35:1 and it completely renders the DVD transfer obsolete. From the little details to the paint colors to the little activities in the backgrounds, everything is so vivid, clear, and wonderful to watch. Cars is another audio masterpiece as well; it features English 5.1 uncompressed PCM (48kHz/24-bit) and English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and the channels are utilized wonderfully. Engines roar around you, small noises ping where they seem to come from and the audio levels are just right. Cars just slightly edges out Ratatouille in this list as it is the more entertaining film for the whole family, and it is a must have for any Pixar or animated movie fan.

    #4 – Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy

    click to view larger imageI decided to throw the whole trilogy up here as the Spider-Man entry to the list as it is a fantastic bundle and really showcases the evolution of the series. The original Spider-Man was a great movie and pulled us into the fantastical world of the webslinger and his discovery of his powers and epic first battles. Spider-Man 2 showed us a more mature but troubled character and is the best movie of the series with Dr. Octopus nearly stealing the show. Spider-Man 3 ended the current trilogy with a good movie; it is the worst of the three, but still very good. In this final chapter we have Peter facing a crisis on many fronts, his friends turn from him, new villains arise in Venom and the Sandman, and he needs to battle his dark side in the form of the black suit.

    I don't believe anyone could have done the series better justice then Sam Raimi as the director and the great cast and effects teams he led. The trilogy is truly a sight to watch in the Blu-ray format; the first film is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio while the subsequent two are framed in 2.40:1 and all look amazing. In almost every aspect of the movies the detail, color, and depth of image are represented in a way that needs to be seen to be believed. Sony should be commended for the care they took in these transfers and they are a high water mark for action films to emulate. Audio is presented in many ways, English: PCM 5.1 English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; all language tracks are mixed amazingly well and sound stunning. The mixing is truly the high point of the audio, sound levels are just right, and the channel usage is bang on across the board. Any of these films are a must have on Blu-ray, but the Trilogy edition is the true star. While there are minimal extras considering the trilogy aspect, the ones they have are relevant and entertaining.

    #3 – 2001: A Space Odyssey

    click to view larger image2001: A Space Odyssey is a groundbreaking masterpiece in films and is a classic sci-fi movie. The movie centers around two astronauts on a mission to Jupiter and their AI-driven computer HAL who controls the ship. The movie is complex, interesting, and a true treat to watch as the astronauts discover something is wrong with HAL and try to survive the journey. This movie is Stanley Kubrick at his best and features his signature amazing cinematography and beautifully used cinematic score.

    The movie has been restored to a pristine state on Blu-ray and since it was originally filmed on 70mm in the 2.2:1 aspect ratio it is perfectly suited to this high definition format. Every color, detail, and light level is crisp and spot on. This disc is true reference grade for the movie and needs to be owned by any fan. On the audio front it is presented in uncompressed PCM as well as Dolby Digital 5.1; while it sounds amazing, the mixing is front heavy so there is not a large amount of surround exposure; regardless, this movie sounds great. Finally on the extras front the disc is loaded with documentaries, making of entries, and a great commentary by the two principle actors. All of these features are great and they add a huge amount of depth to the movie. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a true classic and thanks to the great care given to this Blu-ray package it is truly one of the Blu-rays you MUST own.

    #2 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition

    click to view larger imageThis two-disc Blu-ray set is the definitive homage to Steven Spielberg's classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie centers around an everyman who sees a UFO and explores what would happen if real people were to have an encounter of the third kind (meeting the aliens). It is a movie that explores the nature of the human race as well as our viewpoints toward others and the potential for life on other worlds. This package contains the never before on video theatrical release, the theatrical re-release special edition, and the 1997 director's cut. The movie is groundbreaking (even today), heartwarming, and a true classic, science fiction at its best.

    The video presentations in these versions are equally stunning, presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film grain from the original print is perfectly represented (thankfully they didn't digitally clean it). The color levels, blacks, and flesh tones are spot on and this release demonstrates how older films can still look amazing if handled correctly. The audio is very strong with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 versions on the discs. The sound mixing is excellent with deep bass reproduction and effective surround levels; in particular the communication scene at the end is truly wonderful to listen to. Finally we see a large amount of very high quality extras from interviews with Spielberg to an immense behind the scenes photo gallery to a documentary on the film and its impact. One of the coolest extras is the 'view from above' feature which flashes icons on screen to tell you when a scene came from an alternate version of the film. It is a neat feature that fans will love as it ties in directly with the included fold-out map that shows the differences in the versions. The film is amazing as is the presentation and extras, this is a must have for any Blu-ray owner.

    #1 – Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition

    click to view larger imageBlade Runner is a powerful movie that speaks for itself and the fact that in the past 25 years many imitators have tried to replicate the look and tone of the picture. Blade Runner is the story of Dekkard, a specialized police officer, called a blade runner, who hunts replicants (artificial humans) who have rebelled. The hero is not perfect — he has failings and often is at a loss in a situation; he is a real person who we can all relate to and in fact the movie sheds doubts on his very humanity. The villains are not really good or evil, they are a group of people for whom time is running out and they are trying to find a way to not only stay alive but prove in fact that they are alive and deserve to live. The movie is genre-defining and now 25 years later the faux future looks almost real with giant animated billboards, congested dirty streets, and people seemingly on the edge of despair.

    The version we will focus on is the new version of the film, the amazing Blade Runner: The Final Cut. The video presentation of this version of Blade Runner is nothing short of spectacular. Ridley Scott has an insert and an introduction that explains this was a revolutionary 4K scan of the 35mm master and it shows. The black levels, the optical shots, and the color levels (especially the neons and the billboards) are amazing and true to life. This is a dark film (not a single bright-as-day scene aside from interior lights) and thankfully the levels are perfect and make this look like a recent film and not one that is over 25 years old. Audio is breathtaking with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 versions to choose from and the audio really takes advantage of the formats. Directional audio is abundant and bass is utilized to amazing effect, the sound levels are always great and the background noise is presented in a way that convinces you that this is truly a crowded and busy place Dekkard lives in.

    click to view larger imageFinally the extras — wow, if you are lucky enough to get the Ultimate Edition (I was) there are physical extras, but on the discs there is an amazing amount of material. Unbelievably Blade Runner is a five-disc collection, yes five discs, and it can be found for under $30 at most retailers. On the discs we have four extra versions of the film (on top of the final cut) all restored to the best level they could (original, international, director's cut, and work print); these are all different versions, some subtle and some pronounced changes.

    We also have many commentaries, a making of documentary that runs over 200 minutes, a number of making of featurettes and a look at the versions from work print to final. This is a staggering amount of material and is, I believe, the high water mark for Blu-rays both from a movie restoration/quality level and the extras that were included. Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition is the must have and every single person who owns a Blu-ray player needs to have this collection.

    About Michael Prince

    A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

    Check Also

    Fan EXPO Boston: Kathleen Herles on ‘Dora the Explorer’

    "Embrace what you have, embrace your family and love who you are. You're enough."