Popping colors, spectacular computer animation, and constant action are but a few of Wreck-It Ralph's charms. The new Disney animated film is a 3D spectacular that was recently released on Blu-ray as well as through online-distribution channels like iTunes and Vudu. Wreck-It Ralph is the very definition of eye candy, and it also sounds great with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack on Blu-ray.Photographic comparison of iTunes, Vudu and Blu-ray formats
I thought Wreck-It Ralph would be a relatively straightforward quality comparison between iTunes HD, Vudu HDX, and Blu-ray. However, it turned out to be a bit more complex, because the quality of the various online versions varied wildly, much more so than I have encountered in previous comparisons.
When it comes to sound, there is a recurring theme with online distribution vs. Blu-ray: The sound quality of Blu-ray is consistently better than the online formats. In the past, I have found that Vudu HDX 7.1 audio sounds marginally better than iTunes 5.1 audio, and with Wreck it Ralph, the audio-quality difference between iTunes and Vudu was minor. I recommend Vudu HDX because it reproduced all 7.1 channels of the original soundtrack.
Visually, the results of my comparisons varied wildly and in unexpected ways. On Blu-ray, the movie looked essentially perfect, but so did Vudu HDX from a PS3. Vudu HD 720p on a PC looked better than iTunes 1080p. Finally, iTunes 720p looked inferior to all the other formats. The image-quality gap between Blu-ray and iTunes is significant and involves noticeable losses in color, tone, and detail.
Comparing Blu-ray to Vudu, I found that colors and tonality were properly preserved, but Vudu HD did not retain as much detail as Vudu HDX. Even so, Vudu HD exceeded both iTunes 720p and 1080p in overall quality. In the frame-comparison process, I discovered that the Vudu HD version skipped a number of frames; one frame I wanted to compare existed in all the versions except Vudu HD.
For some reason, Vudu on the PC is restricted to 720p HD, a decision that baffles me, since this is the first time I have seen that distinction. Using Vudu HDX on a PS3, I saw a movie that truly looked "as good as Blu-ray." There is no reason Apple could not have provided a similar-quality product.
As always, the visual examples below speak for themselves. However, in order to compare PS3 Vudu playback with Blu-ray, I had to use a digital camera. It is not as precise or elegant as using direct screen capture on a PC. If you wish, take these photography-based comparisons with a grain of salt or ignore them completely.Screen grab of Blu-ray on the left, photograph of Blu-ray on the right. The photo is not pretty, but it is still a useful tool for gauging resolution.
I'll start with a photograph-based macro comparison. The magnification is similar to watching a movie on a 120" screen from 40" away. That's some serious pixel peeping, the fine art of scrutinizing individual pixels. Vudu HDX just about matches Blu-ray quality, pixel for pixel. iTunes HD 1080p is noticeably blurry, and iTunes HD 720p is even less sharp.
In this screen-grab comparison, Vudu is represented by its 720p "HD" format, which looks about as sharp and detailed as the iTunes 1080p version. Sadly, Wreck-It Ralph was only available in Vudu HD 720p on the PC, which is where I obtain my frame grabs. As a rule, Vudu HDX 1080p is considerably sharper than Vudu HD 720p, and Wreck-It Ralph is no exception.
This comparison is photo-based; Vudu HDX keeps up with Blu-ray while both iTunes version suffer considerable loss of detail. Pay close attention to the walking figure—in the iTunes versions, they have no legs.
Comparing Blu-ray to iTunes 1080p using frame grabs reveals the same loss of detail that was apparent in the previous, photo-based example.
My favorite example from Wreck-It Ralph: The first moment Vanellope "glitches," her character is momentarily replaced by a Chuck Close-like abstraction. It's a perfect image for comparing resolution, and Vudu HDX does not disappoint, rendering essentially the same pattern as Blu-ray, while iTunes loses considerable amounts of contrast, sharpness, and detail in both versions. Here is a full screen comparison: http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/12949
This photo-based comparison shows why Blu-ray is a superior medium for rendering fast action, thanks to a much higher bitrate than the online-delivery versions. During the final race, the animation in Wreck-It Ralph is incredibly fast, causing Vudu HDX to perform worse than iTunes, losing almost all the detail in the textures. The iTunes versions are only marginally better at preserving these details. Blu-ray totally outclasses the online-delivery formats in this specific example.
Looking at the screen grabs from the same frame, Blu-ray's superior detail rendering during fast action really shines.
In some movies, I have seen examples of iTunes 720p that looked better than iTunes 1080p. That's not the case for Wreck-It Ralph. The full frames can be compared using a mouse-over action on screenshotcomparison.com -http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/12853
Using the same frame to compare Blu-ray and iTunes 1080p, it's clear that Blu-ray has superior resolution, sharpness, and color saturation, evident even in an easy-to-render scene like this. Here is the full-frame comparison: http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/12856
Looking at the photo-based comparison, it's clear so long as Vudu HDX does not have to work too hard rendering fast action, it can keep up with Blu-ray better than either iTunes HD version.
Looking at individual pixels confirms what the previous examples show, Vudu HDX is just about matching Blu-ray pixel-for-pixel, iTunes HD 1080p loses a little bit of sharpness and detail and the 720p version loses a fair bit more.
This comparison is photo-based but does not involve pixel peeping. It's hard to see any difference in sharpness between the three 1080p versions when "zoomed out" in this manner, while iTunes 720p definitely looks blurry.
The difference between iTunes HD 720p and Blu-ray is very easy to see when they are compared directly: http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/12960