The Grand Budapest Hotel: Blu-ray vs. Vudu vs. iTunes vs. Amazon - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 06:37 AM - Thread Starter
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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Blu-ray vs. Vudu vs. iTunes vs. Amazon



Mark Henninger compares three online-delivery formats of this Wes Anderson-directed visual feast to see which one comes closest to Blu-ray quality.

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One of the main reasons I chose Wes Anderson's latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, for this digital-format comparison was its use of a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, though the movie also has some short scenes in 2.35:1 and 1.85:1. In addition, Anderson uses a significant amount of color grading throughout the film, most often a warm, rose-colored tint.

It's been a year and a half since I first started comparing online-delivery formats to Blu-ray. Most of the time, the format that came closest to Blu-ray's picture quality was Vudu HDX. In those comparisons, iTunes HD would occasionally match Vudu HDX quality, but because iTunes HD uses a lower bit rate than Vudu HDX, Apple's offering would often be one step below Vudu's in terms of overall quality.

The first time I added Amazon HD to the mix of online-delivery formats, I was not very impressed. Its video was a step under both Vudu and iTunes. However, things have now changed. For the first time since I began doing these comparisons, there is a new champion among the cloud-based formats. Amazon's streaming HD version of The Grand Budapest Hotel not only outperformed Vudu and iTunes, it often came remarkably close to Blu-ray quality. Furthermore, Amazon's version was far closer to the Blu-ray reference in terms of color. In stark contrast, the Vudu HDX version was wildly inaccurate when it came to color. It almost looks like somebody attempted to remove the intentional tinting when he or she performed the conversion. I can only speculate about what resulted in such a significant shift in the movie's hue. What's important is that the color in the Vudu HDX version is grossly inaccurate and no longer represents the director's vision.

Another area where Amazon HD managed to stand out among the cloud-based formats is how it dealt with film grain—Wes Anderson shot the entirety of The Grand Budapest Hotel on real film—Kodak Vision3 200T, to be precise. It's a fine-grained film, and the look it creates is worth preserving. Among the cloud-based formats, only Amazon HD preserved that crucial detail. Both Vudu and iTunes blast the grain away with noise reduction, resulting in an artificial look. I was pleased to see all the online formats handle the aspect-ratio changes properly; I saw no errors in any of the formats.

When it comes to sound, the cloud-based formats are more than adequate in terms of fidelity. It's not the sort of movie that tests the outer limits of a full-bore, subwoofer-equipped surround system. While Blu-ray features DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, Vudu HDX and Amazon HD both offer Dolby Digital Plus, and iTunes offers standard Dolby Digital. However, it is the differences in image quality that make the cloud-based formats stand apart from each other.

Let's take a closer look at some individual frames from the movie. The top, uncropped frame grabs are from Blu-ray.





In this scene, Amazon HD comes closest to Blu-ray quality. Color is very similar between all four formats, but Amazon HD contains the most detail, including film grain. Blu-ray is a little bit sharper than Amazon HD, but not by much. Vudu HDX ekes out a tiny bit more detail than iTunes HD, and both are relatively sharp, but not as detailed as Amazon HD.








This dark scene proved to be the exception to the rule that Amazon HD looked the best. iTunes HD came closest to Blu-ray quality, while Amazon HD turned in the worst performance with a very noticeable loss in sharpness. Vudu HDX looks about as sharp as iTunes HD, but it exhibits a color error—oversaturated blues that obscure textural detail in the background. Dark scenes pose a particular challenge for compression algorithms; it's interesting to see how this particular scene turned the tables on the typical performance of each format.








This scene is representative of the image-quality pecking order found in most of the movie. Blu-ray is on top, with a reference-quality rendering of the scene. Amazon HD comes in a close second, with precious little to separate it from Blu-ray. Both iTunes HD and Vudu HDX apply too much noise reduction, resulting in waxy-looking skin and an overall decrease in fine detail and texture. The Vudu HDX version sticks out like a sore thumb because the color balance is significantly different from the other three formats. Whereas Blu-ray, Amazon, and iTunes all nail the rose-colored tint, Vudu HDX renders it as yellow.








Thanks to the close-up of fabric in this scene, the degree to which Amazon HD approaches Blu-ray quality is easy to see. Both Vudu HDX and iTunes HD look considerably softer than the Blu-ray and Amazon examples.








In this scene, the film's aspect ratio was 2.35:1. Once again, Amazon HD looks almost as good as Blu-ray. Vudu HDX and iTunes HD look very similar to each other, with too much noise reduction and loss of fine detail. Again, Vudu HDX gets the color wrong—what should appear rose-hued instead looks yellow.








Here's a comparison from a brief moment in the movie that used a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It shows all the same qualities that keep cropping up—Amazon HD comes remarkably close to Blu-ray, while both iTunes HD and Vudu HDX suffer a loss of texture and detail due to noise reduction. In this particular scene, the iTunes HD version looks particularly blurry compared to the other formats. However, Vudu HDX continues to show the most color error.








In this scene, Blu-ray clearly comes out on top in terms of overall image quality. That said, Amazon HD still looks very good, as does iTunes HD. Once again, Vudu HDX struggles (and fails) to achieve accurate color; in this case, rendering what should be a rich and deep red as orange.


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Last edited by imagic; 07-09-2014 at 06:47 AM.
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post #2 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 06:50 AM
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Nice comparison. I assume all the streaming services use h.264. It would be interesting to know the bitrate of each, and possibly other elementary stream parameters. Any differences with the audio?
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post #3 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 06:59 AM
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Nice work.

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post #4 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 07:00 AM
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Here is the real difference, audio-No lossless except with BD.
As far as PQ, this will piss lots of you off-but how will you know the difference unless you check?
And the fact that all cost more than a Redbox rental. You shell out an average of $6.00 only to see it in the RB a few says later. I have no use for streaming media, until it is made better than a BD, in every form, I will pass. To me a movies is a thing you don't sit and watch on a phone.
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post #5 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 07:04 AM
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These comparisons are a great service Mark. In light of the prior discussion regarding iTunes 720p versus 1080p, can you confirm the iTunes feed you selected for this comparison was 1080p? For those that didn't see it, Mark (and others) had previously concluded that iTunes 720p often produces a superior image to iTunes 1080p.
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post #6 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 07:09 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mogrub View Post
These comparisons are a great service Mark. In light of the prior discussion regarding iTunes 720p versus 1080p, can you confirm the iTunes feed you selected for this comparison was 1080p? For those that didn't see it, Mark (and others) had previously concluded that iTunes 720p often produces a superior image to iTunes 1080p.
That is the iTunes HD 1080p version in the comparison. I can't say iTunes 720p often produces a better image than 1080p, I don't have sufficient evidence one way or another, but it does do so in certain circumstances.

When I get a free minute, I'll compare a couplescenesusing the 720p version and see if there's anything to it. It's downloading now.

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Last edited by imagic; 07-09-2014 at 07:17 AM.
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post #7 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 07:17 AM
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Great to see you include Amazon. What device were you using for it? I'm assuming a Fire TV or game console, which means you should have been getting their 1080p 10+ Mbps stream (sometimes even up to 12-13 Mbps I've read).

I've been evaluating this stuff a lot as well and I'm really impressed by Amazon now. Previously they were doing low bit rate 720p HD, but since around when the Fire TV shipped, they have upped their game.

I think they also reliably provide 5.1 DD+ audio as well, where Vudu is very hit or miss with many titles being still straight DD and too often just stereo.

If Amazon would just join Ultraviolet, I'd have no use for Vudu aside from disc to digital conversions.
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post #8 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 07:46 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mogrub View Post
These comparisons are a great service Mark. In light of the prior discussion regarding iTunes 720p versus 1080p, can you confirm the iTunes feed you selected for this comparison was 1080p? For those that didn't see it, Mark (and others) had previously concluded that iTunes 720p often produces a superior image to iTunes 1080p.
In this case it's not even close. iTunes 720p looks like... 720p. It's blurrier than iTunes 1080p, which was already the blurriest among the 1080p formats.


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post #9 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 08:51 AM
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I have looked at all your pictures. I'll stick with bluray only, for now.
I took every image you have pictured, viewed every one and then using my zoom feature
on my computer blew every picture up past my screen size.
bluray beats them all for sharpness and unless viewing is much less than the price of the bluray
I will not be subscribing to any service at this time.
I'm color blind so color being off a bit does not matter......
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post #10 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 08:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quad4.0 View Post
Here is the real difference, audio-No lossless except with BD.
As far as PQ, this will piss lots of you off-but how will you know the difference unless you check?
And the fact that all cost more than a Redbox rental. You shell out an average of $6.00 only to see it in the RB a few says later. I have no use for streaming media, until it is made better than a BD, in every form, I will pass. To me a movies is a thing you don't sit and watch on a phone.
Redbox may be cheaper but alas, some of the discs (Lionsgate in particular) don't offer HD audio but only DTS or Dolby. Similar can be said with Netflix counterparts. Somehow it feels like I am being cheated when a purchased BD has the lossless audio but the rentals do not (again only certain discs with many being from Lionsgate).

As for image quality, I am really impressed how far streaming has come along. I still prefer disc and only on rare occasions use Amazon and Vudu.
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post #11 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 09:06 AM
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In looking closer at the Vudu HDx color variances, it seems to me more of a color difference signal scaling error than color balance. Reducing B-Y (Cb), increasing R-Y (Cr) slightly and reducing the Y gets it close to the other images. Maybe this is a color space conversion error. Vudu's red areas seem to have more Y value than the other 3, which is true for 601 Y weighting compared to 709. I've made some images with adjustment of Y, Cr & Cb (no changes to RGB balance) on only the Vudu HDx images. The matching could be better, but I think it demonstrates what only scaling component values can do:





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post #12 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 10:29 AM
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love it. thanks for the comparisons! the stream qualities are definitely improving! this is a great reference. plus the film content quality itself is also great

BTW not sure if this is up your alley but i always wondered why the streaming marketing chooses to give the non-PC devices better audiovisual qualities. Vudu, Netflix, Amazon limits Windows PC/Mac OS X stream quality. not every title is HD, but if i stream it on PS3/XBox or a standalone player, i get higher quality on the video side. so far, devices like roku, playstation, xbox all get surround sound 5.1 or 7.1. but PC does *NOT* as far as i know support 5.1 or 7.1 from vudu, netflix or amazon. when i get in touch with them, they all say no, use the other devices to get that. is that odd or what? the PC should be the PREMIERE platform, instead it is being treated as it might get pirated platform.




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In this case it's not even close. iTunes 720p looks like... 720p. It's blurrier than iTunes 1080p, which was already the blurriest among the 1080p formats.


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post #13 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 10:50 AM
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Talking

And Blu-ray will, still, always win because I can actually own it, hold the disc, not ever have it taken away or be denied access to it and even *gasp* sell it some day, if I decide to.

However, kudos on the very thorough analysis!
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Of course, I got it modified with the TK-427, which cheeks it up another, maybe, 3 or 4 quads per channel.
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post #14 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 11:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JediFonger View Post
love it. thanks for the comparisons! the stream qualities are definitely improving! this is a great reference. plus the film content quality itself is also great

BTW not sure if this is up your alley but i always wondered why the streaming marketing chooses to give the non-PC devices better audiovisual qualities. Vudu, Netflix, Amazon limits Windows PC/Mac OS X stream quality. not every title is HD, but if i stream it on PS3/XBox or a standalone player, i get higher quality on the video side. so far, devices like roku, playstation, xbox all get surround sound 5.1 or 7.1. but PC does *NOT* as far as i know support 5.1 or 7.1 from vudu, netflix or amazon. when i get in touch with them, they all say no, use the other devices to get that. is that odd or what? the PC should be the PREMIERE platform, instead it is being treated as it might get pirated platform.
Sadly, it's because the PC is the "might get pirated platform".
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post #15 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 11:06 AM
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which is a crazy argument because non-PC devices can also be captured using HDMI capture cards... aaaanyways...

sadness. folks like me with HTPCs still need to rely on other devices to get 5.1 out of streaming services and HD quality.

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post #16 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 11:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JediFonger View Post
which is a crazy argument because non-PC devices can also be captured using HDMI capture cards... aaaanyways...

sadness. folks like me with HTPCs still need to rely on other devices to get 5.1 out of streaming services and HD quality.
And, since Netflix has a Windows 8 app that does provide for 5.1 and SuperHD quality content on a PC, I'd figure it would just be a matter of having an app for the other services.

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post #17 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 11:20 AM
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i've read rumours of that but haven't tested this yet. i will do so though... based on that. thanks imagic! also... the app wasn't due to PC-part... it was more for that surface-like wannabe. almost "by chance" lolz. so sad. i wish all the other streamers took part in creating apps for it though!

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post #18 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 11:32 AM
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I wonder if it's just a useragent issue. That would seem too easy.
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post #19 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 12:20 PM
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and it looks like the Vudu HDX uses a different colorspace and the playback device does the wrong YCbCr -> RGB conversation or it's an range issue.

how are the picture taken?
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post #20 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 12:23 PM - Thread Starter
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and it looks like the Vudu HDX uses a different colorspace and the playback device does the wrong YCbCr -> RGB conversation or it's an range issue.

how are the picture taken?
Screen grabs, actually. Using a PC.

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post #21 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 12:45 PM
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and what type of playback software does all use the same?
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post #22 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 01:03 PM
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Glad to see Amazon up there in video quality, but for some reason, the audio I get with Amazon is totally messed up. It's way out of balance. All bass, very low dynamic range, voices very hard to hear and little to no treble.

I use my PS3, which I also use for Vudu. The audio with Vudu is fine as is the audio from iTunes via my AppleTV.

It's weird and the reason I don't pay for anything from Amazon. I tolerate it for the stuff included with Prime.

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post #23 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 01:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
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and what type of playback software does all use the same?
Vudu and Amazon are both web based. iTunes is a stand-alone application. I've done enough of these comparisons to tell, the issue is in the source stream.

I don't judge sound using the PC stream, I only use it for the video.

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post #24 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
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Vudu and Amazon are both web based. iTunes is a stand-alone application. I've done enough of these comparisons to tell, the issue is in the source stream.

I don't judge sound using the PC stream, I only use it for the video.
of cause it's a problem in the screen.
a proper playback software can read the stream information and can deal with unusual informations like bt. 601 in a 720p or 1080p stream the flashplayer can't do this in the end the stream shouldn't be unusual so it's the stream fault.

of cause there is also a high change they simply mastered it wrong at Vudu.
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post #25 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 02:45 PM
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Quote:
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Screen grabs, actually. Using a PC.
As long as all are screen grabs, things should be equal especially between the two web based grabs. One interesting thing is the luminance level on Vudu is significantly higher than the others, even to the point of highlight clipping in one image, but the black level is pretty close. I wonder if this difference is unique to this movie. The QC process on the streaming files may not be as stringent as Blu-Ray.
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post #26 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 02:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVOD View Post
As long as all are screen grabs, things should be equal especially between the two web based grabs. One interesting thing is the luminance level on Vudu is significantly higher than the others, even to the point of highlight clipping in one image, but the black level is pretty close. I wonder if this difference is unique to this movie. The QC process on the streaming files may not be as stringent as Blu-Ray.
It's a surprising and unusual result for Vudu HDX, based on prior experience.

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post #27 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 03:22 PM
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Very interesting. It's rather subjective as to what you're looking for, but I see situations among those comparisons where each of the three services comes out on top.

You should compared the [publicHD] rip as well. I wonder how it would compare to the legal streaming services. They seem to be really good at encoding.
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post #28 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 03:29 PM
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do you really think is a good idea to compare a rip on this page?

and they don't need to be good at encoding they simple don't touch the source with color conversations and they all ready beat vudu in this case easily.

and the free encoder x264 is a lot better than h264 encoder in main concept.
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post #29 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 05:23 PM
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As much as I love Blu ray discs, I fear its only a matter of time for physical media.

The up and coming younger generation has been groomed and is accustomed to disc less media and I have
a difficult time envisioning them buying films or any media for that matter on discs.

I hope I'm wrong - but in the end so long as I'm good and dead before that happens

I have bought a couple episodes of the Walking Dead on Amazon, but that's all. Never plan on buying films I cannot resell or hold in my hand.

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post #30 of 65 Old 07-09-2014, 05:58 PM
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Thanks for proving yet again that Blu-ray is the best way to watch cinematic media, unless of course having the best quality picture and sound is not important to you.
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