Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Blu-ray versus iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:01 AM - Thread Starter
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Blu-ray versus iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu



Mark Henninger compares three online-delivery formats to Blu-ray, but there's an issue with one of the streaming services.

This article is my first comparison of a Marvel Entertainment movie, and my plan was to follow the template of my previous reviews. Typically, I use my PC as a playback device and to capture screenshots for comparison. This time around, I discovered that Vudu only offers its second-highest quality tier via PC—HD as opposed to HDX. It's the first time I've seen this limitation imposed on a new release.

My first viewing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was via Vudu HDX stream using my Sony BDP-S5100 Blu-ray player. My second viewing was the 3D Blu-ray version, using the same player, which looked spectacular on my Samsung PN64F8500 plasma TV. In 2D, the movie's muted color scheme results in an image that—to my eyes—can look flat at times; in 3D, the depth is always there. Since 3D is a Blu-ray-only option and impossible to compare via screenshots, I'll leave it at this: The 3D version of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the one to watch. For this comparison, the 2D Blu-ray serves as a reference.

Since I couldn't include Vudu HDX screen shots in this comparison, I watched individual scenes and analyzed how they looked on my calibrated PN64F8500. I've written enough comparisons to know that still frames don't adequately convey the differences between formats. For example, only Blu-ray offers 24p, which my TV supports. True 24p translates to a superior cadence that none of the online-delivery formats could match. Besides, scenes with a lot of motion tend to tax compression algorithms, giving Blu-ray a visible advantage in motion resolution when it comes to action movies.

The Blu-ray's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack put the online-delivery versions to shame. Ralph Potts gave the audio a perfect score of 100, and I agree with his assessment. The 7.1 mix took full advantage of all seven channels, which added a heightened sense of envelopment and immersion. By contrast, the streams from iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon were all limited to compressed 5.1 audio.

With streaming, there are also issues with bandwidth. I usually find Vudu very reliable, but sometimes it takes Amazon a while to lock into a HD stream. I have fast downstream speeds—most of the time it measures over 120 Mbps—and yet that is no guarantee of smooth streaming. Apple's iTunes HD offers a download option, but it tends to lag behind Vudu HDX in quality, although not always.

The image quality of the 2D Blu-ray was notably high. I found no noise or artifacts to speak of, and I truly enjoyed the perfect 24p cadence it offered. The film's color palette is somewhat muted, but it crammed each and every scene with texture and detail. It's a real treat to watch a movie that seems able to "do anything" when it comes to realistic CGI effects, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is such a movie. Once again, Blu-ray delivers a reference-quality picture.

Amazon's video quality turned out to be the best of the three online-delivery formats; during my viewing, I experienced no streaming hiccups. It closely matched the Blu-ray in terms of color, and it managed to stay sharp during scenes with a lot of motion. The most notable difference between Amazon HD and Blu-ray was the quality of the motion. Amazon's version suffered from noticeable judder. Ultimately, Amazon's presentation was not quite as smooth, clean, or sharp as Blu-ray. But it came closer to that quality level than I've seen in the past.

Vudu HDX looked softer than usual, almost like it was 720p instead of 1080p. While I thought Vudu exhibited the best motion among the three online-delivery formats, it suffered from visible banding in shadows. Also, I had issues with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) that prevented the HD version from playing on my PC. It was as if Murphy's Law was in full effect when I tried to view the movie from Vudu.

iTunes performed well, if not quite up to Amazon HD's quality level. It had the sharpness of an actual 1080p presentation, and it was mostly free of artifacts. I saw some loss of detail compared to Blu-ray, and there were some cadence issues. The iTunes version beat the other two online formats when it came to rendering shadows. Dark areas, and especially night scenes, looked natural and artifact free compared to Amazon and Vudu—but not versus Blu-ray.

Here are some screenshots comparing the Blu-ray, Amazon HD, and iTunes HD versions of the movie:


This scene contains a lot of detail and movement. Amazon renders detail that comes remarkably close to Blu-ray quality, iTunes looks a bit softer.



Taken from the same frame as the above comparison.



While both iTunes and Amazon HD look sharp, Amazon HD comes closer to Blu-ray when reproducing subtle gradations.



This dark scene tests how each format handles shadows. It's hard to see any difference.



Using Photoshop, I brightened the previous image to reveal shadow details. iTunes avoids blocking artifacts but Amazon comes closer to Blu-ray quality.



In this screenshot, Blu-ray quality really shines through. Captain America's skin looks fake in both the Amazon and iTunes versions.



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Last edited by imagic; 11-05-2014 at 09:36 AM.
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post #2 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:16 AM
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Not trying to be disrespectful, but I don't get the point of posts like this comparing Blu-ray vs. various streaming/downloadable digital formats. Blu-ray > rest, and most of us opt for the best quality possible.

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post #3 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brajesh View Post
Not trying to be disrespectful, but I don't get the point of posts like this comparing Blu-ray vs. various streaming/downloadable digital formats. Blu-ray > rest, and most of us opt for the best quality possible.
It's my job. Also, sometimes people want something other than the best quality possible... convenience counts for something. I've seen an industry pro succumb to the convenience of Vudu HDX in their own million-dollar home theater.

As an analogy, if I opt to eat fast food for lunch, I know it's not going to be the best burger/chicken sandwich/taco possible. But I still want to know which convenient, compromised product is the best.

Anyhow, Blu-ray serves as the reference. What I'm writing about is which online format comes closest.

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Last edited by imagic; 11-05-2014 at 11:49 AM.
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post #4 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Since I couldn't include Vudu HDX screen shots in this comparison, I watched individual scenes and analyzed how they looked on my calibrated PN84F8500. I've written enough comparisons to know that still frames don't adequately convey the differences between formats. For example, only Blu-ray offers 24p, which my TV supports. True 24p translates to a superior cadence that none of the online-delivery formats could match. Besides, scenes with a lot of motion tend to tax compression algorithms, giving Blu-ray a visible advantage in motion resolution when it comes to action movies.
I'd love to have one of those
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post #5 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:35 AM - Thread Starter
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I'd love to have one of those
Oh snap... thank you. I sure wish I had one too!!!!
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post #6 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:38 AM
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awesome write up. nice to know which service tends to be best when you want to rent a movie. I always try to do blu ray only, but now and again my wife and I sit down and want to find something to rent. we are using amazon now with no real gripes.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brajesh View Post
Not trying to be disrespectful, but I don't get the point of posts like this comparing Blu-ray vs. various streaming/downloadable digital formats. Blu-ray > rest, and most of us opt for the best quality possible.
The point is that the OP has a bias towards streaming. He hopes for the eventual demise of disc-based technology in favor of streaming. He generally hopes to show that the difference between Blu-ray and streaming is relatively insignificant, and by showing them side by side will diminish any such difference. This is all in spite of the fact that in all of his comparisons, Blu-ray is always superior and that, to anyone who wants the absolute best in audio/video quality, it is THE superior product.
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Once again, no lossless audio with current streaming service's. In my estimation the BD looks best anyway.
The demise of physical media is coming - but until then, I'll stick to the BD.
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post #9 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:45 AM
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Let's not be so sure of physical disc's demise. There's also 4K, and the argument about PQ difference between it on physical media vs. streaming will be even more amplified I suspect. Even with better compression (HEVC), for those of us with larger display (133" projection in my case) and/or wanting the best quality possible, I just don't see streaming ever beating disc. There's also hd audio (TrueHD and DTS-MA), which will be tough to do (at proper bitrates) via streaming.
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post #10 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:48 AM
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not always quality

Two things:

1.) As a previous person noted: why the comparison of streaming services to Blu-ray? Why not compare Netflix, iTunes and Amazon?

2.) I live in upper Ohio and when the weather is bad, I will skip waiting in line at the local Redbox for a marginally better quality version and just stream.

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post #11 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilgore View Post
The point is that the OP has a bias towards streaming. He hopes for the eventual demise of disc-based technology in favor of streaming. He generally hopes to show that the difference between Blu-ray and streaming is relatively insignificant, and by showing them side by side will diminish any such difference. This is all in spite of the fact that in all of his comparisons, Blu-ray is always superior and that, to anyone who wants the absolute best in audio/video quality, it is THE superior product.
At least you think my comparisons are accurate It is only a matter of bandwidth, not physical media versus online delivery. Nothing makes discs special, as Kaleidescape proves with its 100% Blu-ray quality downloads. Also, iTunes HD is not a streaming format, and both Amazon and Vudu offer some sort of download option as well.

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post #12 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
At least you think my comparisons are accurate It is only a matter of bandwidth, not physical media versus online delivery. Nothing makes discs special, as Kaleidescape proves with its 100% Blu-ray quality downloads. Also, iTunes HD is not a streaming format, and both Amazon and Vudu offer some sort of download option as well.
At least you admit you have a bias for streaming.
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post #13 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 09:58 AM
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I think they are very valid comparisons and ones that I tend to look for... I recently went on a tangent on another thread of the differences in re-encoded BD films versus the full bitrate encodes. I absolutely could not tell a differences on high quality films like Avatar and Man of Steel after I had re-encoded them via hanbrake at optimal settings. After the bitrates were cut in half (all while keeping the DTS-HD track) the films looked identical on my 60 inch Sharp (even on my 1440p gaming monitor). I felt like it was worth the comparison because not only does it reduce the file size and the bitrate but it helps us better understand why a re-encoded 5800Kbps film on Netflix looks darn near identical to its BD counterpart.
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Originally Posted by Kilgore View Post
At least you admit you have a bias for streaming.
No, I do not. Streaming is comparatively unreliable. I prefer downloads and I still buy some Blu-rays, for 3D, or for the better motion, or for sound quality. But I don't get hung up on needing to watch a Blu-ray—especially for older films that are at my fingertips if the impulse strikes.

Besides, things change. Atmos might just push me back into the Blu-ray camp. I have an Atmos-capable system arriving for review tomorrow, and Transformers: Age of Extinction is on-deck for a 7.1 versus Atmos audio comparison.
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post #15 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brajesh View Post
Not trying to be disrespectful, but I don't get the point of posts like this comparing Blu-ray vs. various streaming/downloadable digital formats. Blu-ray > rest, and most of us opt for the best quality possible.
Speak for yourself on this one...with the utmost respect!! I personally feel that online is more than enough for me ,and I have a very hi end and revealing system. Watched Malenificint last night with my family, and the picture and sound were stunning.

* Saved me trip to the local best buy.
* Have the option to rent it or purchase it.
* With purchase my kids can watch it again, anywhere in the house- no need for DVD player.
* Picture is 98% of BD and sound 90%

Love the review as picture quality is took close to call, add in the convenience and it's a no brainer for me.

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Mark, you know my feelings the whole streaming thing, my question is about Audio on Amazon. I have noticed with the last 3 rentals(really freebies because of Prime membership), I have really had to crank the sound from 18 to 32-35 and usually only the front 3 are utilized. Is this common with Amazon Video?

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post #17 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 10:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by DRaven72 View Post
Mark, you know my feelings the whole streaming thing, my question is about Audio on Amazon. I have noticed with the last 3 rentals(really freebies because of Prime membership), I have really had to crank the sound from 18 to 32-35 and usually only the front 3 are utilized. Is this common with Amazon Video?
It truly depends on the movie. Back catalog title sometimes suffer from inferior audio, no doubt. A Dolby Digital (or DD+) 5.1 title should take advantage of all channels, and the difference between that and uncompressed Blu-ray audio should amount to the effects of compression. You need to look at the format the stream offers, and even then there's no guarantee of acceptable quality with older titles.
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post #18 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 10:45 AM
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on a side note imagic, I was able to pick up a 64" f8500 from my local best buy for $1700
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on a side note imagic, I was able to pick up a 64" f8500 from my local best buy for $1700
Mind sharing how you scored such a deal?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brajesh View Post
Let's not be so sure of physical disc's demise. There's also 4K, and the argument about PQ difference between it on physical media vs. streaming will be even more amplified I suspect. Even with better compression (HEVC), for those of us with larger display (133" projection in my case) and/or wanting the best quality possible, I just don't see streaming ever beating disc. There's also hd audio (TrueHD and DTS-MA), which will be tough to do (at proper bitrates) via streaming.
If there's one thing that'll keep discs around, it's low prices. I've noticed ridiculous deals on Blu-ray 3-packs at Wal-mart ($7 and you still get UltraViolet license as well). If Blu-rays continue to be available as a $5-$10 impulse purchase, then they'll continue to find an audience. Enthusiasts are not going to keep that boat afloat, but Wal-mart shoppers can.

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Originally Posted by imagic View Post
It's my job. Also, sometimes people want something other than the best quality possible... convenience counts for something. I've an industry pro succumb to the convenience of Vudu HDX in their own mullion-dollar home theater.

As an analogy, I opt to each fast food for lunch, I know it's not going to be the best burger/chicken sandwich/taco possible. But I still want to know which convenient, compromised product is the best.

Anyhow, Blu-ray serves as the reference. What I'm writing about is which online format comes closest.
Thanks imagic, good review. I rent a lot of movies through MS and stream through my Xbox One. I would say MS stream is about the same as Amazon's. I would be more apt to buy digital movies if I could download to my Xbox. If I must own a movie, I still opt for blu-ray.
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Any chance you could do a comparison including Google Play Movies as well? I rented from Google for the first time the other day and was pleased with the quality that came through.
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Any chance you could do a comparison including Google Play Movies as well? I rented from Google for the first time the other day and was pleased with the quality that came through.
Yes, I definitely can/will do that in a future comparison.

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imagic: Well in some respects to that last picture posted I think Amazon HD looks the worst. If I want downloaded good quality I don't want Artifacts! To me if I want to keep a movie and watch it again I will buy a Blu-Ray almost every time, quality is there with picture and sound. It's people that are convincing us that convenient is better, that quality that has me perplexed. Start preaching quality with HD downloads and making them better if we ever take that leap of faith to just downloads only. The same goes with music, I still buy CDs and I see much younger kids buying CDs more than downloading lately, and here as well like Amazon and iTunes you get music that isn't CD quality.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

For example, only Blu-ray offers 24p, which my TV supports. True 24p translates to a superior cadence that none of the online-delivery formats could match. Besides, scenes with a lot of motion tend to tax compression algorithms, giving Blu-ray a visible advantage in motion resolution when it comes to action movies.
Thanks for the review - excellent as usual.

I would note however that I have no problem getting 24P from Vudu HDX on my 5 year old LG BD390.

I behaves the same as Blu-Ray once 24P is selected. That is it outputs 24P for 24P source material on both Blu-Ray and Vudu HDX (it actually does the same for Netflix as well but unfortunately as an old player Netflix is only 720P24 with stereo).

I would love to find a player that supported 24P on Amazon.
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Originally Posted by joeycalda View Post
Speak for yourself on this one...with the utmost respect!! I personally feel that online is more than enough for me ,and I have a very hi end and revealing system. Watched Malenificint last night with my family, and the picture and sound were stunning.

* Saved me trip to the local best buy.
* Have the option to rent it or purchase it.
* With purchase my kids can watch it again, anywhere in the house- no need for DVD player.
* Picture is 98% of BD and sound 90%

Love the review as picture quality is took close to call, add in the convenience and it's a no brainer for me.

Joey
I order via Amazon, so UPS or mailman delivers right to my door . If I feel like renting, I still prefer Redbox (vs. iTunes or Amazon), even w/some discs not having hd audio. No discs here... I rip to my NAS and use on my terms. My discs then go into storage for occasional re-rips. I think at best streaming PQ is 75% of BD, and audio is 65%. Guess we'll just agree to disagree on these .
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iTuns looks like an upconverted DVD. I.E. a waste of download bandwidth. Amazon doesn't look too bad.

However neither offers what Blu-ray does. HD Audio. That's the main selling point for me. I haven't spent tens of thousands of dollars on audio gear to watch anything other than uncompressed HD audio. End of story.
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However neither offers what Blu-ray does. HD Audio. That's the main selling point for me. I haven't spent tens of thousands of dollars on audio gear to watch anything other than uncompressed HD audio. End of story.
+1 on HD audio! Even with PQ, squeezing out that extra resolution is totally worth it. Why sacrifice? Go full HD or go home On a large screen, it's noticeable, especially heavy motion/action scenes.

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post #29 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 01:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
It's my job. Also, sometimes people want something other than the best quality possible... convenience counts for something. I've seen an industry pro succumb to the convenience of Vudu HDX in their own million-dollar home theater.

As an analogy, if I opt to eat fast food for lunch, I know it's not going to be the best burger/chicken sandwich/taco possible. But I still want to know which convenient, compromised product is the best.

Anyhow, Blu-ray serves as the reference. What I'm writing about is which online format comes closest.

And this is the exact same situation I found myself in earlier. I wasn't about to spend 30 bucks on Age of Extinction since I didn't care for the last two Transformers. I wanted to know how good Amazon's HD streaming was instead of perhaps using Vudu. So far, the quality is pretty good.

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post #30 of 207 Old 11-05-2014, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Brajesh View Post
+1 on HD audio! Even with PQ, squeezing out that extra resolution is totally worth it. Why sacrifice? Go full HD or go home On a large screen, it's noticeable, especially heavy motion/action scenes.
Exactly. Throw it on a 120" projector screen and anything but blu-ray picture, looks terrible.
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