Gravity: iTunes versus Vudu versus Blu-ray

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, just won seven Oscars, including the coveted Best Director award for Alfonso Cuarón. The movie did especially well when it came to awards for technical achievements, including Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Cinematography. There’s no doubt about it—Gravity is a technical tour de force that deserves a proper viewing, and it rewards any effort to get as close as possible to what the director intended. Now that Gravity is available on Blu-ray as well iTunes HD and Vudu HDX, I figured this is a perfect title to compare the three formats.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Gravity is one of the best movies to see in 3D. While viewing it in 3D, I experienced a sensation of floating in space that I did not get from the 2D version. Unfortunately for fans of 3D, iTunes HD and Vudu HDX do not offer that viewing option for Gravity. This is a terrible omission, considering how much 3D improves the viewing experience. Therefore, I recommend that you watch Gravity in 3D on Blu-ray if at all possible. It’s still a great movie in 2D, but in 3D, it is an elevated experience.

Even if you don’t have a 3D display, I strongly recommend watching Gravity on Blu-ray. I’ve compared a number of movies in this manner; sometimes the online-delivery formats come very close to Blu-ray, other times they don’t come close. Gravity is one of those movies with a significant quality gap between Blu-ray and the cloud formats. With Blu-ray, there was a lot more detail in just about every scene—it simply outclassed both iTunes HD and Vudu HDX.

It’s not just the visual aspect of Gravity that was superior—Blu-ray also beat both iTunes HD and Vudu HDX in the audio department. Gravity won the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Score. Furthermore, Ralph Potts awarded it a perfect score of 100 for sound quality in his Blu-ray review. Clearly, Gravity is a movie that you want to hear at its best.

Played from Blu-ray, the bass was more intense, highs were crisper, and every sound effect was more distinct. This is not a huge surprise, considering how much more bandwidth is available on Blu-ray for audio versus movies in the cloud. However, since Gravity makes such good use of sound, the difference between Blu-ray and online delivery is more obvious than usual.

It’s no great revelation that Blu-ray beats iTunes and Vudu for both sound and video quality. In past comparisons, Blu-raybeat the cloud formats every time, but the margin of victory varied from one release to another. With Gravity, there is absolutely no contest if you include 3D in the mix—Blu-ray reigns supreme. However, even when viewing Gravity in 2D, there is a significant loss of quality with iTunes HD or Vudu HDX when compared to Blu-ray. Check out the following examples to see the differences between the formats.


 

00:06:29 

 

Check out the reflections in the helmet glass, that’s where Blu-ray stands out

 

Artificially brightened in Photoshop


 

00:47:30

 

Blu-ray preserves more detail in the spaghetti-like tangle of cables

 

Artificially brightened in Photoshop

 


 

01:19:39

 

Subtle gradations pose a challenge that only Blu-ray can meet—Vudu and iTunes look flat

 


 

00:17:18

 

With Blu-ray you see more stars, more clouds, more facial features

 

Artificially brightened (in Photoshop) to bring out shadow artifacts

 


 

00:01:59

 

Blu-ray has the most detail, whereas Vudu HDX exhibits incorrect colors.