Rocky Mountain Express Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

A steam train journey through the breathtaking vistas of the Canadian Rockies, as this documentary film transports the audience back to the age of steam and weaves together spectacular aerial cinematography and breathtaking vistas of the west, and relates the epic adventure of building the nation’s first transcontinental railway.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )



Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )



Studio and Year: Shout Factory – 2011
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 45 minutes
Genre: Documentary

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, French/Spanish DTS-HD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Starring: Michael Hanrahan
Written & Directed by: Stephen Low
Music by: Michael Cusson
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: July 12, 2016

“The Ultimate Steam-Powered Adventure”

My Take:

Retracing the original route aboard the majestic steam engine 2816, the film transports the audience back to the age of steam to re-live this alpine nation-building odyssey. The film weaves together spectacular aerial cinematography, breathtaking vistas of the West, archival photographs and maps and the potent energy and rhythms of a live steam locomotive to immerse audiences in an era of remarkable ingenuity and struggle. Ride the rails along deep river canyons and over high mountain passes through a region of stunning natural beauty. Discover some of the most beautiful and rugged landscapes on Earth and the heroic human drama and epic engineering that shaped a continent.

I found this short documentary film to be interesting and thoroughly entertaining as it provides intriguing details about the trials, challenges and sacrifices made by so many to bring transcontinental railway service to fruition.

Parental Guide:

This film is appropriate for all audiences.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

UHD Presentation: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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Dolby Atmos Rating: 90
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Level of immersion:
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Ultra HD Blu-ray has finally been released and eager enthusiasts are ready and willing to see what it has to offer. For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

For those not willing to refer to the article linked above, I have included some comments here. The implementation of high dynamic range as it stands currently, doesn’t appear to have exacting standards and no calibration tools to allow for a foundational threshold for setting up a visual system. This leaves us to do the best we can to determine what appears to be accurate, at least for the time being. With that in mind, my approach to reviewing Ultra HD Blu-ray will be to assess the elements observed which I find to generate the most significant visual impact when compared to standard high definition Blu-ray.

For me, high dynamic range, with its broader spectrum of colors and emboldened highlights in the areas of contrast and brightness, is where the potential lies in the format. The increase in resolution, while an important component, isn’t going to be definitive in every case, especially given that currently many of the Ultra HD Blu-ray releases are derived from 2K Digital Intermediates that are up-converted to 4K. This shouldn’t be strictly construed to mean that such up-converted images won’t look noticeably better than their 1080p counterparts. Conversely, a release finished on a 4K Digital Intermediate isn’t a guarantee that it will be heads and shoulders above the rest. So, what can you expect to hear from me when discussing what I observed from Ultra HD Blu-ray? I will hit upon the things that struck me, the impact, or lack of impact, of HDR and the improvement, if any, in resolution when compared to 1080p Blu-ray. The outcome will be a rating as seen above.

Front projection for home theater is just stepping through the door with respect to the reproduction of HDR. My goal is to present readers with a reasonable expectation of what they can expect when viewing the same content that I have. There may be variables that differ slightly however I believe that in general the outcome will be close. As we are exposed to more and more content and calibration tools come onboard we will have better perspectives from which to gauge. Thanks for reading!

Rocky Mountain Express comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Shout Factory featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/True HD 7.1 channel sound that has an average bitrate of 4.3 Mbps.

For its presentation in Ultra HD Rocky Mountai n Express (filmed on authentic 15 perf. 70 MM negative, and originally exhibited in IMAX theaters) was rendered from a 4K DI. With the limited exposure to Ultra HD either sourced from 4K Digital Intermediates we are left to judge based upon what we have seen thus far. This is a terrific Ultra HD presentation that looks superb on my large screen. First and foremost, the thing that immediately stands out is the lifelike reproduction of the textures captured by the camera’s lens. Whether it be the finest minutia in physical features of the 2816’s interior/exterior, or the majestic vistas of the Canadian mountain regions, the imagery is breathtaking. The benefits of high dynamic range are nearly as stark as earth toned colors have an added dimension that enlivens shots where they would normally have blended in, being seen as a less provocative background element that would generally go unnoticed. Whites are emboldened, detailed and bright, especially during low level transitions viewed in a darkened environment. Contrast abounds, lending an authenticity that underscores the subject matter, bringing it to a visually compelling level.

Rocky Mountain Express includes 4K standard dynamic range and high dynamic range viewing options, with the latter requiring an Ultra HD TV with high dynamic range support for access. Hands down this is among the best looking Ultra HD presentations that have graced my system. Kudos to Shout Factory, on a great Ultra HD presentation, that truly demonstrates the promise of the format.

In listening to the Dolby Atmos surround mix I found it to be of the moderately active variety, which considering the source material, was a pleasant surprise. Its use of audio objects placed above is comprised of a mix of atmospherics, panning fills and occasional discrete effects. This is done to good effect when implemented and creates an enriching level of immersion that coincides with the onscreen events nicely. Examples can be found during any of the camera mounted shots of the 2816 as she chugs down the railway. Nearfield sound placement is excellent, providing an involving listening experience that emboldens the “being there” effect. The music is subtly mixed over the platform so as to add natural depth to its orchestrated elements and vocals, without drawing attention away from the thematic details of what is transpiring onscreen. While this mix doesn’t make constant use of attention grabbing audio object placement, I found myself completely involved when it mattered and found this to be an enjoyable audio presentation that absolutely complimented the source material.

Blu-ray Video:

Video: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity:
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  • Compression:

Audio: 90
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Dynamics:
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Rocky Mountain Express comes to Blu-ray Disc from Shout Factory featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 37 Mbps and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel sound that has an average bitrate of 4.3 Mbps.

This is a reference quality high definition presentation that boasts brilliant colors, superlative depth, and an abundance of high level detail. The nature defined color palette is alluring as the deep, vivid, reds, succulent blues, and resplendent earth toned hues leap from the 1.78:1 framed video. Contrast balance is spot on as the various shades of gray are gradationally revealing and whites appear bright with crisp highlights that preserve detail. Blacks are delineated, deep, and rich, which works hand in hand with the definitive shadow detail to provide low level images with excellent perspective and depth of field. Resolution is impeccable as the vastness and scope of the recorded elements offers lucid, three dimensional acuity that is extraordinary. The beautifully captured images of the Canadian/Rocky Mountain regions are captivating as the richness of color, transparently rendered detail, and near infinite sense of depth and dimension are assuredly conveyed in high definition.

The high resolution Dolby Atmos/True HD 7.1 (core) sound has excellent dynamic range and detail. Dialog is articulately reproduced through the center channel and maintains a position of prominence within the front soundstage. This isn’t an aggressive surround mix but when applied the surround channels generate plenty of atmosphere and where appropriate, discrete sound placement. Front and rear channel imaging is spot on as details and spatial cues, such as though used for near field effect during the various sequences involving camera mounted footage of the 2816 locomotive, mate perfectly with the images onscreen. Low frequency effects provide palpable richness to the music and live sounds. I found this to be an entertaining and complimentary audio presentation.

Bonus Features:

  • Disc 1: Rocky Mountain Express Ultra HD Blu-ray
    Disc 2: Rocky Mountain Express Blu-ray
  • The Romance of Transportation in Canada – 1952 animated short film
  • Railroaders – 1958 Documentary
  • Digital HD Copy

Final Thoughts:

Rocky Mountain Express is an interesting and thoroughly entertaining documentary film that provides intriguing details and archival visuals about the trials, challenges and sacrifices made by so many to bring transcontinental railway service to fruition. It comes to home video in the Ultra HD Blu-ray/Blu-ray Combo pack featuring sparking Ultra HD video quality, excellent lossless surround sound, including a Dolby Atmos mix and a lackluster supplemental offering. Rocky Mountain Express is an easy recommendation for genre fans and high definition video enthusiasts that appreciated a well-crafted and interesting film experience.

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV8802A 13.2 Channel Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies – 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-103D Universal Disc/3D capable Blu-ray Player
Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and In-Ceiling series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SVS PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components – CP-CP102 cooling package