The Vietnam War Blu-ray Review

Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, The Vietnam War tells the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film. Ten years in the making, the immersive narrative brings the war and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life.

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



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



Studio and Year: PBS – 2017
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 1080 minutes
Genre: Documentary

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 1080i/30

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, Spanish Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Starring: Peter Coyote
Directed by: Ken Burns and Lynn Novik
Music by: YoYo Ma, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, David Cieri
Written by: Geoffrey C. Ward
Region Code: A

Release Date: September 19, 2017

“There is no Single Truth in War”

My Take:

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, The Vietnam War, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. The Vietnam War features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.

I am a fan of Ken Burns work and consistently find his documentaries to be compelling, poignant and enlightening. Narrated by Peter Coyote, The Vietnam War paints in fine strokes that vividly portray the beginnings and scope of the Vietnam War, while honoring and bearing witness to what happened both at home and in battle. As I sat and watched I went through a range of emotions as the atrocities recounted through eye witnesses, and captured via photos and filmed footage left me shocked, disturbed, perplexed, angry, sad, adulated and proud.

I tend to enjoy documentaries of this type as I often learn facts that I previously never knew. Unfortunately, much of what I learned about this terrible conflict surrounded the intimate details of the political, economic and social unrest that underscored it, in addition to how so many perished in the wake of battle. The film recounts the war’s effect on families at home, our fighting men, as well as those who were allies and opponents, and on the nation as a whole. I can’t imagine how tough it must have been for the young men that went off to war hoping to make a difference only to come face to face with the realization that their efforts were in reality futile. The stories of gallantry, bravery and sacrifice by the young infantrymen, and pilots that encountered unimaginable horror are astounding. Ten years in the making The Vietnam War is a powerful, moving and compelling documentary film that left an indelible impression on me. It astonished me, it saddened me, it angered me, but above all it proved to be an eye-opening account of one of our nation’s darkest times.

The Vietnam War’s 10 segments are spread over 10 BD-50 Blu-ray Discs with the bonus features located on disc’s one and ten. The 10 segments, labeled “episodes” each have their own disc and consist of the following:

  1. Déjà vu – 1858-1961
  2. Riding the Tiger 1961-1963
  3. The River Styx January 1964-December 1965
  4. Resolve January 1966-June 1967
  5. This is What We Do July 1967-December 1967
  6. Things Fall Apart January 1968-July 1968
  7. The Veneer of Civilization June 1968-May 1969
  8. The History of the World April 1969-May 1970
  9. A Disrespectful Loyalty May 1970-Marh 1973
  10. The Weight of Memory March 1973 – Onward

Replay Value:

Parental Guide: 

This film contains graphic images, language and content that would be inappropriate for young viewers.

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.**

Audio: 82
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects: 
  • Surround Sound presentation: 
  • Clarity/Detail: 
  • Dialog Reproduction: 
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element): NA
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element): 


Video: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Resolution/Clarity: 
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail: 
  • Color Reproduction: 
  • Fleshtones: 
  • Compression: 


The Vietnam War comes to Blu-ray Disc from PBS featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 26 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 2 Mbps.

This is a solid looking encode that has a filmic visual aesthetic and dialed down contrast that appears to hold true to the filmmaker’s vision. This documentary style film is made up of large amounts of archival black and white footage, vintage photographs, home movies, and filmed interviews. The interview segments don’t offer any visual stimulation but appear natural enough. The full framed still photography looks terrific and is clearly the star of the show. White and black levels are consistent which lends balance to the variable nature of the presentation. This isn’t the type of film that is going to shine in high definition but this appears to be a faithful rendering that capably represents the conglomeration of it elements and looks fine.

Unlike many Ken Burns Documentaries I have reviewed on Blu-ray, this one contain a lossless soundtrack and does an excellent job of rendering the audio in this dialogue driven documentary. Peter Coyote’s narration, and the vocal reproduction during the various interview segments are clear and definitively rendered. The use of period music is integrated to wonderful effect and is spread over the surround platform. Being a documentary film there is little call for an active surround mix but I found that this audio presentation made effective use of the platform and complimented the source material quite well.

Bonus Features:

  • The Making of the Vietnam War
  • Additional Footage

Final Thoughts:

Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novik, The Vietnam War is a powerful, moving and compelling documentary film that left an indelible impression on me. It astonished me, it saddened me, it angered me, but above all it proved to be an eye-opening account of one of our nation’s darkest times. It comes to Blu-ray from PBS Home Distribution featuring excellent high definition video, crystal clear lossless sound and a light supplement set that offers insights from the filmmakers, plus additional material that won’t be available when it airs on PBS on September 17th to September 21st, and September 24th – September 28th (Check your local listings). No matter what you think you know about The Vietnam War The Vietnam War offers a perspective that is sure to enlighten. For those that would like to own it, this Blu-ray offering from Paramount Home Distribution is the ticket.


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 Electronic 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 UDP-203 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 Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
SVS PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
SVS SB-13 Ultra (Piano Gloss finish)
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems