Downton Abbey Season Four (Blu-ray) Official AVSForum Review - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 5 Old 01-21-2014, 07:37 AM - Thread Starter
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The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )

Film: attachment.php?attachmentid=109947&d=1210373699

Extras: attachment.php?attachmentid=109943&d=1210373647

Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )

Studio and Year: PBS - 2013
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 525 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Penelope Wilton, Joanne Froggatt, Maggie Smith, Rob James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Cara Theobold, Shirley MacLaine, Lesley Nichol, Lily James, Kevin Doyle, Michelle Dockery, Ed Speleers, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: David Evans, Catherine Morshead, Philip John, Edward Hall, and Jon East
Written by: Julian Fellows
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: January 28, 2014

"Picking up the pieces…."

Film Synopsis:

Six months after Matthew's tragic death, his loss is still felt throughout Downton Abbey. Mary struggles to face a new future with her fatherless child, and is encouraged by the family to pick up the pieces. With the twenties in full swing and the tides of change sweeping through Downton, Rose's continued attraction to the bright lights of London spells trouble for the Crawleys, and Edith's budding relationship with Michael Gregson is threatened by events beyond her control. Meanwhile, below stairs, passions run high and young hearts look set to be broken.

My Take:

All who tuned in last season know that Matthew Crawley – heir to Downton Abbey, husband to Lady Mary (Dockery), and brand new father to a baby boy and successor – lies dead on a country road next to his overturned roadster. On top of this, the family is still grieving over the death in childbirth of Sybil, Mary’s youngest sister, who also left a baby behind.

Six months after Downton Abbey's great tragedy, Mary is mired in grief and the estate is engulfed in death taxes. As the family struggles to lift their financial and emotional woes, clashes arise, sparks fly, and it is up to the older generation to bring Mary back to life, and Robert to his senses – no easy task in either respect. Another departure leaves no tears in its wake, but rather opportunity for new faces – and drama, alliances, and sparks of an entirely different sort – below stairs.

Although it is the 1920s, Britain still observes mourning rituals that are almost Victorian in their solemnity. As London draws Downton's youth with its glamorous jazz clubs and sparkling literary scene, social change sweeps its way up to the venerable estate, bringing with it a threat to the continued relevance and very existence of Downton Abbey. Robert, Lord Grantham (Bonneville), must manage the estate without his canny son-in-law; Cora suddenly faces a staffing crisis; Violet, who has seen enough tragedy, knows how to recoup quickly; Isobel (Wilton), Matthew’s mother, may never recover; Edith (Carmichael), who was jilted at the altar, tempts scandal with a new beau; and Mary now finds herself the most desirable widow in Yorkshire. The servants also pick up, buck up, and get on with it – with new arrivals, departures, rivalries, and betrayals among the downstairs staff. Life goes on at Downton Abbey.

Prior to the third season of Downton Abbey I hadn’t watched the series but heard nothing but positives things from those that had. I had some reservations based solely on the subject matter and genre as it just sounded like it would be a slow melodrama set in a location/period specific setting that might be difficult to connect with. I went ahead and requested season three for review. My wife and I were instantly hooked and thoroughly enjoyed season three. After the shocking season three finale we eagerly awaited season four’s e on PBS. As luck would have it the season four Blu-ray arrived between the airing of episodes three and four which allowed us to plow through the remaining six episodes. As with season three we found ourselves completely engrossed in this well written serial set in early 1900’s England that follows the familial drama surrounding an aristocratic family that resides/owns a palatial estate known as Downton Abbey. Along with the aristocratic affairs, trials and tribulations of the family is the intertwined subtext associated with their live in servants who reside in the downstairs or on the grounds of Downton.

Writer/creator Julian Fellows paints a vivid picture of the snobbery, traditional devotion, elitist ways and compromising interpersonal relationships that thematically underscore the show. The plethora of characters aren’t all complex but are superbly drawn with a distinctive role that ebbs and flows with the melodramatic proceedings. This allows them to be likeable at times unlikable at others but always definably pertinent to the show’s shifting axis. There is a bit of a soap opera feel however it never descends to that level of ostentatious envelope pushing. Instead it humanizes them all, exposing their strengths, weaknesses but above all the implicitness found in their devotion to their way of life, one another and their genuine and shared struggle to co-exist amidst the ever changing world around them.

There is much going on this season as the continuing variety of subplots engagingly plays out. The cast is simply marvelous and all equally worthy of praise. I know that Maggie Smith has been recognized with Golden Globe/Emmy nominations/wins but as an ensemble the group is excellent. Those that follow the series should prepare themselves as this season has several noteworthy and in once case, jarring storylines in store.

The returning cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier, Lily James, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, Dame Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, and a host of others, joined by Shirley MacLaine, who reprises her role as Martha Levinson, the forthright American mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham.

Among the season’s new faces are Paul Giamatti as Cora’s playboy brother, Harold, who appears in the season finale; Dame Harriet Walter as Violet’s old friend Lady Shackleton; Gary Carr as jazz singer Jack Ross; Joanna David as the Duchess of Yeovil; Tom Cullen as the dashing Lord Gillingham, and Julian Ovenden as an unexpected houseguest.

Downton Abbey Season Four comes to Blu-ray in this three disc edition with the series 8 episodes and season finale spread over three BD-50 dual layered discs with the bonus content located on Disc 3. We really enjoy the show and at the conclusion of the final episode were both disappointed at the prospect that it was over and that we would have to wait for season five. Season Four is currently airing on PBS here in the U.S. so check your local listings. This set will be available on January 28th for those that don’t want to wait to see what happens.

Parental Guide:

The series contains thematic material and brief sensuality 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: 80

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

  • Dynamics: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

  • Low frequency extension: attachment.php?attachmentid=109945&d=1210373692

  • Surround Sound presentation: attachment.php?attachmentid=109943&d=1210373692

  • Clarity/Detail: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373692

  • Dialogue Reproduction: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373692

Video: 94

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

  • Resolution/Clarity: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373699

  • Black level/Shadow detail: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373699

  • Color reproduction: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373699

  • Fleshtones: attachment.php?attachmentid=109947&d=1210373699

  • Compression: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373699

Downton Abbey Season Four comes to Blu-ray Disc from PBS Home Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 25 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD Stereo sound that has an average bitrate of 1.7 Mbps.

This is a reference quality high definition transfer that looks spectacular. Images are crisp with subtle refinement, resolute sharpness and exquisite dimensional perspective. Contrast is well balanced and dynamic which energizes colors and empowers whites/grays. Blacks are deep and noise free while lacking refining gradational emphasis that occasionally borders on crush. I wouldn’t describe the effects as deleterious but it’s worth mentioning. Detail in uneven light and darkened environments reveals discerning shapes and structure in backgrounds/objects. Colors are appreciably delineated with natural rendering and punchy primaries that stand out among those within the varied range used. Fleshtones are natural with subtle description and where appropriate warm complexional highlights. I found this to be a pristine high definition video presentation from PBS.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio stereo sound is quite good. Dynamics are robust and defining without being strident or edgy. Dialogue is rendered with appreciable tonal expression and excellent room penetration through the center channel speaker. The front soundstage is diffused with notable separation and articulated detail. The series is dialogue driven and as such doesn’t necessarily require use of the surround platform although a broader mix would have been acceptable. Regardless I never felt this presentation was lacking in any way and sounded excellent.

Bonus Features:

  • (HD) Downton Diaries – 13 minute featurette that looks behind the scenes in a day of shooting the series

  • (HD) The making of Downton Abbey – 12 minute featurette

  • (HD) Meet the new cast – 9 minute featurette

  • (HD) Visit Britain – Short promo

Final Thoughts:

Downton Abbey Season Four represents my second foray into the popular English TV series and I continue to find it to be an engaging and wonderfully written show that might just surprise genre fans that have never bothered to give it a look. For those that never miss it I guarantee that Season four has lots to offer including several interesting twists, a few turns and one or two eye openers that reinforce why it is one of top rated shows on the air. Downton Abbey Season Four comes to Blu-ray in this three Disc release from PBS Home Entertainment featuring sparkling reference quality high definition video, crystal clear lossless sound and a light but worthwhile supplemental package that fans will appreciate. My wife and I are hooked and eagerly await Season Five. For those that enjoy the show and like to own it on home video this Blu-ray release comes highly recommended. Enjoy!


Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS4910 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6 Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV8801 11.2 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 (With Darbee video processing)
Panasonic DMP-BDT310 3D capable Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" Series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package
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Ralph C. Potts
Blu-ray Reviewer
My Home Theater
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post #2 of 5 Old 01-21-2014, 07:55 AM
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Glad to see you mention the black crush issue. I've only seen the PBS broadcasts, not the Blu-ray version, but for me the black crush detracts from many of the indoor scenes.
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post #3 of 5 Old 01-21-2014, 08:30 AM
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Thanks for the season 4 review, Ralph! cool.gif

I have all the previous seasons and there is no way I'll miss season 4 because you are right that Downton Abbey is one of the best shows on television.

Highly recommended for those that enjoy great drama...

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post #4 of 5 Old 01-21-2014, 10:41 PM
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I've watched the first three episodes on PBS but am supposed to receive my review copy this week of the series. The entertainment value is outstanding and Maggie Smith is worth the price of admission all by herself. Great review Ralph, but I'm jealous that you've already have seen the entire season already!

David Vaughn Blu-ray Reviewer / Technical Writer Sound & Vision Magazine (Print & Online)
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post #5 of 5 Old 01-22-2014, 06:47 AM
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How are you calculating the average bitrate of 25 Mbps? The '25 Mbps' in your review has a link, but that's to an Ebay page of various items. Is your Darbee box generating this data? I have a BDP-105 and it shows the bitrate of the scenes, but that varies considerably, of course. So something that calculates average bit rate would be nice to have, for me anyway.
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