It's hard to believe that we are nearing the end of 2015. As in years past, when I began thinking about assembling this list, there wasn't an abundance of titles coming to the forefront of my mind. But once I began going over this year's reviews, I didn't have any problem coming up with a cache of titles that make worthy additions to the collections of enthusiasts.
This year I will also offer my picks for the Blu-ray release with the best video, best sound, best Dolby Atmos mix, and my favorite film. While the year isn't quite over, I wanted to post this article during the holiday-shopping season in the event that some may want to add to their list of stocking stuffers.
I have included remarks from my review of each entry along with a link to the review that can be accessed by clicking on the title.
Detail rendering is nearly flawless with lucid visual acuity and fine articulation that brings forth lots of subtle detail in the images onscreen.
Images have excellent visual depth with deep, rich color fidelity and stable contrast that enhances dimensionality.
Colors are richly saturated, vibrant, and beautifully rendered. Primaries are particularly vivid and exhibit visibly delineated stages that bring out subtle degrees of separation.
Whether it's the supple texture of small falling debris, splashes of water, or the weight of a crumbling building crashing to the ground, the audio is richly basked in sonic clarity and potent dynamic energy.
During the scene where Zorg speaks to Mr. Shadow on the telephone, I compared the Atmos and standard soundtracks. The Atmos mix sounds amazing, placing his growling voice in a floating three-dimensional acoustic space while keeping Zorg's responses out in front.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is technically proficient and in a word, terrific.
This is a flawless and film-like video presentation that delivers exquisite high-level detail and rich, deep, image-penetrating colors that look gorgeous in high definition.
The level of resolution produces imagery that in many cases has near-infinite visual acuity that draws out the finest details in close-ups while enhancing the delineation and textural nuance within objects and backgrounds.
Low-frequency effects are applied with authority and occasionally provide room-shuddering bass capable of potent impact.
With respect to the Dolby Atmos mix, everything really comes together for the first time during the Centipede invasion (followed later by the Pac Man and dual action segments in the finale). Ruptured pixel cubes, explosive near-field objects, and multi-dimensional ambience place you inside the action as sounds rotate and revolve around the soundstage from above and at ear level.
This film looks superb on Blu-ray and features glossy high-definition video quality that exhibits high-level detail, razor sharpness, and exquisite definition that brings out the lifelike textures captured by the camera's lens.
Dynamic range is excellent as the active elements within the surround mix resound with superior clarity and palpable deep-bass transients.
Images are visually arresting and have a rich, dynamic quality that highlights the near flawless rendering of detail. The video has a three-dimensional and razor-sharp clarity that never left me wanting.
Wide-angle shots of the geographic locations reveal the varied and rough texture in the surfaces made of stone and wood while the beautifully framed landscapes look terrific. The 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an impressive one that utilizes the entire system to create a theater-like experience.
The action-based sequences transform the listening area into a three-dimensional soundfield filled with immersive surround activity that mates perfectly with the events unfolding onscreen.
Detail is impeccably rendered as images have a luminous and sparkling clarity that is appreciably dimensional. Surround activity is frequent and immersive as directional and spatial information mixed to the rear channels weaves an enveloping pattern of sound.
Resolution is excellent, particularly in brightly lit sequences, as images are characterized by definitively rendered detail that gives the video appreciable dimension and delineated texture. The audio's low-frequency effects are applied authoritatively to underscore the bombastic and aggressive aspects of the presentation.
While this mix doesn't make constant use of discretely placed audio objects from above, I enjoyed the effectiveness of the added dimension during the early parts of the film and thought it made for a solid Dolby Atmos presentation overall.
is probably the most anticipated Dolby Atmos Blu-ray release to date. I am pleased to report that the wait was well worth it. The surround mix compliments the already top-notch soundtrack and enhances the experience of watching the film at nearly every level.
This is a beautifully crafted digital film that looks amazing in high definition. From start to finish, the presentation is nothing short of mesmerizing in its depiction of the movie's animated images.
This is a rewarding 3D presentation that emphasizes excellent depth and dimension while featuring few examples of overtly gimmicky effects. It's a well-balanced presentation that features high-level detail in a resplendent blend of dialog, sound effects, bass, and music with discretely placed effects and atmospherics that utilize the entire soundstage.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition
comes to Blu-ray featuring superlative and faithfully rendered high-definition audio/video and a bountiful supplemental set that will give fans their fill.
The overall quality is excellent as the video has a dimensionally strong perspective that is visually pleasing and reminiscent of what I saw during the theatrical presentation. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1-channel soundtrack features solid dynamics built around a nicely balanced surround mix that I wouldn't categorize as being aggressive but hits the mark when the action kicks in.
You can rest assured that this Blu-ray disc delivers some of the richest, deepest, and velvety textured blacks that I have seen. Images are gradational and three-dimensional so that the long drawn shots on earth and above have seemingly infinite depth.
During the battle sequences, the listening position is actively engaged by a mixture of spatial and discretely placed sound effects that put the listener in the heart of the action as machine gun fire, tank guns, and flying shells revolve, shake, and whiz around the room.
Here are a few titles that I feel are deserving of mention—some due to their excellent technical merits and others because they are films worth sharing.
Walt Disney Animation Studios: Short Films Collection
I am a fan of animated short films. As a child, we would see them as preludes before the main feature at the theater. Animated shorts are the precursors that brought us to the full-length animated feature films we enjoy today. This is a marvelous collection of beautifully told, spritely, and heartwarming stories that live up to the legacy of the animated short film. Each includes an introduction by the filmmaker, which is a nice touch. Collections such as these are a must have for fans and enthusiasts alike and have a timeless appeal that can be shared by generations.
What We Do in the Shadows
The film's pitch-perfect deadpan humor, affable charm, and lightly veiled ode to the roots of its subject are a testament to the writing.
is wonderfully immoral but with a point that isn't designed to imply anything other than providing an outlet for us to reflect on the times we may have felt exactly the same as its characters but wouldn't have the stones to act upon them. It's spot on and a great way to spend an evening with friends. I can't wait to give it another spin.
This is a pristine, reference-quality presentation that looks terrific on my big screen. There are moments when the soundtrack springs to life with the power of the music, a purposefully placed effect, or accentuated atmospherics that place you within the scene.
Into the Woods
I found this to be a filmic presentation that yielded excellent picture quality with no signs of video-related anomalies or artifacts. The DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix is equally impressive and runs the gamut between subtle passages of spoken dialog/singing and soft music to dynamically charged sequences that deliver rewarding surround sound.
Apollo 13 20th Anniversary Edition
recently underwent an extensive 4K digital restoration/re-mastering, and the results are superb. The video has an undisturbed grain structure that occasionally takes on more emphasis, but I never found it bothersome. Having seen Apollo 13
on home video first on DVD, then HD DVD, and later on the 2010 15th anniversary edition, I am pleased to report that this represents its finest video reproduction to date. Universal has done a wonderful job with it, and I greatly appreciate their efforts.
Best of the Best:
- This film looks superb on Blu-ray and features glossy high-definition video quality that exhibits high-level detail, razor sharpness, and exquisite definition, which brings out lifelike textures captured by the camera's lens. Dimensional perspective has a near infinite appeal that can be visually stimulating.
Audio: Mad Max: Fury Road
- This is a dynamically charged mix that frequently utilizes the subwoofer to provide viscerally potent impact. The low-frequency effects are applied authoritatively to underscore the bombastic and aggressive aspects of the presentation, and it does so quite effectively. Its palpable presence is never in question as it contains refined bass quality that is appreciably superior and room energizing (bass heads will love it!).
Dolby Atmos: San Andreas
- The Atmos mix makes effective use of the entire platform and manages the plethora of effects, dialog, music, and low-frequency content allowing all of the recording's elements to be fully realized.
- Wow. The trailer for this film merely skimmed the surface providing a mouth-watering glimpse of its potential. As a former drummer, I was immediately interested in the subject matter but wasn't prepared for the depth of its intensity nor the riveting performances that underscored it. Whiplash
is among my favorite films of the year and is justly deserving of the praise and accolades it has received.
There you have it—my picks for some of this year's best Blu-ray releases. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as your own picks for 2015. And I would be more than happy to entertain recommendations that could be added to the list based on a group consensus.
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 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 (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" 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