Ralph Potts reviews this extraordinary journey into the mysterious world of one of nature’s most awe-inspiring marine mammals that presents audiences with an up-close look at how Humpback Whales communicate, sing, feed, play and take care of their young.

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

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


Studio and Year: Shout Factory - 2015
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 40 minutes
Genre: Documentary

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

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, French/Spanish DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Starring: Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Greg MacGillivray
Music by: Steve Wood with Calum Graham
Written by:Stephen Judson
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: August 2, 2016
"Songs of Life…"
My Take:

Narrated by two-time Golden Globe nominee Ewan McGregor, Humpback Whales is an extraordinary journey into the mysterious world of one of nature's most awe-inspiring marine mammals.

Set in the spectacular waters of Alaska, Hawaii and the remote islands of Tonga, this ocean adventure offers audiences an up-close look at how these whales communicate, sing, feed, play and take care of their young. Captured for the first time with IMAX® 3D cameras, and found on every ocean on Earth, humpbacks were nearly driven to extinction 50 years ago, but today are making a slow but remarkable recovery. Join a team of researchers as they unlock the secrets of the humpback and find out why humpbacks are the most acrobatic of all whales, why they sing their haunting songs, and why these intelligent, 55-foot, 50-ton animals, migrate up to 10,000 miles round-trip every year.

I found this short documentary film to be interesting and thoroughly entertaining as it provides intriguing details and spectacular imagery of these extraordinary mammals. Kudos to the filmmakers and the production teams for their dedication and effort.

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)

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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!

Humpback Whales comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Shout Factor featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/True HD 7.1 channel sound that has an average bitrate of 4.4 Mbps.

For its presentation in Ultra HD Humpback Whales (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. As with most digitally sourced ultra HD renderings I have seen, the thing that immediately stands out is the lifelike reproduction of the textures captured by the camera's lens. Whether it's the crisp details in physical make up of both live and inanimate objects or the majestic vistas of the Alaskan, Hawaiian or Tonga 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. This is especially true of various levels of blue seen in the ocean depths. Whites are emboldened, detailed and bright, especially as seen when the mammoth whales pierce the water's surface and come crashing down in an eruption of cascading water. Contrast is noticeably emboldened, lending an authenticity that underscores the subject matter, bringing it to a visually compelling level.

Humpback Whales 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, acoustic sounds and nearfield 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 underwater recordings of the Humpbacks. Nearfield sound placement is excellent, providing an involving listening experience that emboldens the "being there" effect. The music is mixed over the platform so as to add natural depth to its orchestrated elements 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. I found this to be an enjoyable audio presentation that assuredly complimented the source material.

Blu-ray Video:

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

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

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Humpback Whales comes to Blu-ray Disc from Shout Factory featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 35 Mbps and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel sound that has an average bitrate of 4.4 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 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 various shooting locations 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 those that reproduce the sounds of the Humpback Whales both underwater and above, 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.

3D Blu-ray Video:

3D Presentation: 88
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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This IMAX 3D presentation boasts an abundance of high level detail, and beautifully rendered color. Contrast is spot on as the various shades of the color spectrum are gradationally revealing while whites appear bright with crisp highlights that preserve detail. Blacks are delineated, deep, and rich, which provides low level images with excellent perspective and depth of field. The gorgeous underwater segments make excellent use of the 3D platform and prove entertaining. The 1.78:1 presentation is whistle clean and free from distracting crosstalk/ghosting.

Bonus Features:
  • Disc 1: Humpback Whales Ultra HD Blu-ray
    Disc 2: Humpback Whales 2D/3D Blu-ray
  • (HD) Making of Documentary – 17 minutes
  • (HD) 4K IMAX Trailers
  • Digital HD Copy
Final Thoughts:

Narrated by two-time Golden Globe nominee Ewan McGregor, Humpback Whales is an informative and beautifully captured expose into the mysterious world of one of nature's most awe-inspiring marine mammals. It comes to home video in the Ultra HD/3D/2D Blu-ray Combo pack from Shout Factory featuring sparking Ultra HD video quality, rewarding lossless surround sound, including a Dolby Atmos mix, and a lackluster supplemental offering. Humpback Whales is an easy recommendation for genre fans and high definition video enthusiasts that appreciated a well-crafted and worthwhile film experience.

Here is the trailer and some clips from the film:

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” 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
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