Based on Brian Selznick's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Hugo is one of the best films from 2011 and it certainly deserved its 11 Academy Award nominations (winning five). Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese brings the magic back to filmmaking and in the process gives the viewers a history lesson on one of the early pioneers in movie making. Going in, I had no idea what this film was about, but was blown away by the reference-quality audio and video presentation as well as the engaging story, believable characters, and exquisite set design. The film was shot on an Arri Alexa digital camera and the level of detail is out of this world. Every shot is razor-sharp in both the foreground and background and I only wish I was sent the 3D version from Paramount because I've read that it has some of the best 3D effects available on Blu-ray. Not to be outshone is the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that features stupendous dynamic range, pinpoint accuracy with its discrete effects, and astounding frequency response.
When The Town came out on Blu-ray in December 2010, I was blown away by the presentation. It was one of my favorite films of the year due to the non-stop action, believable characters, and some of the most realistic bank heists ever to hit the silver screen. In this Ultimate Collector's Edition, the reference-quality audio and video from the original release are still present with fabulous detail, surround envelopment, and dynamics, plus the alternate ending gives better closure to the story.
Clint Eastwood is arguably one of the best directors in Hollywood, and even though he's in the twilight of his life, he doesn't seem to be slowing down. While J. Edgar won't be considered one of his better films, I enjoyed it a lot more than most of the critics due to the fabulous acting by Leonardo DiCaprio and the historical significance of the subject. The Blu-ray boasts an above-average video encode with solid detail and intentionally understated colors, but the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is the true star of the show due to reference-quality imaging, dynamics, and frequency response.
Originating from the other side of the Atlantic, Downton Abbey is one of the most entertaining shows on TV and looks spectacular on Blu-ray. Each episode costs a reported one million pounds to produce and it certainly shows in the marvelous costume design, lavish sets, and all-star cast. Shot with an Arri Alexa digital camera, the level of detail is mesmerizing and the AVC encode is spectacular. Unfortunately the DTS-HD MA 2.0 doesn't have robust dynamics but at least the dialog intelligibility is never an issue.
The video quality of Star Trek The Next Generation has never been very impressive, either during its original broadcast days, in syndicated reruns, or on DVD. High-definition displays only make things worse, but all is not lost. Like the original series, The Next Generation was shot on film, and that means its conversion to high-definition has always been possible as long as the studio was willing to recompose the standard-definition visual effects into HD. Thankfully, Paramount and CBS have decided to move forward on this project to bring Picard and company into the 21st century with outstanding results.
This teaser disc includes three episodes, Encounter at Farpoint, Sins of the Father, and one of my personal favorites, The Inner Light, and the results are magnificent. The multi-colored Star Fleet uniforms leap off the screen, and the detail is out of this world, especially on the exterior shots of the Enterprise. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio tracks are an improvement over the original stereo tracks (also included), but they aren't quite as demo-worthy as the video. If you're a fan of the series, this will certainly wet your appetite for the upcoming release of season one sometime later this year.
Audio Performance Video Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Price: $1,399 At A Glance: Fabulous video processing • Outstanding audio performance • Nine channels of amplification
When one looks to upgrade an AVR, one must take much into consideration: features, number of inputs and outputs, multizone capability, channels of amplification, power rating, and, of course, cost. The sub-$1,000 market is loaded with AVRs that offer a terrific value but lack many of the bells and whistles that are found once you cross the $1,000 barrier, such as multizone, nine channels of amplification, and more HDMI inputs than the average person will ever need.
Robots have been all the rage in Hollywood over the past few years with Michael Bay's popular Transformers trilogy. I haven't been a big fan of any of those films, but I have to say that each has been an audio and visual treat on Blu-ray. Well, here comes another robot movie, but unlike the aforementioned garbage, there's actually a plot (though hardly original), good acting, and a lot a heart. What it does have in common with the Bay films is a reference-quality presentation with exquisite detail in the video encode and some of the most intense bass you'll ever experience in your home theater.
HBO has quite a history of delivering fantastic Blu-ray presentations, and it continues the trend here. Be prepared for reference-quality video throughout all 12 season-one episodes in the clothing, sets, and flesh tones. The 1920s costume design is absolutely fantastic, and if you're a fan of period pieces, this is right up your alley. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is just as impressive and certainly holds its own with its rich atmosphere and crystal-clear dialog reproduction. While it took me a couple of episodes to get into the series, it ranks up there with some of the best I've seen from HBO and is definitely worth a look on Blu-ray.
WETA Digital, the effects house that gave us The Lord of the Rings, hits a homerun with its digital effects employed in this reboot of the popular 1960s franchise. Minute details in the chimp's faces look strikingly real and blow away the effects seen in any of the previous movies. They blend seamlessly into the live action shots and make you truly believe that the chimps are real creations and not CGI-based. Not to be overshadowed is the absolutely fantastic DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that's extremely aggressive on the low end and offers an immersive and engaging surround mix. This is one of the must-see discs of 2011.
Dramas typically aren't demo-worthy showpieces, but this fabulous film features some stunning scenes with vivid color saturation and exceptional detail. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is no slouch, either, with spot-on dialog reproduction, but it certainly won't make your subwoofer break a sweat. The movie is set in the early 1960s at the height of the civil-rights movement in the South, and the costume and set design captures the era perfectly. Dreamworks/Touchstone delivers another demo-quality presentation.