Concerts Go High-Def

BLACK IS BLACK. True, but you won't believe how deep it goes on the high-def reissues of U2's 1988 concert pic Rattle and Hum (Paramount; Movie •••••; Blu-ray Disc Picture ••••, Sound ••••; HD DVD Picture ••••, Sound ••••½; Original Extras ½, New Extras: None).

R&H is a fitting title to start this roundup of the initial music releases in high-def, as it allows us to first appreciate film at its most basic level: grainy black-and-white. You won't see razor-sharp clarity or the brightest whites here, neither of which was intended by director Phil Joanou. But you will see the stark contrast of the artfully lit band against the veritable night skies of arenas. The standard-def DVD handled this quite well, but the high-def discs are inky to the max. And if the HD DVD occasionally seems a bit more solid than the Blu-ray, the competing pictures are close enough to be called a draw.

The sound, though, is appreciably richer on HD DVD. Both discs boast intense Dolby Digital Plus and DTS 6.1-channel mixes, but the HD DVD has more subterranean bass; check out the rumble and thrum of "Bad." Bad indeed. Alas, extras are just plain bad, offering only a trailer.

Moving to full color, we get an appealing 2005 gig by neo-soul singer/pianist John Legend on Live at the House of Blues (Columbia; Show •••½, Blu-ray Picture ••••½, Sound •••½, Original Extras ••, New Extras •••). And here, we do see the brightest whites in Legend's jacket (which suffered from shimmer on the standard-def DVD), as well as the multiple skin tones of his multi-ethnic band. Then again, when it comes to the sound, be careful what you wish for: The uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix exaggerates the bass, and it tends to make this intimate House too cavernous. The "So High" video and behind-the-scenes footage are now joined by three alternate performances.

For the stuff of genuine legend, there's Martin Scorsese's 1978 live pic/doc on The Last Waltz of The Band (MGM; Movie •••••, Blu-ray Picture ••••, Sound ••••½, Original Extras •••½, New Extras: None). This time, the uncompressed PCM sound is truly natural, with a you-are-there mix that almost places you onstage even as it expands nicely into the surround channels. Images retain the orange glow from the stage's backdrop, but now the Band­members appear more rounded and detailed than on the comparatively dull DVD. (Count the gray/brown strands in Garth Hud­son's beard.) Extras are docked a full notch because they've deleted the jam and one of two commentaries.