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HD Talk
Unbiased Coverage Of All Things HD: HD-DVD, Blu-Ray and Beyond

Clash Of The Titans - HD Style

The month of May was very important to HD aficionados, with two studios releasing some major system-selling software. The studios in question were Warner Bros. and Disney, and the movies were The Matrix Trilogy and Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively. I happened to be lucky enough (or, considering the way some people feel about these movies, unlucky enough) to have recently reviewed both the Ultimate Matrix Collection on HD DVD, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man's Chest on Blu-ray. And while both reviews are easily accessible on the site, I thought it might be useful to do a head-to-head comparison for people who want to see how these flagship titles stand up against each other.

Round 1: The Movies
Before I even go into my evaluations of the films, I'm going to put up the disclaimer that I understand that appreciation for films is completely subjective. The things I love about The Matrix may be the exact things that turned someone else off to the series. So, with that out of the way...

The Matrix was a groundbreaking, jaw dropping movie when it was first released in 1999. The combination of dark sci-fi, mind-blowing wire work, and the germs of a new cinematic mythology immediately grabbed the attention of audiences and critics alike. The Matrix became a buzzword for all that was unique and cool in cinema. It was such a phenomenon that Warner green-lit two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The hype leading up to Reloaded was some of the most intense I have ever seen for a movie without the words "Star" and "Wars" in the title. Unfortunately, neither sequel lived up to the impossible hype Warner and the fans set up, nor did they live up to the high quality set by the first film. And considering you cannot yet purchase The Matrix in HD in anything less than a 3-disc set containing the two sequels, you had better make sure you like the whole trilogy if you're going to get it.

Now Pirates, on the other hand, was a movie everyone expected to be nothing but a lame cash-in on a Disney ride. When it turned out to be a fantastically wild ride, it surprised everyone and turned out to be a huge hit. Just like with The Matrix, Disney approved two sequels for simultaneous production the moment the movie left the theaters. The second go around, Dead Man's Chest, broke all kinds of box office records. And while it wasn't going to win any Oscars (actually, that's a lie, it won a well deserved Oscar for visual effects), it had nowhere near the dip in quality that the Matrix sequels did. The third film, At World's End, is proving itself an equally big hit, and ends the trilogy on a satisfying note. While none of the Pirates movies reached the level of impact and influence that the first Matrix did, the series didn't hit nearly the kind of lows that the other series' sequels did, either.

Point: Pirates.

Round 2: Image Quality
Warner released all three Matrix films on HD DVD in their original aspect ratios with a 1080p VC-1 transfer. I found a few slight flaws with The Matrix and a single issue with Reloaded that was apparently a source issue. Beyond that, these are a very impressive set, especially the second two films. However, as good as they look, they're not significantly better than the other top shelf HD DVD transfers: Batman Begins, King Kong, Jet Li's Fearless, etc. In other words, they haven't broken any new ground for HD transfers.

Pirates actually has pushed the HD envelope. As I mentioned in my reviews, the two Pirates Blu-rays contain the absolutely best HD image quality I have ever seen in my life. The level of detail, clarity, and depth is absolutely astonishing. While it doesn't put every other single transfer out there to shame, exactly, it does raise the bar to a whole new level. This is the new gold standard for high def entertainment, and should be recognized as such.

Point: Pirates.

Round 3: The Audio
There has been some controversy as to whether Dolby TrueHD or uncompressed PCM offers better lossless sound, but I've got news for you: They're both lossless! Yes, there is a difference between 16-bit and 24-bit, but for heaven's sake, it's not like the difference between mono and 5.1. Both The Matrix and Pirates offer lossless tracks (TrueHD for The Matrix, PCM for Pirates), and they both sound stunning. Excellent sound separation and aural detail. And of course, the subs pack a punch. I really couldn't choose one of these mixes over the other - they're both so well done.

Point: Tie.

Round 4: The Supplements
Both sets have come packed to the gills with supplemental material. The Pirates releases are both 2-disc sets. Disc one has the movie, along with commentaries and an interactive feature exclusive to the Blu-ray. On Curse of the Black Pearl, it's got a documentary called "Scoundrels of the Sea," which acts as a pop-up video during the movie, and if you find a factoid interesting, you can click on it, and watch more about it after the movie has finished. Dead Man's Chest has "Liar's Dice," where you play the game found in the movie with some of the actors from the movie. The second disc of each contains all of the extra features found on the DVD versions of the movies.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection has that beat, however, with five two-sided discs. That's 10 discs worth of material. 10 discs. And what HD-exclusive extras does the set contain? It's got In-Movie Experiences for each of the three films. The In-Movie Experience is a picture-in-picture commentary. As the movie plays, you can see the commentators, as well as behind the scenes footage. However, in this case, none of the material is original. It's all taken from extras that appear elsewhere in the set. In other words, it's superfluous. Still, it's nice to see comments about specific scenes as you watch the scenes. The rest of the discs feature more extras than you can shake a stick at, including The Animatrix -- but not in HD. That is a serious drawback. Still, the sheer volume of the set makes it recommendable.

Point: The Matrix.

Despite the overwhelming amount of extras available in the Matrix set, the unbeatable image quality and more consistent level of movie quality of Pirates of the Caribbean makes them the winner in my eyes. Of course, I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but there are my reasons and these are my conclusions.

Winner: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Read DVD Talk's Review of Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest Blu-Ray Edition, Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-Ray Edition, and The Ultimate Matrix Collection HD DVD Edition.

In HD player news, the Sony Playstation 3 recently got a massive firmware upgrade that improved both its DVD and Blu-ray playback capabilities. Upon its original release, the PS3 could not upscale DVDs beyond 480p, something that many people with HDTVs require. Now it has the capability to upscale all the way to 1080p through HDMI. Per DVD Forum standards, the PS3 will not upscale regular DVDs via component. Some owners contend that the upscaling on the PS3 is on par with more expensive upscaling players by companies such as Denon.

Even more exciting is that the PS3 is now capable of outputting 1080p 24hz. 1080p/24 has been something a lot of HD aficionados have been clamoring for. On top of that, the player also supports RGB, BTB, and WTW. This allows for a much wider range of color and overall better image reproduction. Also, for people who actually use the PS3 to play games (suckers, I know), the PS3 can now upscale and smooth the image quality of PS2 games. For many, these additions have made the PS3 the premiere Blu-ray player on the market.

Of course, Pirates and The Matrix aren't the only HD discs that came out in May. Let's take a look at some of the other releases we've seen this month:

  • Flags of Our Fathers (Blu-ray) by Matthew Hinkley. DVD Talk Collector Series. - "Flags of Our Fathers is a must see...Clint Eastwood put his heart and soul into the film and you can really tell. The audio and video are very nice...The extras are good and very heartfelt. I can easily recommend this to anyone and is by far one of the greatest films in recent history."

  • Letters from Iwo Jima (HD DVD) by Joshua Zyber. Highly Recommended. - "The better half of Clint Eastwood's WWII diptych, Letters from Iwo Jima is a compelling piece of drama, and the HD DVD offers excellent picture, sound, and a handful of decent bonus features. It comes highly recommended, with the emphasis that the combination of this film and Flags of Our Fathers together make an indispensable package."

  • The 40 Year Old Virgin (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Highly Recommended. - "The video and audio quality of this HD DVD may be somewhat underwhelming, but The 40 Year Old Virgin gets my nod as the best comedy of the past five years. Equal parts clever, vulgar, and sweet, The 40 Year Old Virgin is sturdy enough to stand up to multiple viewings, and the hours and hours of extras ensure that fans get their twenty bucks' worth."

  • The Fountain (HD DVD) by Daniel Hirshleifer. Highly Recommended. - "The Fountain is not your everyday movie. It requires great attention and thoughtfulness on the part of the viewer. But its rewards and manifold and worth treasuring. The HD DVD edition features robust image and sound that benefits the film greatly. While The Fountain isn't for everyone, those who appreciate it will certainly want to get this HD DVD."

  • The Road Warrior (Blu-ray) by Matthew Hinkley. Highly Recommended. - "The Road Warrior is a true gem of a movie to watch. The acting is great, Mel Gibson's performance is fantastic, and the movie itself is filled with action that stands tall even today. The Road Warrior will have you at the edge of your seat for the entire length of the film. In addition, we are treated with a very nice video track and a good audio track that helps the film look and feel even better today."

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (HD DVD) by Joshua Zyber. Highly Recommended. - "While the American Blu-ray edition of Terminator 2 has reasonably decent picture and sound, the French HD DVD betters it by improving on the video transfer and providing the extended cut of the movie, its first appearance in High Definition. The forced subtitle problem on the theatrical cut is an annoyance that luckily does not plague the extended cut. Some buyers may want to wait for the separate release of the longer version of the movie in the UK later this year. In either case, the European T2 HD DVD is highly recommended."

  • Blood & Chocolate (Blu-ray) by Todd Douglass Jr. Skip It. - "As a lover of werewolf films and b-movies I wanted to enjoy Blood and Chocolate. Unfortunately the film is merely a shadow of Klause's novel that bears similarity in namesake alone. In so many ways this movie was boring, uninspired, and poorly executed. The main elements (romance and horror) do not mix well and neither is good enough to stand on its own. It's easy to see why this film failed in theaters and on Blu-ray it's a release that can easily be skipped."

  • Trading Places (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Highly Recommended. - "Trading Places doesn't settle for easy laughs...well, for the most part. A sharp, smart comedy that's only a movie or two away for marking a career high for Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and director John Landis, Trading Places is one of the best of the '80s and a movie that's long-deserved the special edition treatment and spectacular visual presentation it's snagged here."

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