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

HD Talk Returns and Top 10 Discs

HD Talk Returns

It's been quite a while since we've had an entry of the HD Talk column, and in that time, a lot has changed. Warner Bros' last minute decision to go Blu-ray (only days before they were scheduled to appear at the HD DVD press conference at CES) prompted a series crisis for Toshiba and the HD DVD camp. Not long after the announcement, Toshiba threw in the towel, choosing to cut their losses instead of fighting against the combined strength of four film studios (five if you count New Line Cinema). At that point, Universal and Paramount, the remaining two HD DVD exclusive studios, pretty much closed up shop, taking plenty of time to announce Blu-ray support, and are only now coming out with a few discs.

The reaction in the HD community was decidedly mixed. Many were happy that the war was over and now the studios could focus on releasing more films in high def. Others were concerned that a bigger battle, this time against DVD, was now on the horizon. And others wouldn't let old habits die, and continued to argue against one format or the other, no matter how pointless the fights were.

DVD Talk remained staunchly neutral during the entire format war. The prevailing attitude was that the war was being fought by large corporations who were out for profit. Neither HD DVD nor Blu-ray had the moral high ground. While HD DVD took a more populist attitude, and Blu-ray was positioned as more elite, both of those were conscious marketing decisions, not part of some larger ideology that indicated one format or the other would be more consumer oriented. As always, each studio will release according to their own whims and schedules.

Which leads me to today. The current state of Blu-ray doesn't look terribly different than it did before HD DVD flew the white flag. The prices of players have not gone down drastically. The PS3 is still the best player on the market, made more so by a firmware update that offered DTS-HD MA audio decoding. Disney is still releasing the best discs, and Fox is still releasing the worst. Paramount has reissued many of their titles previously available on Blu-ray, and will be soon releasing several of the titles that were HD DVD exclusives. Universal has gone one step further, offering up a few titles with audio/visual upgrades that make them worth repurchasing for those who owned the HD DVD versions. The onus is now on the studios, who have the burden of proving to the masses that HDM (high def media) is a worthwhile proposition in the long term. Uniting the studios behind one format was just the first step.

For those who were waiting for one format to win out, we've compiled a list of some of the best Blu-ray discs available. This list isn't intended to be definitive, or to belittle the titles that aren't on here. Instead, it should be taken as a good starting point for those who wish to dive into the Blu waters, now that the format's future is more secure.

Blade Runner
(Warner Bros. // $39.99 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

Blade Runner is, without a doubt, one of the most unique and influential films ever made. The Final Cut, created with Ridley Scott's input and approval, closes the last chapter on a saga that is as fascinating as the movie itself. This five-disc set collects everything required to tell the tale, including five versions of the picture, an exhaustive set of documentaries, and almost an hour of never before seen deleted and alternate takes. I can't think of a more complete set for any film in history. This collection is monumental, both for Blade Runner fans and proponents of film preservation. This is the most thorough and detailed set I've ever seen on home video, and given the high quality of the film, its stellar high def presentation, and the unbelievable set of extras, this set should be on the shelf of any self-respecting home theater owner.

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
(Disney // $34.99 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest continues the story of Captain Jack Sparrow in high style. While there are flaws, they are not bad enough to stop the best parts of the movie from being a hell of a lot of fun. This 2-disc Blu-ray edition is worth purchasing just for the image and sound quality alone. Also, with Disney porting over all the extras from the DVD version and adding new interactive features, what you get is the definitive edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on home video.

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1; Dolby Digital 5.1

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(Sony // $49.95 // Reviewed by Adam Tyner)

It's a watershed moment for these high definition formats that one of Steven Spielberg's most colossal, enduring successes has arrived on Blu-ray, and Sony has spared no effort in ensuring that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would stand out as one of the most compelling releases on the format. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a film that means a lot to me, continuing to stir some of the same awe and wonder in me despite having seen it time and again for decades, and I'm thrilled to see it arrive on Blu-ray in an immaculate package that matches its timeless charm. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is among very, very few releases on either next-generation format that I'd point to as essential.

-Adam Tyner

Audio Features: Dolby True HD 5.1, DTS-HD MA 5.1

2001: A Space Odyssey
(Warner Bros. // $28.99 // Reviewed by das Monkey)

2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece, the magnum opus of our greatest filmmaker and one of the most important films ever made. It advanced the art in innumerable ways, and it inspired a generation of filmmakers to push the limits of what is possible. From a purely technical perspective, it is a marvel of special effects precision and scientific authenticity, and its use of musical composition has no equal. The numerous thematic layers force us to ponder life's greatest mysteries, and we cannot help but question the very nature of our own humanity. Stanley Kubrick has been quoted that, "sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, but in the feel of it." In his finest film, he conquers both, clashing man's great capacity with his ultimate limitation in way that resonates both intellectually and emotionally. Owning 2001 on any format is a virtual necessity, but when it's presented with such incredible audio and video fidelity and accompanied by a wonderful array of bonus features, the recommendation becomes a no-brainer.

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

(Disney // $34.99 // Reviewed by Adam Tyner)

Okay, okay -- I know there's no cornier way for me to wrap this up than to say that I walked away completely enchanted, but I can't help it. Enchanted is so clever and sugary sweet that it kept a smile beaming across my face for right at two hours straight. This is a family movie in the truest sense, instantly likeable for the junior set but sporting such a sharp wit and a tremendous sense of humor that I was completely sucked in by Enchanted too. Even though this Blu-ray release is kinda lean on extras, Enchanted looks and sounds unbelievable in high definition, standing out among the very best of the hundreds of HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs I've devoured over the past couple of years.

Audio Features: Dolby True HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Pan's Labyrinth
(New Line Cinema // $35.99 // Reviewed by John Sinnott)

Filled with wonderful images, a well thought out story, and some absolutely superb acting, Pan's Labyrinth is a work of art. This story of a young girl growing up in bad times is sure to stay with viewers long after the movie is over. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent with a great picture and one of the best audio presentations I've heard. Ever. Add to that a wonderfully full selection of bonus items and the result is a don't-miss disc.

Audio Features: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

(Disney // $34.99 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

Ratatouille is the best film of 2007 and an instant classic. Brad Bird and Pixar both hit new heights of movie magic, making a film that is both timeless and for all ages. This Blu-ray disc is the only way to see and hear the film, offering top quality picture and sound approved by Brad Bird. Not only that, but Disney has included over an hour of footage and a Brad Bird commentary that do not appear on the DVD, and in a way that takes unique advantage of the Blu-ray disc technology. This kind of dedication to high def media is an example of what's made Disney an industry leader. My compliments to the chef!

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

(Starz / Anchor Bay // $29.98 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

A true horror classic, Halloween was one of Anchor Bay's first entries into the high def world, and it is a winner. The Blu-ray is worth it alone for the image transfer, which is the best I've ever seen the film look. It's got an insightful commentary by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Jamie Lee Curtis, and an impressive retrospective documentary. It's about time we get to see "the night HE came home" in glorious high definition.

Audio Features:PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 1.0

No Country For Old Men
(Disney // $34.99 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

No Country For Old Men, fresh off its multiple Oscar wins, including Best Picture, comes roaring out of the gate in its Blu-ray debut. The film only gets better with repeated viewings, with must-see performances by Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, and especially Javier Bardem. The sound and picture quality on the Blu-ray are superb, rivaling the best releases on the format. The only snag is a less than stellar set of special features. Still, the film is so strong, and looks and sounds so good, that a purchase is an absolute requirement.

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Monty Python's Life of Brian
(Sony // $28.95 // Reviewed by Daniel Hirshleifer)

Life of Brian is a comedy classic and the most cohesive and intelligent work ever done by Monty Python. The quality of the writing and the performances are peerless. This Blu-ray offers the best image quality Life of Brian has ever had, and a strong series of supplemental material that well complements the meat of the film itself. Whether you're religious or not, a Monty Python fan or not, you owe it to yourself to own this movie.

Audio Features: PCM Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby True HD 5.1


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