As part of my job, I watch a lot of movies to test the audio and video performance of Blu-ray disc players, TVs, video projectors, and receivers. However, not all Blu-ray discs really show off how well a home theater system can perform. Check out a list of some of my current favorites for testing, and pop in one of these titles the next time you'd like to show off your home theater system's capabilities.
NOTE: This list is updated periodically as new Blu-ray discs are released or come to my attention as good examples of video and audio quality.
For more choices, also be sure to also check out my listing of Best 3D Blu-ray discs.
The Blu-ray edition of the Wizard of Oz makes itself right at home in your own home theater. Both color (especially the transition from sepia tone to color) and detail (check out the detailed checkerboard pattern on Dorothy's Dress) are outstanding, in fact, better than many of today's films. Also, although the sound quality is dated when compared today's surround sound, you will be surprised how well it does sound. This film reminds us that classic films of years-gone by can hold their own against today's "blockbusters" if treated with care. 35mm film is HD quality after all.
Note: Since this film was made before widescreen was commonly used, you will see black bars on the left and right side of the image, if viewing on a 16x9 TV or video projector. This is correct - do not change the settings to fill the screen, the shapes will be distorted.
2. Ben-HurBen-Hur won 11 academy awards in 1960, and is only one of three movies that have done so, along with Titanic, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Now this epic film is available on Blu-ray in both Limited and Standard Editions. Despite it 1959 original theatrical release date, this film not only holds up in time, but the restoration and transfer to Blu-ray makes you think it was just made yesterday.
In addition, the audio, having been originally recorded is revitalized in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 one, with my only suggestion that the you turn up your subwoofer one or two db, as the lowest frequencies are more subtle that we are used to today.
Whether you buy the Limited Edition (which also includes a standard definition copy of the 1925 silent version, as well as two hardcover books) or the less expensive Standard Blu-ray Edition, you will experience how a classic film is deserving of the Blu-ray Disc treatment. The only caution is that the film has a very wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio, which means large black bars on the top and bottom of the image, even on a 16x9 TV.
I can't really say more about Avatar than has already been said. However, I will say that it definitely deserves a top spot in your Blu-ray disc library. From the opening space arrival scene to the final battle, this film has it all in terms of a video feast for the eyes and excitement for the ears. Whether watching the 3D or 2D Blu-ray version of this film, the main things to take note of are outstanding black levels (the scene where Jake Sully is trapped in the Jungle at night) and the fantastic color layering in the animals, plants, and landscapes presented in the film.
Also, although the soundtrack isn't the "hit-em-over-the-head" variety, it is a great example of well-blended and properly balanced audio mixing, which makes it the perfect complement for the video presentation. Of course, the best way to watch this film is in 3D - the 3D doesn't push you away, but draws you into the fantastical world of Pandora that James Cameron created.
In terms of visual and audio presentation, Director Christopher Nolan pulls it off. The use of both widescreen and IMAX footage both draws you further into the drama and the action at key points, and, except for a couple of instances, along with a fantastic surround sound audio track, the film provides a excellent home theater viewing experience. The Blu-ray Disc video transfer is excellent and except for a couple directorial decisions, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 channel audio mix is superb.
Also, the bonus features are top notch. My favorite: the Batmobile documentary.
Even for those that are not superhero movie fans, this is still a great film to add to your collection. The film is available in several packages, including a Dark Knight Trilogy Blu-ray Package that also features Batman Begins and Dark Knight.
Compare Prices for several Blu-ray Editions.
6. Mission Impossible - Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible - Ghost Protocol brings back the JJ Abrams/Tom Cruise collaboration for an exciting, non-stop, over-the-top, action thriller that will get your blood pumping. The film has been released on Blu-ray in two versions: a two-disc package that comes with a Blu-ray disc, DVD, and access to both standard and Ultraviolet digital copies, but with minimal bonus features, and a three-disc Best Buy exclusive that adds more extensive bonus features. If you can, opt for the Best Buy edition, as the extra bonus features are a real treat.
The film has been transfered to Blu-ray with excellent 1080p video and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel audio, that not only makes for a satisfying viewing experience, but is great demo material to show off what your home theater system is capable of.
The combination of great action thriller, video, audio, and bonus features make this a must-buy for your Blu-ray Disc collection. The only downsides is that no director commentary was provided for the film, except for the deleted scenes feature and the sequences originally filmed in the IMAX format are not shown in true IMAX aspect ratio on the disc.
Read Review - Price for Best Buy Edition - Buy Direct
The only downside is that you do have to get up off the couch and change discs about halfway through each film - but we all need a bathroom and refreshment break. Also, an additional nine discs - all DVDs (that is a total of fifteen discs folks) include bonus features that open up the entire world of "middle earth" from conception to screen with extensive interviews and behind the scenes footage. Some features are carried over from the original extended version DVD sets, and some are new for this release.
8. The Star Wars SagaThe entire Star Wars Saga is now available on Blu-ray and is definitely worth the price. The image quality is especially good on the original trilogy, and 6.1 channel surround remix is great. No matter which package you purchase, this is a must own for your Blu-ray collection, not just for the movies, but also for the extensive extra features. Unfortunately, the original theatrical versions of Stars Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are not included.
For an additional preview look at how all the films have been newly tweaked for this Blu-ray release, including aspect ratio framing, color corrections, soundtrack enhancement and the replacement of the "Muppet Yoda" with an all-CGI version in the Phantom Menace, check out the report from The Digital Bits.
Compare Prices for Episodes I-III (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith).
Compare Prices for Episodes IV - VI (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi).
Compare Prices for the entire Star Wars Saga.
NOTE: There is also a Blu-ray Disc Limited Edition Trilogy Gift Set version available that also includes a Tyrannosaurus Rex statue (the compare prices link below features both sets).
10. JawsAfter years of waiting, Jaws has now finally arrived on Blu-ray, and it was definitely worth the weight. The Steven Spielberg classic is presented in a two-disc package which contains both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, along with access to standard and Ultraviolet digital copies.
The video and audio have been meticulously remastered and transfered to Blu-ray that results in a home theater viewing expeience that superior that the original theatrical presentation.
In addition, the Blu-ray disc serves up an abundance of relevant bonus features that takes through the entire history of Jaws, from the beginnings of the novel, through the uncertaintly as to if the film would ever be successfully made, to its landmark as the first true Summer blockbuster, to how it is still celebrated today.