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.
1. The Wizard of Oz
How can a movie that is over 70 years old be a the top entry on this list? Easy, it was shot in 35mm Technicolor, has been newly-preserved with an 8K resolution (7680x4320 pixels) digital master, and tells a classic story in grand fashion.
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.
Ben-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.Read Review
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.
4. Iron Man 3If you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Iron Man film series, Iron Man 3 is a Blu-ray disc that really delivers. The story delves into the after-effects of the event of The Avengers on Tony Stark, as well as thrusting a new destructive villain onto the scene.
In addition, in terms video and audio, this disc shines. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 channel sound track is active and immersive, with excellent balance between the seven channels and subwoofer, and the 1080p video transfer provides excellent detail and very natural color saturation. Also, the bonus features are well worth checking out. Also, don't forget to watch all the way to the end of the final credits for an extra snippet.
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack - Compare Prices
3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack - Compare Prices
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5. The Dark Knight Rises
Despite its long 165 minute running time, the Dark Knight Rises is a faced paced, but fully fleshed out film. For me, the most interesting aspect of the film, character wise, is that both Batman and Catwoman don't really have a lot costumed screen time, but instead we see their real personalities and failings behind the masks.
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.
6. The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight is definitely a modern classic. Both the story and the production are well-executed. The opening back robbery scene is excellently staged and well photographed. The color and detail are natural, and sound mixing is perfect. In addition, the Dark Knight also lives up to is name in the several excellent night scenes. The night skyline of Gotham City and Hong Knog provide a great test of how well your TV or video projector can render black levels without losing detail. Also, it is important to note that the Dark Knight changes its aspect ratio from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 in several major action sequences. The reason for this is that portions of the film were shot in IMAX, and the Blu-ray preserves the intent of filmmakers in this area.
7. Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission 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
8. Lord of the Rings Trilogy Extended Edition Blu-ray
If you are looking a great way to give your home theater system are real workout, check out the release of the entire extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-ray Disc. Each of the three films ( Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King) takes two discs each and features a DTS-HDMaster Audio 6.1 channel soundtrack, along with multiple audio commentaries for each film.
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.Compare Prices
9. The Star Wars Saga
The 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.
10. Pacific Rim
In the tradition of Japanese Kaiju films and Mecha Anime, Guillermo del Toro delivers a tour-de-force monster film that delivers on all fronts on Blu-ray Disc.
The film is visually stunning, despite the pro-ponderous of dark scenes. Both DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and 5.1 channel soundtracks are provided that are active and immersive, with excellent balance between the seven channels and subwoofer. In addition, the bonus features are not be missed - if you like commentaries, director Guillermo del Toro provides detailed insight into the film that is still entertaining to listen to, and the rest of bonus features go into even more detail on how the film was put together, and the Best Buy Exclusive package includes an additional look at the giant robots designed for the film. This one great Blu-ray disc package that puts your home theater system to the test.
Pacific Rim is available in the following Packages:
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy (Best Buy Exclusive Bonus Content) - Buy Direct
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3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Digital Copy with Gipsy Danger Toy (Walmart Exclusive) - Compare Prices
3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Digital Copy - Compare Prices
Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Digital Copy - Compare Prices (several packages)
Two Disc DVD DVD Special Edition - Compare Prices