Sometimes we think we’re preaching to the converted here at Home Cinema Buyer when we talk about the qualities and benefits of Blu-ray, so for this review we’re doing something different. We’ve taken our trusty and great quality upscaling Denon DVD player and a standard edition of Terminator Salvation starring Christian Bale, and we’re going to put it head to head against the rather good Sony BDP-S560 and the Blu-ray edition of the film. The big question is not whether the difference between them is obvious, but if it is worth it.
Firstly, of course we have to insert both discs into the players. The Denon has a standard disc tray which ejects at the click of a button on the remote, but the Sony’s disc tray is hidden behind a sleek looking fold down front fascia, and can only be inserted by pressing eject button on the player rather than the remote. The DVD gets to the main movie menu first – just over a whole minute quicker than the Blu-ray player in fact. However, despite the delay, it is still a massive improvement on the first Blu-ray players and the wait is a little more worthwhile. Firstly the quality of the menus on the Blu-ray player is striking and they appear sharper and smoother than the DVD. Whilst this is to be expected, they are also quicker to switch between – select the ‘Special Features’ menu option on the disc for example and the Sony responds almost instantly, with the DVD taking a second or so before appearing. Click the ‘Scene Selections’ menu option and it is a similar story with the cycling between the chapter previews taking longer on the DVD player, and whilst not much of a delay is still enough to make it feel clunky and a little dated. Switch to the players set up menus and the graphical power of the Blu-ray player helps the options look smooth and modern, with sleek usability. The Denons set up menus look clunky and very linear in comparison – still highly functional of course, but looking dated. So in terms of usability, the Blu-ray player is much more enjoyable and easy to operate, to the point that the much longer loading times are quickly forgotten as you explore the disc contents with ease.
If there was one area where the comparison was going to have an obvious outcome – this was it. But we are interested in knowing if the difference is worthwhile not if it is noticeable, so let’s put them to the test. The sharpness and picture quality of Terminator Salvation on the Blu-ray player was instantly noticeable. The level of detail is apparent in almost every scene, and as an example, just under an hour into the film when Marcus Wright is walking to the resistance base there was a moment when a magnetised mine quivered in the sand as he walked past. Watch this on the DVD version and the detail is quite impressive with the fact that the movie was filmed in high definition being obvious, but watch it on the Blu-ray version and you can see every grain of sand shake. This is the important point about Blu-ray – it is capable of displaying the level of pixel detail that is required to make those tiny grains of sand really stand out and look exactly like they would if you were there. The fast motion scenes also look smoother on the Blu-ray and are less jarring and make more comfortable viewing as a result. Switching between the versions during the start of the film, and the DVD edition looks to be lacking sharpness compared to the Blu-ray as you would expect. But switch back and forth later in the film when you have got used to the quality of the Blu-ray version, and the DVD starts to look, frankly, a little fuzzy. On our 68″ screen at 720p, the Blu-ray version was far superior, but even on a 32″ screen you will notice the difference in the sharpness.
The DVD version of Terminator Salvation we had output a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track and was very impressive with all the explosions and action sequences displaying a good deep bass and sharp treble sounds giving it a crisp, atmospheric sound. The Blu-ray version was in a different league though – the difference in sound was astonishing – it was almost as if the Onkyo amplifier has been unleashed. This was partly to be expected as the DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray version is completely uncompressed so every bit of detail that was present on the original is present here. To get the full benefits of this you will really need a home cinema set up as the difference when watching a movie through your television will not be as apparent. But if you have a home cinema system then you’ll be in for a treat, and if you don’t, you’ll probably want to get one soon!
It is pretty obvious where we stand on this. As home cinema enthusiasts we want to drag every last drop of quality out of our systems, so when we can get such a big difference without much effort, then it is a pretty easy decision. If you are new to Blu-ray and you have a 37″ or below high definition television, then Blu-ray will give you a more enjoyable movie experience both in terms of picture and sound as well as usability. If you have a 40″ television or above, and a home cinema system, then it really is a no brainer – Blu-ray is the best choice. As much as we love the DVD format (and we do really, really love DVD!), it has had its day now – Blu-ray is the way to go.
How we tested
We hooked up both the DVD player and the Blu-ray player via HDMI cables to our Onkyo HD amplifier and set both discs playing. When we wanted to flick between the different editions it was then a simple process of simply switching the input source on the amplifier. There was a delay of a couple of seconds when the screen went blue as the HDCP handshake took place but apart from that it was a simple process. The DVD player can output a 720p upscaled image so we used this setting on the Blu-ray player too to keep things fair – but bear in mind that 1080p on the Sony would be even better! Finally, many thanks to the Blu-ray Disc Association for lending us the Sony BDP-S560.