Playlist: this month's top test discs
Welcome to this month's Playlist in which we pick the latest movies, music and games to test your system with. Got an opininon on any of our reviews? Then tell us what you think at www.whathifi.com/forums.
THE WIZARD OF OZ/GONE WITH THE WIND
1939 will naturally always be marked as a dark year in history, but it was also a lighter landmark, seeing the release of two classic movies – The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind – that have entertained global audiences for the subsequent 70 years.
Both are fresh out on Blu-ray – and fresh is the word for high-definition restorations that truly allow you to see the films as you never have before.
As fascinating documentaries on the restoration process (available in the Extras for both movies) detail, these movies have been remastered from the original 35mm Technicolor camera negatives.
Each of the three master negatives (Technicolor captured separate red, green and blue reels) was scanned in ultra high-resolution 8K format, then digitally aligned to pixel-perfect precision, then a 4K, 16-bit colour 'capture' master created.
To put that in context, each frame of that final master contains 50MB of information: oh yeah, these babies are ready for resolutions far beyond that of Blu-ray!
A time-consuming restoration job
Before the Blu-ray transfer was created, the restoration team then had to do further work on addressing film damage, colour fading and more. The first 10, sepia minutes of The Wizard of Oz alone took 91 hours to clean up....
All the hard work is worth it. Even if you've got the restored DVDs, the Blu-rays are a massive step up in quality. From Judy Garland's freckles, to the burlap face of the Scarecrow to the texture of Scarlett O'Hara's dresses, the detail's astonishing, the colours vibrant, the backgrounds almost three-dimensional.
The picture isn't perfect – print damage is occasionally visible, as are some production/set flaws, and film grain. However, as one restorer says: "We could polish these things up - but you'd never recognise them, you'd lose the charm."
Sonically, the improvements are less dramatic. The 5.1 mix created for the DVD release of Oz gets a Dolby True HD upgrade that clarifies both dialogue and songs, while Gone with the Wind also gets a subtle HD boost. Purists can choose to hear the original mono mixes – also cleaned up.
Finally, a brief mention for It's a Wonderful Life, also making its Blu-ray debut. The picture looks as crisp as Bedford Falls snow, and the stereo mix is effective. Just avoid the abomination that is the 'colorized' version.
So, classic movies on Blu-ray? Frankly, my dear, we do give a damn.
Wizard of Oz: 1.33:1 (1080p)
Dolby True HD; Mono
Gone with the Wind: 1.37:1 (1080p)
Dolby True HD; Mono
Public Enemies might be a bit disappointing, but the Blu-ray release of Heat, Michael Mann's original heist movie, makes up for it. The HD transfer isn't as crisp as it could be, but the soundtrack is exceptionally dynamic and weighty – just wait for the final shootout.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
ICE AGE 3: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS
Where most modern animated films attempt to humour adults as well as kids, the Ice Age films play straight for the nippers. Still, while they're giggling away, you can revel in the pristine CGI and vibrant colours. Your flatscreen never looked so good.
DTS HD MA 5.1
Out: 16th November
This story of a lone astronaut's time on a lunar space station is beautiful and brilliant, both directorially and thematically. Although it's got its twists, it doesn't mess with the head to a frustrating degree, and the ending is more satisfying than you might expect.
As the main character, Sam Rockwell has a huge weight on his shoulders, but he once again proves himself to be one of the most versatile and convincing actors around, while Kevin Spacey introduces just the right amount of creepiness into the film's HAL-like AI.
Add TV-challenging whites, blacks and general picture neutrality, plus Clint Mansell's wonderful, atmospheric soundtrack (also available on CD), and you've got one of our favourite films of the year.
DTS HD MA 5.1
BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE
A samurai-schoolgirl takes on grotesque demons in this highly stylised action horror. It's hugely gory, with buckets of blood and squelchy sound effects. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it's also rife with dreadful effects and even-worse acting.
The film's actually a re-imagining of a Japanese anime of the same name, also now available on Blu-ray. Check that out instead - it's shorter, but somehow also more convincing and spectacular.
Dolby Digital 5.1
The story of John Dillinger, the FBI's first 'Public Enemy Number One' should be an absolute cracker. However, although it reveals loads of detail, Michael Mann's digital filming technique feels at odds with the 1930s setting, lending it something of a made-for-TV feel that seems to rob the surroundings of grit and atmosphere and leaves the action scenes short of excitement and immediacy.
Another of Mann's key traits is lead characters that blur the line between good and bad. That's evident here, but unlike much of his other work, in Public Enemies there seems to be a relative lack of depth that makes it hard to feel any genuine emotion for either Johnny Depp's Dillinger or Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis.
Dolby Digital 5.1
We'll admit to having been rather cynical about this Star Trek reboot, but we needn't have worried: J.J. Abrams has produced a film that's as honest to the original as it is entirely fresh. There's enough continuity in the characters and settings (as well as plenty of in-jokes) to satisfy the die-hard Trekkies, but it welcomes, rather than alienates (pun totally intended) those who are fresh to the Star Trek franchise.
By DVD standards this is very detailed, and the frequent fast motion will prove a genuine test of your flatscreens motion processing. Of course, if that's not good enough for you, you could opt for the Blu-ray version, which features in our Top 10 Sci-fi Films on Blu-ray feature.
Dolby Digital 5.1
For all of its brilliance, Fallout 3 is a fairly slow-paced game. Borderlands, the latest game to splice the first-person shooter with the RPG, is anything but. Instead, it's frantic, thrilling and non-stop, with hordes of enemies attacking from all angles at once. In fact, you'll be running away almost as often as standing your ground.
The actual structure borrows heavily from massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, with questing, leveling-up and looting featuring heavily. Like those games it's also far superior when played with friends. Assuming you can get an Xbox Live party together for four-player co-op and aren't adverse to games that involve comparing tonnes of weapon stats, Borderlands is an absolute treat. The beautiful, cel-shaded graphics are just the icing on the cake.
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2
This is perhaps the most eagerly awaited game of all time, and with all the hub-bub surrounding that airport scene, everyone now knows of Modern Warfare 2. So, is it actually any good? Of course it is! For most people this will be exactly what they were hoping for - a gripping, spectacular campaign mode, a selection of challenging and varied co-op missions, and the best first-person deathmatch action yet to hit consoles.
As is Infinity Ward's way, presentation is stunning, both in terms of graphics and sound. Make sure you turn your TV's motion processing off to avoid death-by-smearing, and ensure your surround system's properly calibrated so that you get the full bullets-whizzing-passed-your-head effect.
FORZA MOTORSPORT 3
Microsoft's rival to Sony's Gran Turismo series is now in its third iteration, and it's better than ever. There are now over 400 cars and 100 tracks, as well as more exciting handling, stunning graphics and even better sound.
Customisation is more in depth than ever before, but this is countered by an auto-upgrade option to make sure your chosen motor's in the best shape it can be for the upcoming race.
There's now more of a career feel to the single player, and it's a real challenge on the harder difficulty settings. Oh, and go for the cockpit viewpoint, it's about as close to real racing as you can get without the smell of burning rubber.
UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES
Nathan Drake returns for a second dose of Indiana-Jones-meets-Lara-Croft action and adventure. This is one of the most beautiful and cinematic games ever released, and the 7.1 LPCM soundtrack is brilliantly detailed and dynamic. The PS3 might not be rife with killer exclusives, but Uncharted 2 might just be worth the price of the console all on its own.
IN THIS LIGHT AND ON THIS EVENING
Editors' switch from guitar-based melancholy to synth-tastic soundscapes will upset some fans, but it's largely successful, with the multi-layered techno-attack of Papillon proving a particular high-point. Only kit with spot-on rhythmic rigidity need apply.
STRAIGHT NO CHASER
Take the smooth, American production of Kanye West and add the very English lyrical introspection of Ben Hudson, and you've got an R&B album that's impossible to dislike. The clean sound requires plenty of precision from your system, and deep bass extension is a must.
MAN FROM ANOTHER TIME
Groovy hobo Seasick Steve's third album is another all-analogue affair that sees him playing every instrument, except the drums, himself. Those instruments include the Diddley Bow, effectively a plank of wood with a single string. It's a gloriously honest, open and stripped-down joy.