So you've followed our 'how to set up your TV and get the best picture' guide and are ready to put your new home theatre set-up through the wringer. Now all you need is some content that really puts your system to the test.
Every TV and projector that passes through our home cinema room is tested with plenty of Blu-rays and DVDs – from Park Chan Wook's arthouse horror Stoker to blockbuster-of-the-year Mad Max: Fury Road. We've put together a list of ten of our favourite, most-used film scenes that are great at revealing how good a picture is.
Some are helpful for trialling colour and contrast, others are a good test of detail and motion handling, but all will let you see for yourself just how well your TV or projector holds up.
Monsters, Inc (2001)
The whole film is a glorious test for your TV’s colour palette, but chapter four has a bit of everything. Sully snoozing sees each breath disturb the fine hairs on his furry arms. Then there's Mike's mini workout, which sees more frenzied movements – there’s even more fur flapping around for your TV to lock on to.
As the double act head outside, you’re greeted by a burst of sunshine and great panning shot down onto the streets of Monstropolis. On the best TVs you should experience a fine sense of depth as the camera captures the entire length of the street, while there’s plenty of potential for juddering and flickering along the edges of the sharply drawn buildings.
Sharpness, colour and tint will all need to be just right, while your set's motion processing will also get a work out. Too much colour and you’ll burn your retinas, too much processing and the picture will be a turn-off.
Training Day (2001)
Chapters 3 and 4
Something of a classic in the What Hi-Fi? test rooms, Training Day is not just a great film, but also one with plenty of scenes to test your TV or projector.
The film follows a rookie cop for 24 hours, with the linear structure affording a wide variety of lighting conditions for testing your screen’s contrast, and an increasing amount of action to test detail and motion handling.
This scene is at the start of the pair's relationship and sees Denzel Washington's bad cop character, Alonzo, giving rookie Jake (Ethan Hawke) a rude awakening. The duo screech around a corner to bust a drug-deal in the street, before Alonzo forces new kid Jake to sample the goods.
Bright sunlight shines on Alonzo's inky black, "not from the motor pool" car, there's a quick test of rapid motion as the bust takes place, plus plenty of close-up shots of furrowed brows to test your system's ability to reveal detail.
Casino Royale (2006)
A Bond film is always a safe bet for testing your TV or projector’s picture, and for that reason the latest one usually makes its way to our test rooms shortly after its Blu-ray release. Thanks to their iconic opening scenes, chapter skipping isn't even required to get an eyeful of the action.
While the motorbike chase in the opening to Skyfall is a strong contender, it’s the elaborate parkour pursuit from Casino Royale that we find most demanding of your TV.
It’s eight enthralling minutes of fast, blink-and-you-miss-it action as Bond and his nemesis jump from crane to crane and platform to platform, demanding a smooth handling of motion from your TV or projector.
This is where motion processing – a system's ability to analyse the image and insert repeated frames or blank ones into the video sequence to prevent a jerky end result – can be helpful. Just be aware that high levels can cause blurry halos around the moving image.
More after the break
The Fall (2006)
A film about a hospitalised stuntman in 1920s California, who befriends an imaginative young girl and tells her an epic tale about five mythical heroes, The Fall delivers some serious eye-candy and is one of the most stunning Blu-ray transfers in our collection.
With the dazzling hues of the artistic, utopian landscapes as well as flamboyant costumes, the tribal chant scene is a banquet of eye-popping colour that will test your kit’s penchant for rich colour. Lush green gardens should pop amidst desert valleys, and the vast vistas also lay bare your TV or projector’s perception of depth.
Speed Racer (2008)
The Wachowskis' adaptation of the 1960s cartoon is a sugar-coated, hyper-stylised film that’s unique, bright and fantastically expressive.
There are many scenes that could provide a good barometer but the race scenes, particularly the first one, will put your TV through its paces. As Speed tears his way through an elaborate racecourse, images flash past at an alarming velocity – a good test for a set’s motion handling. You’ll want to able to pick out details that make up the cars and racetrack without the image becoming a tornado of colour.
The film makes excellent use of primary and secondary colours, and a well-calibrated TV will ensure they jump out of the screen, while keeping the consistency of the overall image in check. Striking a good balance with the colour saturation is key here. Too bright and the colours could bleed and become distracting, too low and it’ll appear washed out, depriving the film of the vibrancy its colour palette provides.
Raid: Redemption (2011)
Forget Karate Kid. This Indonesian action movie, which sees a police squad raid a tower block to capture a notorious crime lord, is 100 minutes of intense high-adrenalin Pencack Silat (Indonesian martial arts, to you and I) action.
This three-man final fight is a humdinger. Not only are its hit-a-second sequences a great test for motion, but as it also takes place in a dimly-lit run-down apartment, this scene can really separate the TVs that are able to scupper dark detail from those that hide it in the shadows.
Playing with contrast and brightness settings will pay off here because, trust us, you’ll want to see that fatal throat slice in all its gory... Well, we do.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
3D may be going out of fashion in the home, but we think this Spielberg animation is a great example of how immersive, rather than distracting, 3D video can be when done right.
An incredible one-shot chase scene towards the middle of the film is impressive, but we love the charming scene at the beginning where our hero Tintin first comes across the fateful model ship, the Unicorn. It's a masterclass in animation – Tintin’s reflections in the multiple mirrors behind look startlingly real, while the slow pan around the Unicorn in its glass case will reveal judders if your screen isn't rock solid with motion. The artificial sheen you get when cranking up a TV’s motion processing settings is less noticeable with animation than with live-action films, so feel free to tweak away to reduce those motion blurs or judders.
The 3D effect is subtle, but totally pulls you into the world of the movie, and provided your screen is set-up correctly, you'll find yourself wanting to be strolling down the market street in the bright sunshine, haggling with crotchety old men about the price of a ship.
Alfonso Cuaron’s thrilling sci-fi flick may have lost out to 12 Years A Slave as Best Picture in the 2014 Academy Awards, but it’s not surprising that it won Best Visual Effects – it can pretty much tell you everything you need to know about your TV or projector’s picture.
The scene with the space walk is especially telling of contrast and dark detail, with the whites of the spacesuits and spaceship just pixels apart from the blackness of space. Do whites bleed into black or are they clear cut? Earth's edges should look bright and well-defined, and when Doctor Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) detaches you should see a smattering of stars shining at different intensities.
If you’re a fan of 3D, bonus! It’s a convincing and immersive watch, and your TV will need stability and clarity for space debris to be distinct as it flies past your face – and as Bullock swings around the screen.
You don’t always have to use the latest, flashiest, CGI-filled sci-fi films to test your kit’s picture quality. Thanks to its subdued, natural-looking colour palette, Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller Stoker is a demanding workout for any screen.
The shadows clinging to the vast, empty house give the film its tension, and the TVs and projectors that can dig up the finest detail and deliver subtle, deep blacks will offer the best sense of depth and drama. The pale skin, the glossy wooden polish on the piano, the pastel green wallpaper, and the natural lighting that seeps through the house – do they all look real and convincingly solid?
Take note whenever you see someone standing near the staircase: is there a convincing distance between them? Lesser screens will make the staircase look flat, and won’t quite draw you into the strange drama unfolding within this family. The white kitchen should be bright but soft, with the crisp, crackling eggshell looking stark against the hazy atmosphere of this dark thriller. The DVD transfer is decent too, making it a good test of your TV or Blu-ray player’s scaling.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The much-anticipated seventh installment of the franchise is a visual treat, but the intro itself gives you plenty to look at. The iconic yellow crawl will challenge the motion-handling skills of even the most proficient TV, while the number of stars is a great test of your local dimming.
How much darkness is your screen capable of, without drowning out the twinkling stars? And how well does it juggle light and darkness when the planet appears? Finally, when the planet is eclipsed by that ship, there ought to be a clear chunk of absolute darkness. go