Our Top 10 TV shows on Blu-ray

We love a bit of telly, and no more so than when it's in glorious high definition. Here's our selection of current top TV shows on Blu-ray:

ROME (2009)

This exceptional HBO co-production with the BBC looks stunning. With a strong cast, it's a consistently engaging and entertaining watch.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: DTS-HD MA

It appears most of Britain adores the prospect of an evening in with Strictly or the X-Factor, so we're not going to attempt to preach to you about the relative merits of reality television.

All we'll say is hurrah for HBO: from where we're sitting, the combined televisual output of America's Home Box Office deserves huge respect, and provides a welcome alternative to mainstream broadcasting's current obsessions.

So from the company that brought you Band Of Brothers and True Blood comes Rome, like Band Of Brothers developed as a collaborative project with the BBC.

An epic tale of political intrigue, surreptitious scheming and, on occasion, flat-out war, it's made using an adult, warts-and-all approach that some viewers might find a little shocking, and which led to a few more vociferous critics unfairly dismissing the series for its glamourised, 'sex, swords and sandals' perspective on ancient history.

But whatever the critics said – and it should be pointed out that most were enthusiastic supporters of the show – TV audiences were unequivocal in their love for Rome's unflinching approach.

Yes, it's true that some of the violence, particularly in the scenes of gladiatorial combat near the end of series one, make Gladiator look like a teddybear's picnic by comparison, but somehow, it all seems vaguely appropriate to the times, and if the camera lingers on the odd decapitation a little longer than you'd expect, well, those were tough times.

Besides, would you rather be talked down to or treated like a child, like most TV shows do? Exactly...

It should come as no surprise that there's a grown-up and impressively cinematic feel to proceedings: co-creator John Milius cut his teeth screenwriting film classics such as Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now and Clear And Present Danger, and since he also gave the world Conan The Barbarian, he clearly ought to know his way around a fight scene or two.

His fellow creators William Macdonald and Bruno Heller are hardly ingenues either, while the cast – almost all of whom are Brits – make the most of the meaty material given them.

Kevin McKidd excels as hard-bitten centurion Lucius Vorenus, Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy are typically excellent as Caesar and Mark Antony respectively, but it's the show's two central rogues – Polly Walker's scheming, sensual Atia and Ray Stevenson's formidable Titus Pullo – who steal the show.

Each character simply demands your attention, each as repellent as they are magnetic: Pullo, in particular, conjures an easy amiability even as he brutally stabs David Bamber's Cicero in the neck.

However, it's the developing relationship between initial enemies Vorenus and Pullo that most grounds the show – and if the duo eventually morph into an ancient-world equivalent of Lethal Weapon's Gibson and Glover, well, it's hardly the end of the world.

Rome's a sprawling 22 episode epic, and this ten disc Blu-ray set gives you the lot, plus exceptional extra features - a total of 22 hours of content. It's presented superbly, from the animation of the menus, and picture quality throughout is simply extraordinary. Sound is fine too, if a little less dramatic – but that's the only aspect that doesn't stun here.


A space epic of grand proportions, or a morality tale on a very human level? Galactica is all of these and more: it's clever, exciting, brutal and brilliant. This Blu-ray set's a lot of money, but it'll keep you glued to the screen for weeks to come.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: DTS-HD MA

Mention to a non sci-fi fan that you've just got the Blu-ray box set of Battlestar Galactica, and they'll probably wince and ask if that was the one that had Face Man out of The A-Team in it.

Well, yes. And no. For this is Ronald D. Moore's reimagined version. Gone are the twee theme music, slightly tongue-in-cheek characters and ropey, sub-Star Wars special effects – replaced with energy, moral ambiguity and explosions. Lots and lots of explosions.

"We've told this story in a much more resolved and fuller way than the original ever did," says Jamie Bamber, who plays Captain Lee 'Apollo' Adama. It's true: this version has over 70 episodes, compared to the original's 21.

And, in a departure for most America TV series, it has an ending that isn't a hurriedly put-together, hour-long, post-cancellation clip-show. Galactica's makers dictated when the show was going to come to an end, not the TV network.

Why? "If it doesn't end, the journey has no meaning," says Bamber, adding: "When we got there, it was a real sense of satisfaction and achievement; it has a structure that makes it better than it would've been if it was still going".

It's this sense of finality and unity that makes this massive Blu-ray box-set so compelling to watch. It's the kind of series that'll have you saying: "Oh, go on, then - just one more, then bed" until well into the wee hours.

More than one cast member has spoken of an friendly, creative atmosphere on set – and that shines through in their performances; you really do start to believe these people are real, and go through their adventure with them. That makes this set a real keeper, says Bamber: "This show is going to be discovered by people for many years to come, and I'm excited by that".

And quality? Pictures are true to the TV broadcast, which is to say they can be distressed and grainy on occasion: it takes some getting used to. Sound, on the other hand, requires no equivocation: it's formidable throughout. So, it's intelligent TV, and a home cinema tester, too.


Ah, George: why did you ever inflict Hayden Christensen on us in the first place? Animated Anakin is much more like it: he whines less, fights more and, best of all, he doesn't get drowned in droning exposition every five minutes.

What we have here is distilled essence of Star Wars, all adrenaline-rush action, kick-*** spaceships and dazzling 1080P visuals.

There's more excitement on offer in one 22-minute show than an all three of the live-action prequels combined, and this Blu-ray's superb presentation gives the top production values full rein. It's simply essential Saturday-morning viewing: who cares if it's supposed to be for kids?

Vision: 2.35:1
Sound: Dolby Digital

War is hell, and this sterling BBC/HBO co-production ably makes the point: deftly steering its way past schmaltzy excess, it's a brilliantly paced and classily shot action adventure of the highest calibre, with every one of its ten episodes demanding your attention.

The DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a formidable ally throughout, its deep, fully extended bass giving your system the sternest of workouts. Images are pin-sharp too, with an authentic desaturated look to boot.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: DTS-HD MA

The Beeb's stunning documentary series remains a standard-setter of its type, and this lavishly packaged Blu-ray does it full justice.

Presented in 1080i (as it was originally shot) the five-disc set looks thrillingly detailed throughout, with almost every scene containing an HD 'wow' moment.

Most testing scene? In our view, it's when the Great White shark leaps from the water to devour a seal.One to slow-mo your way through.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: Dolby Digital

6 24 (SERIES SEVEN) (2009)
It's four years after CTU's disbandment, and Jack Bauer is in front of the senate being grilled about his illegal use of torture. But – of course – something's afoot.

So, away Jack goes, torturing baddies (again), fighting ex-colleague Tony Almeida and taking on the shadiest of anti-government conspiracies. All in a day's work then. We can't fault the discs: deep detail, fast movement and meaty sound all satisfy.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: DTS-HD MA

7 TRUE BLOOD (2008)
Take some vampires, take them out of the normal, Us vs Them world they've inhabited in the likes of Blade, Buffy and, of course, the Dracula legend, then bung them in a small Louisiana town.

Now make them campaign for equal rights. This is the compelling premise behind Alan 'Six Feet Under' Ball's series – and it works. This HBO show makes a solid box-set, with a great-looking picture that'll keep you watching well into
the night. Better keep the lights on.

Vision: 2.40:1
Sound: DTS-HD MA

8 BEING HUMAN (2009)
Vampires are clearly 'in' at the moment. So, a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost are sharing a flat together in Bristol: it sounds like the start of a joke.

But it's really the start of this top-notch BBC horror/drama/comedy. We liked it immediately, and really warmed to its flawed characters as they try to live a normal life despite their 'conditions'.

It's much gorier than you'd think, too. As with most BBC BDs, you'll be greeted with a crisp, vivid picture that draws you in.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound:Dolby Digital

The BBC's Natural History unit strikes again: each of these three 50-minute documentaries is yet another poster advert for the virtues of high-definition, its picture quality providing hour after hour of 'did you see that?' insight into life in America's Yellowstone National Park.

Filmed and presented in 1080i HD, it looks great. We'd question the value (Planet Earth seems a better deal) but documentary lovers will love this anyway.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: Dolby Digital

It's easy to forget how subversive British comedy can be. It might be League of Gentlemen in different rags, but this dark comedy-mystery is the much-needed dark in the BBC's canon of light programming.

The robust picture has a suitably 'organic' feel, but the DD 5.1 soundtrack is the prize here, offering subtle atmospherics and grand histrionics as the series' tone goes from the grimily sublime to the near-genius ridiculous.

Vision: 1.78:1
Sound: Dolby Digital


1. Land of the Lost
2. The Love Guru
3. The Spirit
4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
5. Batman & Robin
6. The Happening
7. Rambo (2008)
8. Meet the Spartans
9. Planet of the Apes (2010)
10. Zombie Strippers

Andy Clough

Andy is Global Brand Director of What Hi-Fi? and has been a technology journalist for 30 years. During that time he has covered everything from VHS and Betamax, MiniDisc and DCC to CDi, Laserdisc and 3D TV, and any number of other formats that have come and gone. He loves nothing better than a good old format war. Andy edited several hi-fi and home cinema magazines before relaunching whathifi.com in 2008 and helping turn it into the global success it is today. When not listening to music or watching TV, he spends far too much of his time reading about cars he can't afford to buy.