Home theater test discs
December 9, 2011 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Help me test the limits of my new home theater by recommending some good discs.

Like the Death Star in Episode VI, my home theater setup has recently become fully armed and operational. I have a nice 5.1 setup put together piecemeal with great components, and just got a brand new Samsung 46" 3D LCD TV (the UN46D8000, if it matters.)

I'm the kind of guy who takes a well-recorded CD - usually Steely Dan - to the store when shopping for speakers. I made sure I had a copy of U-571 to play when I went subwoofer shopping. That's the kind of geek I am. I've never owned a TV this large or this high-def, though; and I don't own a single Blu-ray disc. The stuff I've used to shake down prior iterations of my home theater - Gladiator and Lord of the Rings DVDs, for instance - isn't adequate; I can see the MPEG compression artifacts and other limitations of the source material. Currently I don't own a single Blu-ray disc.

So, I'd like recommendations that would really show off the capabilities of my new system. I expect mostly this will be Blu-ray discs, but am also open to anything else I could play using my PS3 (that means no DVD-Audio, as Sony only plays the competing SACD format.) I love all kinds of music. Really high quality video and audio are equally interesting to me; 2-D and 3-D are also both interesting. I like action movies, thrillers, documentaries, SF/fantasy. I don't want to watch a 3 hour movie in perfectly-mastered HD and audio if the acting is terrible.

The only thing I'm not really interested in are animations (Shrek, Finding Nemo); most of these generally look awesome, so I'm less interested. The less CGI, the more excited I get about it.

What should I ask Santa for?
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Das Boot should be a good test of your audio, as well as your claustrophobia. If both of those senses are effected, then you are completely immersed, and that's the proper test. The only way you could make it more authentic is to be spritzed with cold seawater at random, and add lots of body odor.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:57 PM on December 9, 2011

The Fifth Element is a favorite of mine for this sort of thing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary BluRay is just gorgeous. It's like seeing a movie you never saw before...
posted by pupdog at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2011

As much as I hate to admit it, Star Wars: Episode I still gets some play, if only to crank it up for the pod racing. That's some freaky cool stuff right there with a seriously built system. :)
posted by xedrik at 4:22 PM on December 9, 2011

The Dark Knight and No Country for Old Men. Also The Fifth Element.
posted by dfriedman at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2011

I use a PS3 in both my homes as a media center. I'm thrilled I am not the only one. (Hey, I even have Samsung screens, my brother, one 46 and one 52. They're lovely, aren't they?)

For audio, Springsteen's grungy Nebraska is my go-to test to see if the speakers survive being chewed raw.

One of the most gorgeous looking Blu-Ray movies I have is actually the new Casablanca remaster, believe it or not. It's incredible.

Coppola's "Godfather Restoration" is similarly made specifically for 1080 viewing.

For more modern things, the Bond film Casino Royale and the Batman The Dark Knight reboot both wowed me with how deep and rich the blacks were, without any of that annoying dithering. They were both allegedly made with special Blu-Ray care, but everyone says that, right?

For the 'truest' digital test, of course, any Pixar movie will do, since they're re-rendered at 1080 for the Blu-Ray releases. I don't know if this is true for the oldest ones, but I re-watched both Wall-E and Up recently with my girl (her first time!) and I was so amazed by the quality that I barely even cried this time.

posted by rokusan at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2011

The Fall is beautiful, and also has the advantage of being a really good movie.
posted by contraption at 4:31 PM on December 9, 2011

Iron Man on Blu-Ray looks and sounds terrific.
posted by jquinby at 4:44 PM on December 9, 2011

It might not be a great movie, but the BD of Avatar is absolutely reference quality.

I've never watched it, but supposably the BD of Speed Racer is also very high quality. Opinions as to the quality of the movie itself... vary.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:52 PM on December 9, 2011

The Dark Knight is actually not thought of very highly in the circles that care about this sort of stuff because it has pretty bad edge enhancement, etc. Audio-wise I think it's probably fine.

I was really impressed by how The Town looked and sounded - very film-like with lots of shootouts to show off your speakers. It also had zero CGI effects (as far as I could tell).
posted by The Lamplighter at 4:58 PM on December 9, 2011

I've always liked using Spider-Man 2, The Bourne Ultimatum, Serenity, The Matrix....
It's been a few years since I really decided to test my system out, however, so some of these might not work as well as others mentioned.
posted by nickthetourist at 5:16 PM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the all the great answers, folks. Keep 'em coming!
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 5:52 PM on December 9, 2011

You might want to review the list of Academy Award winners for Best Sound Editing.

Beyond that, I suggest Alien, which has fabulous set design, relatively little CGI, and lots of rumbling low-end goodness; and Sunshine which has great dynamic range, arresting visuals, and is a fabulous movie (or at least a fabulous 60% of a movie, depending on your point of view).
posted by googly at 6:21 PM on December 9, 2011

The Dark Night and The Crow are my two favorites to watch excessively loud. Dark Night was one of our first blu-ray discs and I remember raising my arms above my head and cheering when the hospital exploded. Then I made the boyfriend play it again because it was so awesome.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:05 PM on December 9, 2011

Apocalypse Now! A watershed film in regards to sound recording in film history. The scene with the tiger in the jungle is amazing for ambient noises. Also, real helicopters, no cgi in sight.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:48 PM on December 9, 2011

I haven't actually seen the Alien blu ray yet but the screen captures I've seen are absolutely phenomenal. Flawless.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:05 PM on December 9, 2011

Blade Runner
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 PM on December 9, 2011

2001!!!!!! turn it up to 'loud' and then hide the remote from yourself so you can't turn it up or down (dynamic volume used as a special effect!)

most surprising sci-fi action movie i picked up not expecting much from and ended up being blown away: Repo Men (the new(ish) one...with Jude Law...that pretty boy sure can act)

seconding alien and blade runner...adding Forbidden Planet and Galaxy Quest...heard they did a criterion BR of Charade (with Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn...mancini soundtrack!) that i've been wanting to check out...

aaand...have you downloaded wipeout HD for the ps3 yet?...kick-ass techno soundtrack and stunning visuals (esp the 'zone mode' tracks)...also 3D! and 1080p! (it's a hover-car racing game in case you haven't heard of it)...also, for (turning out all the lights and) cranking up the surround sound...Dead Space (its kind of like being IN 'Alien'...very(!) scary...with lots of ambient SFX crawling around under your skin and into your psyche.)
posted by sexyrobot at 11:49 PM on December 9, 2011

I find Where The Wild Things Are to be quite stunning, from both the video and audio perspecive.
posted by Diag at 3:45 AM on December 10, 2011

Lots of great SF recommendations I second. But when I really want to test out the system after tweaking, I go for something made by the BBC Natural History Unit. Planet Earth, The Continents... pretty much anything narrated by David Attenborough. Very demanding AV. The shots are so detailed that you can count the mandibles on a troupe of ants if your TV can render them, stunning slomos and long exposures, epic pans of migrating herds and flocks with ambiant noise, deep silence suddenly shattered by screams and the subwoofer gets a real workout with elephant communications.
posted by likeso at 4:25 AM on December 10, 2011

I actually use Ice Age, the animated movie - the opening with Scrat and the icebergs has performed admirably for me in terms of testing sound. It really exposes lackluster sound systems to listen to the small environment noises, as well.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:53 PM on December 10, 2011

Sorry, missed the "no CGI movies" clause.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:54 PM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: You guys are awesome - each answer was great. Thank you all very much!
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 6:58 PM on December 10, 2011

posted by Gentlemanhog at 11:45 PM on December 10, 2011

Late to the party but:

Star Trek (2007) (opening scene looks and sounds amazing on a good system)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

nthing Pixar, 2001, and Tron:Legacy
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2011

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