'The Matrix' vs 'Pirates': The Battle of the High-Def Titans

It's Captain Jack Sparrow vs Neo and Trinity as both high-def disc formats bring out the big guns in a week packed with high-profile releases.

Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp headline a banner week for high-def disc.

Complete List of May 22 Releases
(click for reviews and specs)
40-Year-Old Virgin (HD DVD)
Apocalypto (Blu-ray)
Closer (Blu-ray)
Complete Matrix Trilogy (HD DVD)
Flags of Our Fathers (Blu-ray)
Flags of Our Fathers (HD DVD)
Freedom Writers (Blu-ray)
Freedom Writers (HD DVD)
Letters from Iwo Jima (Blu-ray)
Letters from Iwo Jima (HD DVD)
Mission: Impossible (Blu-ray)
Mission: Impossible (HD DVD)
M:I-2 (Blu-ray)
M:I-2 (HD DVD)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Blu-ray)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Blu-ray)
The Skeleton Key (HD DVD)
Smokey and the Bandit (HD DVD)
Ultimate Matrix Collection (HD DVD)
Sunday, May 20, 2007 at 1:56 AM ET

The last year has certainly seen its fair share of milestone moments in the high-def format war, but arguably none have been as eagerly anticipated as what might be dubbed high-def disc's own "Super Tuesday" -- this Tuesday, May 22nd.

Packed with a long list of high-profile titles (including 'Apocalypto,' 'Flags of our Fathers,' 'Letters from Iwo Jima' and the stand-alone editions of 'Mission: Impossible' & 'M:I-2'), this week sees a record number of high-def releases from the major studios -- nineteen in total, across both formats.

But most notable among this week's releases are the highly-anticipated debuts of two (currently) format-exclusive franchises: two 'Matrix' series box sets on HD DVD, and the first two films in 'The Pirates of the Caribbean' series on Blu-ray.

With each set of films enjoying its own huge fanbase, the backers of both next-gen disc formats are hoping that their exclusive titles will help attract new converts to high-def disc, and help give them the edge over their rival.

Fighting off an exceptionally strong showing by Blu-ray in the first quarter of 2007, the HD DVD camp has gone so far as to back Warner's HD DVD-only releases of 'The Matrix' series (the format-neutral studio says it will release the series on Blu-ray late this year) with a multi-million dollar marketing campaign -- including the first-ever theatrical trailer for a next-gen disc format.

But of course, there's just so much a strong title and even millions of dollars worth of marketing can do. Ultimately (at least in the eyes of most early adopters), this battle comes down to who can deliver the best product.

As such, High-Def Digest's own Peter Bracke has spent much of the last week glued to his 70 inch HDTV, evaluating all four 'Matrix' and 'Pirates' releases in excruciating detail. We've posted each of his comprehensive reviews, which can be read in their entirety by following the links at the bottom of this page, but for those who prefer a Cliff's Notes-style break down, Peter has summed up his thoughts on each of these landmark releases below:

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Warner, HD DVD; $119.95

Bracke says: "The mother of all next-gen box sets (so far), this five-disc, ten-sided behemoth certainly delivers where it counts -- the video and audio are both fantastic. Warner has re-mastered all three films in the trilogy, righting all of the wrongs that plagued the problematic transfers on standard-def DVD. They've also wisely included new Dolby TrueHD tracks for each of the flicks, so the 'Ultimate Matrix Collection' sounds as good as it looks. There's even an HD DVD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" (IME) included for each film, which repackages some of the set's extras in the form of a picture-in-picture video commentary.

The only disappointment? The set's truly exemplary supplements package is presented entirely in 480i standard-def -- in fact, most of the included extras (IME excluded) aren't even served up on HD DVD discs. Instead, Warner has simply slapped DVDs on to the backs of the newly-minted HD DVD discs and added a couple of standard-def DVDs for the two-disc 'Matrix Experience' portion of this release. So, while you're getting some terrific audio and video for the movies themselves, none of the 35 hours worth of supplements are presented any differently than they were in the previously-released standard-def version of the 'Ultimate Collection' -- this includes such potential high-def eye-candy as 'The Animatrix.'"  Read full review...

The Complete Matrix Trilogy
Warner, HD DVD; $99.95

Bracke says: "A slimmed down version of the 'Ultimate Matrix Collection,' the 'Complete Matrix Trilogy' retains all three movie discs from the box set (IME included), and simply drops the standard-def DVD flip-sides, as well as the two-disc 'Matrix Experience.' With its cheaper price, and the fact that the main attraction of the 'Ultimate Matrix Collection' is the re-mastered video and audio, the 'Complete Matrix Trilogy' offers a welcome alternative for fans who'd rather not splurge on the full package."
Read full review...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Disney, Blu-ray; $34.99

Bracke says: "This one is an absolute Blu-ray booty. Disney has delivered a real winner -- five-star video and audio, plus an enjoyable new Blu-ray exclusive video trivia track "Scoundrels at Sea." Like 'The Ultimate Matrix Collection,' again the supplements haven't been remastered in high-defintion, but at least in this case they've been pressed on Blu-ray discs.  Read full review...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Disney, Blu-ray; $34.99

Bracke says: "Like its predecessor, 'Dead Man's Chest' is a sumptuous feast on Blu-ray, delivering five-star video and audio that may even be more awe-inspiring. 'Dead Man's Chest' boasts some of the most breath- taking, three-dimensional imaging I've ever seen on a high-def release, even if the film is (in my opinion) a clear step down from 'Curse of the Black Pearl.' Add to that a brand new Blu-ray exclusive game, plus a superlative 90-minute making-of doc (again presented in 480i), and 'Dead Man's Chest' is simply an essential addition to anyone's Blu-ray library."  Read full review...

So who wins this battle? Time (and disc sales) will only tell, but with such strong releases from both camps, this is one case where format supporters on either side can justifiably claim victory.

For Peter Bracke's complete, detailed reviews of each of these releases, click the linked titles below:

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
The Complete Matrix Trilogy
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest