Weekend Roundtable: Best DVD to Blu-ray Upgrades

If you’re reading a web site like High-Def Digest, odds are that you don’t need to be sold on the benefits of the Blu-ray format. Nonetheless, we thought that we’d use this week’s Roundtable to highlight some of the best discs in our collections that either feature a substantial upgrade in picture quality or that include exclusive features you can’t get on DVD.

This week’s topic was suggested by our friend Adam from DVDTalk, so we’ll let him lead things off.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

The timing didn’t really work out for ‘The Night of the Hunter‘ when it was first issued on DVD in 2000, hitting store shelves shortly before a tremendous restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archives. To add insult to injury, the DVD was mis-framed and devoid of any extras of note. It would be a full decade before the film would be done proper justice on home video, and the result proved to be well-worth the wait. Criterion’s release of ‘The Night of the Hunter’ easily ranks among the most exceptional presentations of any black & white film on Blu-ray. The two-disc set is also overflowing with extras, chief among them a two-and-a-half-hour documentary that draws deeply from the sorts of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage rarely glimpsed on films of this vintage. ‘The Night of the Hunter’ would be a deeply rewarding discovery even if it had been saddled with a mediocre presentation and the bare-bones treatment, but in a package this extraordinary, Criterion’s release is essential viewing.

M. Enois Duarte

For this, I’ll have to go with the original ‘Evil Dead‘. As devoted followers already know, there have been more home video releases of this movie than we care to count. Last year, Anchor Bay was kind enough to finally give fans a worthy remastered version that we can be truly proud of. Struck from the original 16mm camera negative and supervised by Sam Raimi, this is a massive improvement over all other incarnations and by far the best presentation of the cult horror classic ever. While the packaging as a whole could have benefited a tad more in supplements, the night-and-day difference is enough to make any fan re-buy. And best of all, you have the choice between the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio or a blown-up 1.85:1 window. It’s a great presentation and one of the best upgrades I’ve seen in a couple years.

Nate Boss

Renaissance‘. Unfortunately, there is no perfect, suitable Blu-ray release of this to date, and the fact that Echo Bridge has the rights through Miramax means that we’ll probably never get one in this country, but there have been few films that I had to turn off because I just couldn’t watch in standard def. The super fine lines and sharp diagonals make this one utterly unwatchable on DVD. Even if it’s not perfect, the Canadian Blu-ray is a hell of an upgrade.

Tom Landy

I’m going to go with ‘300: The Complete Experience‘. Not only does this particular release totally skunk its DVD counterpart, it even heavily overshadows the HD DVD by adding in a whole slew of exclusive and highly immersive picture-in-picture tracks, including an upgraded blue-screen experience. The audio and video are absolutely flawless, and it all comes housed in one of the most attractive Digibooks available on the market right now. I know that ‘300’ isn’t for everyone, but when it comes to upgrades, this Blu-ray sure is a winner in my book.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

A few titles stand out for me. Despite a misstep from Sony Pictures on the initial Blu-ray release of ‘The Fifth Element’, the re-issued Blu-ray disc was a clear improvement, even over the Superbit DVD, in both audio and video quality. I was also fairly blown away by the ‘Blade Runner‘ Final Cut Blu-ray set. With only the inferior so-called “Director’s Cut” of the film on DVD, and with horrible bootleg versions of the workprint circulating among fans, it was refreshing to see pretty much all of the various versions of the film make their appearance in the “Final Cut” boxed set, including a true “final cut” of the film, overseen and approved by Ridley Scott. Unlike George Lucas’ incessant tinkering, the new special effects shots, backgrounds, image restoration and storyline improvements made by Ridley Scott to ‘Blade Runner’ all improved this groundbreaking film without reeking of revisionism. And for those who prefer the theatrical cut, with its Harrison Ford voice-over and sort-of happy ending, well that version is in here too, better than it has ever looked or sounded before.

Aaron Peck

When thinking about the best DVD to Blu-ray comparisons, I’ll have to go with Image Entertainment’s treatment of the ‘Twilight Zone‘ series. Not only does the 1080p picture completely obliterate the standard-definition DVDs, honestly the high-def transfers of the show’s five seasons are some of the best Blu-rays I’ve ever watched. And the added special features really put each of these sets over the top. Image wasn’t just content with keeping all of the features from the DVD releases; the studio went above and beyond by recording brand new audio commentaries for most of the series’ episodes. The new commentaries offer a wealth of information about the series and Rod Serling that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Image Entertainment actually made it worth the effort to upgrade the DVDs by offering immaculately restored video and audio along with thoughtfully-produced, newly-minted special features.

Luke Hickman

While the ‘Back to the Future‘ trilogy may not be the best catalog release to date, it’s a vast improvement over the DVD edition – especially when you take into account the new special features. Seeing new retrospective interviews where grown-up Biff, Marty and Jennifer talk about how much the series influenced them (just like it influenced us) is one added bonus you get with this set, making it a must-own for anyone who ever loved the series.

Josh Zyber

Picture Quality Upgrade: David Fincher’s obsessive perfectionism has paid big dividends for ‘Se7en‘ on home video. The director first supervised a transfer of the film for the Criterion Collection Laserdisc that was a notable improvement over the copy issued by New Line at the time. Later, he remastered the film for New Line’s Platinum Edition DVD, which was even better and set a new standard for that format. Not content to let the studio rest on those laurels, he had the film freshly remastered once again for Blu-ray. As good as the DVD was, the Blu-ray is a revelation that unveils detail and color only hinted at before. Contrasts and shadow detail, so essential to the movie, are rendered with a precision that makes the DVD look like mud in comparison.

Bonus Features: I feel a little guilty pimping a review that I just recently wrote, but the newly-discovered hour of deleted footage on the ‘Blue Velvet‘ Blu-ray is pretty darn cool. Although you can tell why none of these scenes made the final cut, the presentation here feels like a series of vignettes that allow you to further explore what was happening in the world of the movie just off to the side of the main plot. DVD viewers are out of luck. That’s a Blu-ray exclusive.

Now it’s your turn to tell us which Blu-rays you’ve found to offer the biggest improvement over DVD.


  1. Random Commenter

    Citizen Kane. The DVD was DNR’d to hell and back, but the new master used for the BD looked perfect and filmic. I have to disagree with Luke, though. The Back to the Future DVDs always looked great upscaled, while the BDs left a lot to be desired videowise.

  2. i have to go with serenity. when it came out 6 years ago it had a short window and they rushed it for christmas and it looks good on dvd but it looks great on blu.

  3. JM

    Love Actually
    Apocalypse Now
    The Big Lebowski
    The Princess Bride
    The Lord Of The Rings
    The Bridge on the River Kwai

  4. John

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind has a remarkable image for its age. Much better than on DVD.
    Also, pretty much every single Disney and Pixar blu ray blows their DVD counterparts out of the water, with the exception of maybe The Fox & the Hound.

  5. Ted S.

    Blade Runner, Se7en, Alien and Aliens and Ben Hur. Also Tombstone, I know Blu-ray transfer isn’t perfect but compare it to the DVD version, it’s like night and day.

  6. EM

    Pretty much any widescreen movie that wasn’t anamorphic on DVD. I believe The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1970s original) is an example. This issue is why I await Blu news for certain movies such as Rollerball (1970s original) and Outland—I don’t need them in Blu per se, but their video presentations aren’t even up to mid-2000s DVD standards.

  7. I don’t think there were particularly enough “new” extras on the BTTF Blu-ray to justify mention here…it got about as many new extras as the Jurassic Park set that was just released.

    I like the Blade Runner pick, though (even though DVD versions were released at the same time). That was just an awesome set (especially if you got the Blu-ray “briefcase”).

  8. August Lehe

    After BEN HUR…I would have to say The BIG COUNTRY even though I was expecting more.

    I atill can’t believe WYLER was fussing post-production with Jerome Morross, composer of the magnificent Oscar-nominated score, via letter while in Rome preparing to shoot BEN HUR! (The only Wyler epic, I suppose, with a better score).

  9. I just finally got the Alien anthology and watched the first 2. I found so many new things in Alien that I had never seen before, it really added to the atmosphere of the movie. However, Aliens, a movie I’ve seen over 20 times in 20 years, actually became an entirely new movie as for the first time I could tell the difference between each and every minor character marine, could see the sets and understand the geography of the compound on lv-426 and it really boosted my appreciation of a movie I already loved. Every other release of this movie was an embarrassment and I cannot wait to see what this kind of treatment does to “The Abyss”

    • hurin

      From the screenshots it looks like Alien got the teal/orange treatment for it’s bluray release.

      I think the result is worse than the DVD.

      • There are a couple scenes with a little more of a teal tint, but its always been a blue movie and it looks blue in most of it. But considering how horrible, grainy (not in a good way) and just lacking in any blacks, colors, or anything the DVDs are, I don’t know if we can say the way it looks on Blu-ray isn’t how it should look. All colors are so much more vibrant and blacks are so inky and deep it is like an entirely new film.

        I thought from the VHS and DVD versions that the movie was hiding backgrounds and sets and Alien details in order to fool our eyes into thinking the budget is bigger than it was. Turns out it was just crappy transfers hiding lots of hard work. Aliens digital tinkering is minor and I think improves the movie.

        Watch/rent it for yourself before you knock any digital tinkering.

          • You can say Do not Want, but the fact is this was a decision made by James Cameron and the ORIGINAL cinematographer. If it distracts you from one of the most awesome movies ever, then you are way more picky than I am, and I’m pretty damned picky when it comes to image quality and messing with classics.

            Who the hell am I to say that the color timing is wrong if James Cameron says this is the way he intended.

            He’s not George Lucas and until he goes back and truly sticks in things that we “DO NOT WANT” then I’ll trust the man. He really hasn’t done anything wrong by me in this regard.

          • And what is most likely is the fact that you got used to seeing it with the crappy transfer (compared that is) from VHS and DVD. It’s amazing that you can forget what the movie was meant to look like after seeing DVD and TV Broadcasting engineers screw it up for 20 years.

            James Cameron probably didn’t take the time to make sure that the Color Timing was as close to what he wanted on the original DVD or the DVD Set that was released almost 10 years ago now.

          • Josh Zyber

            The Aliens Blu-ray is perhaps one of the most frustrating discs released on the format to date. In terms of sharpness, detail and clarity, the Blu-ray is miles better than any previous video edition of the movie. I’ll even give you that the colors on the old DVD were problematic in their own respects. However, it’s undeniable that the Blu-ray represents a revisionist change to the color timing of the movie.

            From the time the marines land on LV-426 all the way to the end the movie, the entire picture is doused in teal. There are practically no other colors in the movie aside from the occasional orange explosion.

            This is not closer to what Cameron originally intended. It’s a revision, no different than William Friedkin tinting The French Connection purple. Movies made in the 1980s were not teal. The teal trend is a development that came about over the last decade as a result of Digital Intermediates and digital color grading. Teal was not a color often used in most cinematographers’ pallettes until about 2000 or so. Now it’s everywhere, in almost every new movie made today.

            Like most of James Cameron’s early films, Aliens was famous for its “steely blue” color timing. There’s almost no blue in the movie anymore. It’s all been replaced with teal in a misguided attempt to “modernize” the movie or something.

            Teal is a very gaudy color. It pulls me right out of the movie. It’s an eye sore.

            The Alien Blu-ray has also been teal-and-orange-ified, though to a lesser extent. It’s a minor nuisance in that movie, and total overkill in Aliens.

            The Blu-rays for Alien 3 and Resurrection are not affected, because the video transfers on those were recycled from old DVD masters.

          • EM

            Tim, this is who the hell you are to say the color timing is wrong: an individual with the right to criticize a filmmaker’s decisions, regardless of when those decisions were made, regardless of your opinions of that filmmaker’s other decisions vis-à-vis that same film.

          • hurin

            To say that the director of an 80 movie intended to use teal is beyond ridicule. If Cameron think replacing his original blue tint with a teal tint is an improvement then he has gone senile.

      • Wyatt

        So you haven’t the actual bluray version of Aliens, just screenshots? Why not see it for real instead of looking at screenshots before you decide it’s worst than DVD.

        Personally I thought Alien and Aliens looks and sounds amazing on BD, definitely 5x better than their DVD counterpart.

  10. I also have to second Taxi Driver and Braveheart. As movies I had only seen on VHS or DVD, the incredible upgrade thru bluray made those movies so much more enjoyable

  11. hurin

    Heathers. The DVD looked like it was taken from VHS.

    Brazil. After getting the Bluray I put the DVD I hadn’t watched in years on, and was shocked at how poor the PQ was.

    I keep hoping there will be a Bluray with ‘End of Evangelion’. It is one of my favorites and the DVD Madman released is letterboxed and really horrible.

  12. Prydie

    Blade Runner has my vote followed by Saving Private Ryan & John Carpenter’s The Thing. The Final Cut of Blade Runner is a testament to how brilliant a loving and respectful HD transfer can look. Saving Private Ryan is a massive improvement on the noisy DVD version.

  13. JM

    Of the top 100 highest grossing films of all time, only 11 were made before dvd launched in 1997.

    Two of them, ‘Star War’ and ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ don’t exist anymore.

    Blu-ray launched in 2006, so we’re due for a new disc format in 2015.

    Looking at everybody’s upgrades, it seems like we’re all buying the same catalog films over and over and over again.

    It got me thinking about what blu-rays I own that I’ll want to upgrade to 4K versions of.

    The idea of 4K is making me want to rent more and own less. Especially when Hollywood does a half-ass job upgrading a classic, i.e. ‘Jurassic Park.’

    When are they bringing out ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’?

    • hurin

      I think Bluray is as good as it’s going to get.

      There is no real reason for people watching a movie on a flatscreen in their livingroom to use 4k.

      For people like myself using a projector 4k would be a big deal, but we are less than 1% of the merket, so I’m not really expecting the studios to care about us.

      • JM

        In the not-too-distant future 120″ 4320p displays will cost $300 at Walmart.

        And holographic projectors aren’t much farther behind.

      • Um,

        How can you say that there is no reason for 4K, were you one of the people that said there is no reason for HDTV?

        4K has twice the resolution as an HDTV image and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure that some AV guys will tell you that it’s quite a difference.

        The problem as usual is CONTENT at 4K. Blu-Ray is native at 1920×1080. So a 4K set or projector will only show you exactly what you can already get on your 1920p set now.

        So if this technology is already getting prepped and actually exists now what studios need to do is ensure that ANY big remaster get’s done with a 4K or better master. This way when this format or when Displays capable of showing 4K arrive that there will be a way to watch something on these new sets.

        The problem will be as usual that someone will try to market their product as the defacto way to watch 4K material on these new sets, most likely Sony will TRY to update Blu-Ray to support it once again making a standardized format like Blu-Ray ever more NOT a standard, since you can now actually buy discs’s labeled Blu-Ray that don’t work at all on your TV or in your player, cough Blu-Ray 3D cough.

        Most likely by the time 4K displays become at all available in the US at least, Streaming and download services will probably be the way to watch these new masters. We’ll see as we most likely would be looking at 100 – 200GB discs or at least the equivalent. So bandwidth would have to be orders of magnitude better by then. Even I with the 60Mb connection I get from Comcast can’t download 100Gb in a reasonable amount of time, then there is always the nasty Cap’s that companies like Comcast implement which really need to just go away.

        • JM

          Technically, 4K has 32x more detail than HDTV.

          A two-hour movie will require 1TB.

          35mm films will be 2.5K upconverted.

          New films will be shot at 4K, aka digital 70mm.

          But this next tv transition will be different than all the previous.

          The entertainment medium driving the technology will be video games.

        • hurin

          My point is that if you’re watching a movie on a 40-50 inch flatscreen the benefits for 4k over full HD will be marginal. Which is why I don’t think studios will pursue this.

          A much bigger improvement would be to increase the number of frames in movies from 24p to 48p. But of course this would only effect new movies.

          • I have to agree, even at a theater, unless you have some gynormous IMAX sized screen and are siting on the front roll, most people do not realize the difference between 2k and 4k. 4k for the home is really just stupid – you just won’t see it on anything lower than 100 inches and that is if you are siting right in front of the screen. I don’t see people going over to 4k screens and tv stations and such investing tons of money to broadcast 4k stuff when most people just cannot see the difference. And imagine trying to broadcast at 4k. Most things are over-compressed as it is in the 6Mhz bandwidth that NTSC / ATSC offers. Even with MPEG4 compression over the current MPEG2, you would need something like 4 regular channels to carry a highly-compressed 4k channel.

            No, I wouldn’t hold your breath that we will see 4k in the home in the near future. 4k sets will probably be limited to medical and scientific fields.

  14. Sorry I am late on this discussion – we had Christmas early this past weekend.

    The thing that comes to mind as being the biggest enhancement over the DVDs are the Star Trek movies. The original DVD releases were just muddied, overcompressed messes (Insurrection probably being the worst, but I think it was one of the first releases on DVD, which may attribute to how awful it looked). The Director’s Cuts were better, but still nothing compared to how great the Bl-Ray releases are.

    I guess it goes without say that Star Trek: TOS be added to this as well. The new remasters are wonderful!

    I can’t believe that no one has mentioned some of the classic movies released on Blu-Ray – Metropolis, and Casablanca come to mind. Gone With The Wind and Wizard of Oz both looked great on DVD, but the Blu-Ray releases blow these out of the water.

    I am also throwing in my votes for Sound of Music and Blade Runner.

    Here are some others:
    Jan Svankmajer’s Alice – the old DVD looked like it was mastered from an over-used video tape – the Blu-Ray was remastered from the original film negatives. It’s like watching a whole new movie
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Dune (I cannot believe Josh did not mention that)
    Moulin Rouge (there was nothing wrong with the DVD release, but compared to the Blu-Ray, it was breathtaking)
    Poltergeist (In my opinion, one of the most radical differences – I use this movie a LOT to demo my system, as people have an expectation, having seen the movie so many times, that just gets blown away by Blu-Ray)
    Santa Claus The Movie (this disc is not demo material by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure beats any previous release)
    The Karate Kid (the old one)
    Interview With The Vampire (Old releases were just too dark and muddy)
    Ghostbusters (the old DVD release was 4×3 letterbox, and muddy)
    Flash Gordon (while the Blu-Ray release is plagued by DNR, it is leaps and bounds better than any previous home video release)

    As far as Bonus Features, I am not really that big on them, but I really like the In-Movie Experience and Maximum Movie Modes on the Harry Potter movies.