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Michael S. Palmer
UPDATE: We've also reviewed the VUDU 4K UHD streaming version with Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos. Check it out HERE.
What's up, everybody! I hope you're all getting ready for a fun movie-or-TV-filled weekend. I just got back from a press preview of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray where we demoed three of the HD Exclusive behind-the-scenes featurettes, a new music video starring 80s icon David Hasselhoff and the rest of the GOTGV2 cast, and about 15 minutes of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray itself.
Director James Gunn and David Hasselhoff were on hand to chat about working together (the Hoff had just arrived from Berlin because of course he did and he's also a German icon in addition to an American one) where I learned his "We Are Groot" appearance in the closing credits was shot on Gunn's iPhone.
As previously reported, Guardians Vol. 2 will be available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and a 4K/3D Best Buy Exclusive SteelBook on August 22nd. The 4K Blu-ray version will be encoded in HDR10 (not Dolby Vision, unfortunately, but don't worry it still looks AWESOME -- more below) and Dolby Atmos, while the HD & 3D Blu-rays will feature 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mixes.
(no sign of 4K UHD digital yet via Disney Movies Anywhere Pre-Order)
Guardians Vol. 2 will also be available August 8 via Digital on a bunch of different streaming platforms, including Disney Movies Anywhere, iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, Microsoft, or Fios by Verison. FYI, as I'm writing this, you can pre-order the movie in HD on iTunes, Amazon, and VUDU.
Today we confirmed with Disney that VUDU.com will be offering a 4K UHD streaming version of Vol. 2 in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, although it doesn't appear to be up for pre-order at this time. It's not clear where one can stream the film in HDR10 or if there will be any other Dolby Vision streaming options (Google Play?). Stay tuned, we hope to know more next week.
During our Q&A period, Gunn reiterated his passion for Dolby Vision saying, in regards to the theatrical release, "I love the Disney 3D version, but I also really love the Dolby Vision so putting that version on home video was really important because I thought it was the best version."
Also import and kinda bad news: Disney PR reps informed me that the digital code included with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will NOT unlock the 4K UHD digital / streaming version, which is a big bummer for those who are fans of Dolby Vision, but also enjoy the reliability and increased bitrate of physical media. That said, they didn't seem 100% sure and a month ago Disney PR reps told other journalists, incorrectly, that the 4K Blu-ray would feature Dolby Vision. So we'll have to play the waiting game to see what happens. I'll be checking a Disney-provided code on August 8 to see what happens, and we'll check again when our 4K Blu-ray screener arrives for M. Enois Duarte to review.
IF YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
If you're reading this article and aren't up to date on terms like HDR or HDR10 or Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos or even 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, no worries, we have a whole bunch of articles explaining those technologies which you can read here:
The short version: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is a year-old physical media format that displays content at a 4K resolution that's been graded for HDR, which improves contrast as well as visible details in dark and ultra bright imagery, and Wide Color Gamut, which gives you access to more vivid colors (and colors that more closely reproduce the theatrical experience) even when the images themselves are brighter. It's basically the best physical media format ever (in terms of capabilities) and Guardians Vol. 2 is actually Disney's first 4K disc.
GUARDIANS OF THE SPECIAL FEATURES
As a reminder, the 4K and Blu-ray versions of Guardians include the following HD Exclusives (there are no bonus materials on the DVD):
-The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
-Visionary Intro with director James Gun
-Guardians Inferno Music Video
-Four Deleted Scenes
-Audio Commentary with director James Gunn
And the Digital HD versions exclusively add:
Three Scene Breakdowns and a look at the new Disneyland ride, Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout.
In our demo, we saw three of the four chapters from the aforementioned Making Of documentary as well as the music video.
The Director's Chair with James Gunn. Behind the scenes footage, movie clips, and talking-head interviews make up this love letter to James Gunn. The filmmaker talks about his intentions with, and success of, the first film and how he hopes to carry it into Vol. 2. Then everyone talks about how great Mr. Gunn is at writing and directing. And, by the looks of it, they all worked very hard and had a great time doing so. Mr. Gunn oozes confidence talking about his story and while leading on set.
Showtime: The Cast of Vol. 2. Similar to the director's chair in construction, James Gunn talks about how he collaborates with each actor to build their characters and what they each bring to the production. Again, from hours in makeup to goofing around between takes to high-wire green screen stunts, everyone is having a visibly grand time and it really translates to the final product.
Reunion Tour: The Music of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Before Spotify lists, there were honest-to-God mixed tapes. In the Guardians universe, the soundtracks are characters in and of themselves, born early in the writing process and used to build emotions and drive action. Here, Mr. Gunn describes the backstory behind a number of his musical selections, like how he used Fleetwood Mac's The Chain at key parts of his characters' arcs, along with his musical score collaborations with Tyler Bates.
Guardians Inferno Music Video. Speaking of which, Gunn and Tyler Bates further collaborated to write a 70s disco-rap song, performed by 80s icon David Hasselhoff, which you might recognize from the film's end credits. Actor/filmmaker David Yarovesky directs a love letter to the ultra cheesy late 70s disco music videos, featuring long-haired ladies and mustache-and-super-chopped adorned guys draped in glittering polyester and blown out across the screen through kaleidoscope-inspired video effects (sadly, no star wipes). Definitely watch this one for the cast cameos.
GUARDIANS OF THE 4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY
While we didn't get a full home cinema experience with surround sound -- so I can't tell you anything about the home theatre Dolby Atmos mix (though I have high hopes because it sounded pretty dang great at the premiere) -- we did do a side-by-side demo comparing the HDR/WCG 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and the SDR/Rec.709 Blu-ray using two LG G7 OLED 4K displays (with all noise reduction and motion enhancements flipped OFF) and two Oppo UDP-203 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players in a darkened conference room.
During our demo, we started (I think) around Chapter 2 where the Guardians are in the blue and gold Sovereign throne room and watched all the way to the scene where Sylvester Stallone and The Ravagers confront Yondu at the neon-covered city of ill-repute. (BTW, I know these places all have specific names, but I forgot them and haven't been able to find them online, so my apologies for the lack of specificity).
Make no mistake, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray DESTROYS the Blu-ray in every possible way (even when said Blu-ray is up-rezzed by what's probably the BEST 4K player on the market on arguably the BEST 4K display available today).
I'm not kidding or exaggerating.
No hyperbole whatsoever.
The difference is visible and dramatic.
I'll still need to check out the VUDU version and watch the whole disc to be certain, but unless there are serious flaws hiding somewhere, Guardians Vol. 2 is probably going to set a new standard as the best, demo-worthy 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray the young format has ever seen.
How so? I'm glad you asked.
First, we need to talk about highlight details.
From chandeliers to lights reflecting off spaceship windows to suns blazing in cloudy skies to fiery explosions, GOTGV2 features a ton of in-frame bright objects. On the Blu-ray, these bright spots are hazy and monolithic and, pretty much, one tone of white or off white. On the 4K Blu-ray with HDR, the light sources themselves are smaller and more precise, especially during shots of the sun (or a star, I suppose, since it's not Earth, but I digress). You can see the glowing orb along with clouds and window frames around them. You can see the fine details of the billowing clouds. You can see Mantis' antennae as she emerges from Ego's ship (where in the Blu-ray they vanish). In other words, these details make the Guardians universe dramatically more realistic and realized.
Next, let's talk sharpness.
Many 4K Blu-rays are, admittedly, not noticeably sharper than up-rezzed Blu-rays. Most of this comes down to source materials and, while I don't know the specifics of the Guardians Vol. 2 post-process (I believe it's was finished in 4K, but don't quote me on this), again the differences are clear as can be. The Blu-ray is sharp-ish as presented on the 2017 LG OLED. Details are defined. Locations are well rendered. You can see the textures and fabrics and sets, but they're never wholly CRISP. In side-by-side comparisons, the Blu-ray looks evvvvvvvver-so-slightly out of focus and washed out.
The 4K Blu-ray, by comparison, is razor sharp to the point where you can see wrinkles in Nebula and Gamora's makeup, gold flake in the Sovereign citizens' skin, individual tree branches as they're crash landing on the planet with the green forests, each whisker in Kurt Russel's beard, and the paint on the set walls. To be fair, many folks won't appreciate these fine details, but, again, they add to the realness of the world and picky perfection-demanding viewers are going to love peeping pixels because it's all there.
Moving on to black levels
Sometimes, especially with OLEDs, HDR10 encoded movies with really dark scenes crush shadow details. There are ways around this and the 2017 OLEDs are brighter than the 2016 model we reviewed HERE, but still, it's a concern given the way HDR10's static metadata is encoded. I'm happy to report, even in darker scenes like the space battle and the interior of the Guardians' ship and the early-evening scene with Yondu, there was no crushing or lost details. This is a very good HDR transfer even though it lacks dynamic metadata. Black levels are, as they tend to be with OLEDs, perfect.
Lastly, let's talk color volume.
Much like my press events at Fox where we demoed The Revenant and Deadpool, doing side-by-side comparisons offers a far quicker and more perfect demonstration of how 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray bests Blu-ray because A-to-B-to-A-to-B testing allows just enough time to pass for one's memories to cloud.
Seeing the same images moving in (semi) sync allows your eyes to linger over both frames at once and it's here you realize that, while Guardians doesn't have a dramatically different color palette like The Revenant, Vol. 2 boasts a much more vibrant and richer color palette that is so gorgeous, you can imagine this very disc and demo selling HDR capable TVs to the masses.
Like Pixar and other CGI animations, the colors in this movie are perfect for showing off your display. From the blue Sovereign palace and Nebula's skin to the green forests and Gamora's skin to the Neon-adorned buildings of the shady world where Yondu meets up with the other Ravagers who all hate his guts. In every single scene, the 4K Blu-ray's BOLD colors pop and catch your eye, even in those brighter areas mentioned above -- where the Blu-ray pushes into white when it runs out of a certain color in Rec.709, this P3 color space allows for blue skies and orange flames and red laser blasts, which all adds to the overall sharpness and vibrancy.
FINAL THOUGHTS (IS IT TOO SOON TO GIVE IT 5-STARS?)
The featurettes and music video were definitely fun, and fans are going to love those, but I went to this event to see the demo and the results are, to put it mildly, spectacular.
The Blu-ray is like watching the movie with sunglasses on, where as the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is like watching after you've had laser eye surgery.
I can't wait to own it.
To be fair, we've only seen 15 minutes of GOTGV2 on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, so we can't go giving out the 5-Star score just yet, but, caveat aside, this movie looks bolder, brighter, and more colorful than Pacific Rim and The Great Gatsby, my favorite HDR10/WCG demo discs thus far (and unlike those 2K-up-rezzed titles, I didn't notice any other flaws that would chip away at a perfect score).
Honestly, guys and gals, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 looks shockingly good in 4K and I'm so very excited for you to see what I just saw. Is it a bummer that Dolby Vision isn't available on the disc? Sure, but after seeing this 4K Blu-ray with HDR10, you're going to be very, very happy.
That said, look for a VUDU 4K UHD review as well in the coming days so we can describe the Dolby Vision version as well as what the lossy Dolby Atmos track sounds like on streaming.
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