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Show Off Your Home Theater with Showcase DVDs

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Want to show off your new home theater system to friends and family? Choose one of the showcase DVDs recommended by home theater expert Michael Miller. Listed here are the best discs, in all kinds of categories, to show off your new system's picture and sound.

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If you have a new home theater system, you want to show it off to your neighbors. But how best to do this?

What you need is a short list of the most impressive DVDs you can use to show off your system. These showcase DVDs should demonstrate various aspects of home theater performance—color fidelity, picture detail, surround sound, and the like. You want those discs that put your system through its paces, while impressing friends and families.

The following pages attempt to list the best of these showcase DVDs. I've tried to choose the most appropriate showcase DVDS in the following categories: color quality, black-and-white picture, picture detail, surround sound, and music reproduction. I've also listed those discs that excel in all these areas; those that make for the best all-around demos.

In some cases the DVDs I've selected are true reference discs, meaning that they're the best of the best in terms of absolute picture and sound quality; these discs meet with the unqualified approval of discerning videophiles and audiophiles. In other cases the discs might be just this side of perfect, but make for a fine demonstration experience nonetheless. In any case, these are discs that are sure to impress.

Showcase DVDs for Color Quality

The first thing to show off about your home theater system is the capability of your television set to display colors. For this you want a movie that's sharp and colorful, with a wide range of brightness and contrast. And although eye-popping visuals are good, there's also something to be said for subtle color shadings. The best video displays can display vivid colors without blooming or bleeding; you should also look for the ability to distinguish between similar shades of color in the same scene.

Here are some of the best DVDs for showcasing the color performance of your video display:

  • Finding Nemo. This is, to my eyes, the best-looking DVD on the market today, period. Yeah, I know what you're saying—it's for kids, or it's a cartoon, or it's (more accurately) all computer-generated. So what? Finding Nemo is a glorious celebration of color that looks its best on a high-quality, well-calibrated widescreen display. The colors are simultaneously rich and subtle, and the digital-to-digital transfer is as close to perfect as it gets; the picture is so detailed it looks almost high definition. For a good demo, try the "first day of school" scene, as Marlin and Nemo sweep through an amazingly colorful coral reef. And, as an added bonus, the movie's surround sound is equally impressive; it's almost like you're underwater with the other fish. (For similarly impressive computer-animated films, check out Ice Age and Shark Tales—the latter of which is thought by some videophiles to be an even better showcase than Finding Nemo.)
  • Amélie. This French film is a candy-colored treat for the eyes. The film's color palette is wonderfully vibrant, ranging from richly monochromatic to vividly rainbow-like. Especially impressive are scenes that blend two equally dominant colors, such as bright green and bright red, without a bit of compromise. Look also for odd bursts of contrasting color within a scene, such as the vivid blue lamp in Amélie's all-red apartment. It's a charming film that's a joy to watch.
  • Pleasantville. Yes, the first half of the movie is in black and white, but when the color starts coming in, it's well worth the wait. The genius of Pleasantville is the way color is added in spots; when viewed on a quality display, you'll see these vivid colors perfectly outlined against the monochrome background, with not a hint of color bleeding. Plus, there's something about isolating the colors like this that draws more attention to their brilliance. A real treat for the eyes, and a good test of your system's color rendition.
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring. The colors on this DVD are deliberately warm, to give the effect of a Vermeer painting come to life. (The movie is about Vermeer, by the way.) The movie's photography covers the entire range of colors, but with a soft, almost-ruddy glow. The use of light and shadow is also masterful, especially on the candlelit indoor scenes.
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood. This is an older (1938) film with a simply gorgeous picture. The latest restoration of this Technicolor film offers clean vibrant colors not typically seen in the films of today. The definition and clarity are excellent, with particularly brilliant greens throughout. On DVD, the film looks as if it were made just yesterday.
  • Singin' in the Rain. Here's another superb restoration of a colorful Warner Brothers classic. The DVD was digitally remastered using Warner's Ultra-Resolution process, which scans some 400,000 individual film frames from the original Technicolor three-strip masters and then digitally recomposites them. The result is almost unbelievably clean and clear, with vibrant, eye-popping colors. Especially impressive is Gene Kelly's "The Broadway Melody" dream dance sequence, although there's not a dull scene to be found.
  • Blue Crush. This movie is a kind of guilty pleasure, but it is great eye candy. The ocean never looked this good on disc before; skip all the girl talk and go right to the surfing scenes. You'll be enveloped in the sparkling blue of the water, which contrasts nicely with the lighter blue of the sky. (This is also a great disc for surround sound; the underwater scenes are especially realistic.)
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