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Showcase DVDs for Picture Detail

Beyond the ability to reproduce colors and black-and-white contrast, you want to be able to show off your television's capability to reproduce the finest picture details. The higher the resolution of your display, the more detail it can reproduce.

Details are particularly difficult to reproduce in dark scenes, which is why I've chosen an inordinate number of darker films for this part of the list. You want to be able to pick out individuals in crowd scenes, feel the texture in nature shots, and sense any creepy crawlies hiding in the shadows.

So, without further ado, let's looks at some of the most detailed DVDs you can show on your system:

  • Alien. The Collectors Edition of this sci-fi horror film is one of the best DVDs for testing your TV's capability to render detail in dark scenes; it's far superior to earlier DVD releases of the film. The brooding, murky, interior shots present a lot of shadow detail that only a quality display can reproduce. Take, for example, the sequence that begins with the discovery of the crashed alien vessel; the walls of the ship glisten with slime, and the dead alien itself is incredibly detailed.
  • Underworld. Like Alien, this is a film in which much of the action takes place in dark, damp places. It's not as good a film as Alien, plot- or acting-wise, but it's every bit as impressive from a picture standpoint. This is a film in which even the dark has definition, thanks to the high-contrast cinematography and a reference-quality transfer to DVD. (In addition, this is one of the loudest DVDs you'll find, which will give your complete audio system a workout.)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Superbit Edition). This is a DVD of extraordinary beauty. The picture is very sharp, with an outstanding sense of dimension. Colors are exceptionally rich, and the night scenes will test your system's capability to display shadow detail. Look at the foliage during the bamboo fight scene; you can see the textures on the leaves. (This is also an aurally impressive film, with subtle surround effects throughout.)
  • Lawrence of Arabia. This is a widescreen epic designed to be watched on truly big screens. The picture is filled with details: The skies are a rich blue, the sands are a sparkling white, and the flesh tones are rich and natural-looking. Whether you're watching a panoramic landscape or a close-up under the burning sun, the picture detail will make your jaw drop.
  • North by Northwest. Hitchcock's classic got a stunning transfer to DVD. Color saturation is superb; despite complex color schemes, each color more than holds its own in a single shot. Look no further than the hotel room scene between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Ms. Saint is wearing a black dress with red flowers; the red-on-black would normally be hard to reproduce, but here there is no hint at all of color bleeding. This is also an excellent film to watch on a very big screen, with lots of detail across the entire widescreen picture.
  • Seabiscuit. This horseracing flick offers plenty of opportunities to view fine details. Just go to any close-up of the horses and jockeys and note that you can see individual hairs on the horses' backs while there is still a perfect rendition of the brightly colored silks. Pay particular attention to the scene in which Seabiscuit races War Admiral: The detail in the close-ups is stunning, as are the shots of divots of dirt filling the air in slow motion.
  • Hidalgo. The film itself is a tad slow-paced in spots, but when the plot gets boring you can always sit back and watch the beautiful picture. The DVD features a superb transfer of a well-shot film, complete with vivid colors and sharp detail. The daytime scenes are so brilliant you can pick out individual grains of sand; nighttime scenes are equally sharp without becoming murky. (It's also a great-sounding film, especially during the horseracing scenes.)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? The colors in this Coen Brothers film are obviously digitally manipulated, to excellent result. The picture is highly detailed, whether in saturated sunlight or deep shadow. For a good demo, go to the scene in which the three escaped cons meet up with the trio of scantily clad sirens by the banks of the river. The background foliage is crystal clear, as are the flowing river currents. You can see every leaf on every tree. As a plus, the surround channels subtly envelope you in these outdoor scene, and the superb music soundtrack is faithfully reproduced.
  • The Hulk. Okay, so The Hulk isn't the best comic-book film ever made, but the transfer to DVD presents a reference-quality picture. It may, in fact, be the best-looking live action movie on disc today. (And yes, I know that the Hulk himself is computer-generated, but everything else is live.)
  • Starship Troopers (Superbit Edition). Critics hated this movie, but boy, it sure looks good on DVD. Skip the regular release and go right to the Superbit Edition, which not only has a higher bit rate (to carry more picture information) but also works from a higher-quality print. It's a reference quality transfer with no evidence of grain, dirt, or edge enhancement. Colors pop off the screen, and blacks are extremely crisp.

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