Lord of the Formats: Peter Jackson Sets the Bar for 4K UHD Releases

4K Movies have been available for the better part of 5 years now. Most major studios have gone back into their respective movie catalogs, and given them the 4K/HDR treatment. Few have done as good as job at doing so as Peter Jackson has here. Let’s dive in.

The Fellowship of the Ring in 4K UHD

Worked on by Jackson himself, the 4K sets of both Middle Earth trilogies are an upgrade over their blu-ray counterparts. In large part, this is due to Jackson’s implentation of HDR. I don’t think I’ve seen any other 4K Movies adjust their image qualities as drastically as these movies have.

HDR Done Right

I think most home cinephiles can describe the 4K/HDR experience to this point as, uneven. The purpose of these discs is to provide the consumer with the best possible home theater experience available with improved resolution and HDR. High Dynamic Range is supposed to provide us with the most life-like colors, deepest blacks, brightest whites, and an overall more uniform image where we can make out the most minute details that may be missing from the SDR versions. The problem here is there appears to be no universal standard for HDR. You’ve got HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision etc. What this leads to is a confusing experience for us consumers, where we are left adjusting our sets based on the content were watching, instead of just using one universal preset for every piece of content.

Gandalf in An Unexpected Journey. Photo taken offscreen using an iPhone.

This is all to say, I wish every major movie studio would take a look at what Jackson has done on these movies, and apply that to every major release going forward. No longer does my HDR image look dull and lifeless compared to its’ SDR counterpart. No longer do I have to wonder where all these hidden HDR details are. The colors on all six of these movies are just eye popping now. Jackson has said publicly that his goal was to make these six movies appear consistent, even though there was more than 10 years of technological advancements between filming the trilogies. He has certainly done so in regards to their color.

Actual Resolution Upgrades

When movies transfer to 4K Discs, it is important to ask is whether it was done using a 2K Digital Intermediate or 4K Digital Intermediate. A 4KDI, is using true 4K tech to get the most detail possible out of the image, where a 2KDI will use upscaling tech to get an image to 4K. A lot of recent releases will be 2KDI’s, and can been seen as the lazy way of doing things.

I can gladly say that a 4KDI was used here, and it really shows. Jackson has said that the CGI hasn’t been changed a-la George Lucas with the original Star Wars trilogy, but he has gone back and touched the existing effects to make them look more consistent with current movie standards. For the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the nearly 20 year old films effects hold up remarkably well. It appears, to my eye at least, that Jackson has smoothed out some of the clunkier shots. For the Hobbit Trilogy, an already impressive CGI dragon, named Smaug, really benefits from the uptick in resolution. Every scale shows, and those golden eyes really pop.

Another iPhone shot taken offscreen. My camera’s resolution doesn’t do it justice.

Audio Quality

I can’t believe we made it this far without mentioning the superior Dolby Atmos tracks these movies are equipped with. One of the best traits of these movies is how the sweeping score takes you directly into the action. The Atmos tracks on all 6 films provide an unbelievable 3D sound stage, with the height channels getting a nice workout. I hope you have a good sub or two to handle the booming bass of the LFE channel (Try putting on the Helm’s Deep Battle from Two Towers at full volume. It will shake you and your neighbor’s house.)

The Battle of the Five Armies in 4K UHD

Just Buy Them

Thats’ right. All of them. Now.

It has been a rough year for all of us, and you deserve it. Even if you don’t enjoy these movies, their sheer picture and audio quality are worthy of using to show off that new home theater setup to your friends. We can only hope that other movie releases follow suit, and their creators take as much time as Jackson did to get their movies looking and sounding as good as they possibly can.

The Two Towers in 4K UHD

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