Best 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs

Picture and sound that's better than most cinemas

by Steve Withers Jan 7, 2018 at 6:32 AM

  • This is the year that Ultra HD Blu-ray really came into its own with all of the major studios supporting the 4K format.
    In addition UHD Blu-ray showed its full potential this year, not only in terms of Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, 10-bit and High Dynamic Range with HDR10 and Wide Colour Gamut (Rec.2020) but also the addition of Dolby Vision with dynamic metadata. The majority of the major cinema releases have received a 4K disc release this year but we've also seen some amazing catalogue titles as well. In fact with many modern titles still using 2K Digital Intermediates (DI), it's often the older titles shot on 35mm film that have really impressed. So, in alphabetical order, here are our top ten 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs of 2017.

    Blade Runner (Warners)

    Blade Runner has already won Best 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of the year in our recent Editor's Choice Awards, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to find it on this list as well. Despite bombing on its initial release in 1982, the film is now considered a classic of the science fiction genre and its sequel – Blade Runner 2049 – was also released this year. Warner Bros. new Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Blade Runner is based on a full 4K restoration of the film, during which director Ridley Scott took the opportunity to fix various mistakes and deliver what he considers to be the final cut of his masterpiece. The results on Ultra HD Blu-ray are simply stunning, with jaw-dropping detail, fantastic use of high dynamic range (HDR10) and lovely colours thanks to the wider colour gamut. The audio mix has also had an upgrade and the resulting Dolby Atmos soundtrack is as impressive as the visuals, making this the best that the film has ever looked or sounded. The package boasts all the previous extras, including the three-hour Dangerous Days documentary and three other versions of the film on Blu-ray. Blade Runner is essential viewing and this Ultra HD Blu-ray release is a must-have for fans of the film.

    Buy Blade Runner on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Sony)

    Sony Pictures have released a number of superb discs on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray this year but it's the restoration work on their catalogue titles that have impressed the most. The best example this year is their release of Steven Spielberg's classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017. Sony have completely restored the original camera negative in 4K for all three versions of Close Encounters and the results are simply breathtaking. The film hasn't looked this good since its premiere in 1977 and the beautiful film-like images on the disc boast rich colours, deep blacks and an effective use of HDR that isn't over-the-top. Thanks to seamless branching you can choose between the original theatrical release, the 1980 special edition and the 1997 collector's edition, which is a nice touch that was missing from Warner's Blade Runner release. The disc includes the existing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which was presumably Spielberg's choice, but it remains a great mix with plenty of use of the surrounds and some seriously deep bass. All the previous extras are included plus a couple of new featurettes that make this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind an essential purchase.

    Buy Close Encounters of the Third Kind on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Dunkirk (Warners)

    Christopher Nolan's visually impressive drama about the events surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk is a nail-biting race against time. In fact Nolan plays with time itself, presenting three different stories from three different perspectives (land, sea and air) over three different time periods (one week, one day and one hour). The three narratives, whilst initially slightly confusing, dovetail into an incredibly suspenseful and ultimately moving conclusion. Nolan marshals his forces with exacting realism and his use of IMAX and 65mm results in some of the most jaw-droppingly cinematic images seen in decades. The resulting Ultra HD Blu-ray uses a native 4K source and variable aspect ratios (1.78 for the IMAX footage and 2.20 for the 65mm footage) to deliver Nolan's vision and the combination of HDR10 and WCG result in a disc that is demo quality from start to finish. The lack of an object-based immersive audio soundtrack is disappointing but it didn't have one at the cinema either and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is superb, with Hans Zimmer's ticking clock score ratcheting up the tension right until the end. There's also an excellent set of extras that cover the film's production in detail. Dunkirk might only have been released in the last two weeks of the year but it's easily one of the best 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays of 2017.

    Buy Dunkirk on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warners)

    The Harry Potter films made so much money that is was only a matter of time before Warner Bros. was asking J.K. Rowling for more. The author was happy to oblige and fashioned a new series of prequel films based on the adventures of Newt Scamander, author of one of Harry's text books. That might seem like a fairly tenuous link but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is actually a hugely enjoyable romp through 1920s New York with a game cast headed by Eddie Redmayne. The Ultra HD Blu-ray release is based on a 4K digital intermediate (DI), which is still something of a rarity, and the results are impressive with exceptional detail, vibrant colours and great use of HDR. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally as impressive with an immersive mix that makes full use of the overhead channels. The extras include a number of featurettes that go into the making of the film in some detail and overall this is a must-have for any fan of the Harry Potter universe.

    Buy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Marvel/Disney)

    This disc would be worthy of inclusion if only for the fact that it marks Disney's first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release which, considering they own Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm, is reason enough for celebration. However Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is also a superb disc in its own right, as well as a hugely enjoyable film that retains the humour of the first volume but adds a bit more emotion. The transfer, although based on a 2K DI, is simply gorgeous and the wider colour gamut and HDR result in some truly stunning images. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack compliments the impressive visuals with a complex sound design that not only delivers the signature songs but also makes full use of the overhead channels to create an immersive audio experience. There's a decent selection of extras as well including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a number of interesting featurettes, making this one of our favourite UHD Blu-ray releases of the year.

    Buy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Life (Sony)

    It's rather ironic that in a year when Ridley Scott released Alien: Covenant, the best Alien movie was actually a knock-off set on the International Space Station. Undoubtedly pitched as Alien meets Gravity, Life was a far more entertaining film than Covenant, with a likeable cast, a decent premise and an original looking alien life-form. There were scares and some excellent special effects, with the entire cast having to simulate zero gravity for the whole running time. This Sony Pictures Ultra HD Blu-ray release is based on a 4K DI and the use of HDR really lends itself to the high contrast images of sunlight reflecting off white space suits and the ISS. It's easily one of the best looking discs of the year with incredible levels of detail, whilst the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is very effective, extensively using the overhead channels to deliver a highly immersive experience. There's a nice selection of extras showing how they actually did simulate zero gravity and overall Life makes for an enjoyable if rather silly Ultra HD package that looks and sounds great.

    Buy Life on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Logan (20th Century Fox)

    After 17 years playing Wolverine, Hugh Jackman finally said goodbye to the character in style with James Mangold's R-rated take on the 'Old Man Logan' comic book storyline. Logan is a gritty, violent and genuinely moving farewell to both Wolverine and Professor Xavier with Jackman and Patrick Stewart giving career-best performances. This Ultra HD Blu-ray release from 20th Century Fox uses a 4K DI and delivers the deliberately de-saturated images with wonderful detail and deep blacks. The HDR is used very effectively and the resulting picture looks superb, whilst the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is just as impressive, creating a highly immersive audio experience. There's an excellent set of extras, headlined by a black and white version of the film called Logan Noir, along with extensive behind the scenes footage, an audio commentary and deleted scenes. With its adult tone Logan is the kind of comic book movie that would have been unthinkable a few years ago but it proved both critically and commercially successful, with this Ultra HD Blu-ray release the cherry on the cake.

    Buy Logan on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Passengers (Sony)

    Passengers didn't perform very well on its initial release, perhaps due to the basic premise of the film which put some people off. That's a shame because it boasts a pair of likeable leads, some really impressive designs and effects and an ultimately engaging story. The Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Sony Pictures is particularly impressive with a superb image based upon a 4K DI that really delivers all the detail in the film's production design and effects. The use of both the wider colour gamut and HDR really give the space-set images pop and the film is demo quality throughout. The same is true of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack which makes full use of the object-based nature of the format to deliver an immersive experience that compliments the visuals. There's an impressive set of extras that includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and even outtakes, making Passengers a great UHD Blu-ray that is worth investigating.

    Buy Passengers on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Planet Earth II (BBC)

    Planet Earth II was the television event of last year with the BBC using the series as a testing ground for the next generation of TV technology. The series was largely shot on 4K cameras, except for certain situations where that wasn't possible, and the BBC also conceived the series with HDR in mind. The series was restricted to Full HD and SDR during its actual broadcast but even then the images were simply stunning and there were a number of memorable sequences. However the release of the Ultra HD Blu-ray was when we really got a chance to see Planet Earth II in all its 4K HDR glory and it didn't disappoint, instantly becoming the demo disc of choice for AV enthusiasts. There was one stunning shot after another and the wider colour gamut and HDR rendered the natural world in a previously unattainable level of realism. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack added to the excitement with David Attenborough's narration clearly delivered and plenty of use of the surrounds to provide atmosphere that really immerses you in the natural world unfolding before your eyes. The inclusion of the Production Diaries, which show how certain key scenes were filmed, round off a near perfect package.

    Buy Planet Earth II on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

    Westworld Season One The Maze (HBO/Warners)

    Now that Game of Thrones is nearing its end, HBO needed something new to replace their flagship series, so they turned to Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) and JJ Abrams, who delivered one of the best television series ever. Based upon Michael Crichton's film of the same name, the new series takes the concept of a theme park populated by androids that goes wrong and heads off in completely unexpected directions. The series is full of interesting ideas that address topical issues about consciousness and humanity and has a complex plot that holds more than a few twists, many of which aren't obvious. The A-list cast is headed by Anthony Hopkins who delivers his best performance in years but everyone is uniformly good and the production values are cinema quality. As a result the Ultra HD Blu-ray release looks stunning with exceptional detail and excellent use of HDR, including the addition of Dolby Vision. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is just as impressive and there's a huge number of extras that delve into the production in some detail. If you haven't seen Westworld yet you should pick up this excellent 4K set but, even if you have, it's one of the few series that gets better with a second viewing.

    Buy Westworld Season One The Maze on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

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