House of Cards Season Three Blu-ray Review
Why buy something you can already stream?
House of Cards Season Three Review
The first two seasons of House of Cards were always going to be a tough act to follow but season three almost succeeds.Now that Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has finally made it to the White House, he has to do all he can to stay in the Oval Office. Much of the season revolves around his efforts to manipulate the choice of Democratic candidate for the upcoming presidential election after publicly stating he wouldn't be running himself. Of course, Frank has no intention of giving up power now he has it, even if it isn't easy staying at the top of politic's 'greasy pole'. He also has to deal with Russia's President Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) - a thinly-veiled Putin - and that results in him coming into direct conflict with his own wife Claire (Robin Wright) who is now the US ambassador to the United Nations.There is also the continuing subplot revolving around Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), as well as Frank's attempts to create a lasting legacy. He enlists the help of Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) to write a biography, which doesn't seem wise for a man who has so many skeletons stuffed in his closet. There is much fun to be had in this latest season but there is also a sense that the series is currently treading water. However both Spacey and Wright are as watchable as ever, the writing remains incisive and the production values are superb. There are also plenty of plot twists, especially in the final episode, and things are set up nicely for the next season.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Blu-ray release of House of Cards arrives in 1080p/24 using the AVC codec and in the correct aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The show has cinema standard production values and is used by Netflix as a flagship series to champion new technologies. So it's actually shot in 4K and can even be streamed in that resolution if you have a fast enough broadband connection. The quality of the photography is evident from the opening credits and the show's visual style was established by executive producer David Fincher when he directed the first two episodes of season one.
The superb production values shine through thanks to this high quality transfer.
So why buy the Blu-ray when you can just stream House of Cards in 4K via Netflix? Well first of all a lot of people don't have a fast enough broadband connection, although in fairness the HD stream also looks very good. But as we discovered when we did a direct comparison of the second season Blu-ray against the 4K stream, Blu-ray still holds up very well. So if you want a high quality source of this superb show, then Blu-ray might be the ideal solution, especially if you don't have a particularly good internet connection.
House of Cards can certainly stand up to projection on a big screen and its wider aspect ratio gives the feeling of a feature film rather than a TV series. This is further enhanced by a more classical approach to filming, with a static camera and smooth holy moves rather than shaky cam and epileptic editing. The quality of the production, combined with a first class transfer results in an almost reference level image. The digital photography is crisp but retains a film-like quality and the level of detail is excellent. The blacks are deep but shadow detail is retained and the transfer is free of banding or other artefacts, which isn't something that you can't always say about the Netflix stream.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe Blu-ray of House of Cards uses a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack, which is one area where the disc has a technical advantage over the streamed version. It's a great soundtrack too, which plenty of activity in the surrounds as you're plunged into the murky depths of American politics. Due to the nature of the show there's obviously a lot of dialogue and this is always clear and centrally focused, especially when Frank breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly.
A subtle but highly effective soundtrack is perfectly delivered in lossless audio on the Blu-ray.
There is also plenty of ambience within the mix, taking full effect of the surrounds where necessary and creating a realistic atmosphere to scenes. The low frequencies are used sparingly but effectively, especially in support of the largely percussive score that often helps drive the momentum of the story. In fact just like the image, the sound reflects the high quality nature of the production and the disc does a superb job of replicating the creators intentions.
Blu-ray ExtrasThe Blu-ray release of House of Cards comes in an attractive cardboard slip case the folds out to reveal the four discs inside, although actually getting the discs out can be a bit fiddly. There are only two extras on the disc, although they are reasonably interesting.
Backstage Politics: On the set of House of Cards (24:59) - This featurette looks at the production of the third season and largely consists of behind the scenes footage mixed with an extended interview with series creator Beau Willingham, although there are other interviews as well. Gillingham discusses how certain characters were expanded in previous seasons because the producers liked the performances of the actors and how this changed the direction of certain storylines over all three seasons. He also discusses the amazing cast, the writing process, the overall production and the stylistic choices in terms of photography and editing.
A Death in New Mexico (17:01) - This featurette looks at the shooting of a key season in the final episode of season three and includes behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. We won't say any more, so as not to spoil the surprise for those that haven't watched the third season yet.
House of Cards Season Three Blu-ray VerdictHouse of Cards remains one of the best shows on television, with a powerful cast, superb writing and fantastic production values. The series is shot with a feature film level of quality but the kind of adult storylines that you just don't get at your local multiplex these days. However, whilst there is much to enjoy in the third season and stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are always watchable, there is a feeling that the series is currently treading water; so let's hope things pick up in season four.
If you're looking for the best picture and sound, then Blu-ray remains the ideal option.
The show has also been used as a flagship for championing new technologies by streaming service Netflix, who offer all three seasons in 4K. So this does pose the question why buy House of Cards on Blu-ray? Well the transfer is excellent, perfectly replicating the high quality photography, so you won't get a better looking image unless you are streaming in 4K and even then it's close. Of course not everyone has a fast enough broadband connection to stream in 4K and with the Blu-ray you also get an excellent lossless soundtrack, something that you won't get if you stream the show. There's a couple of interesting extras as well, although they are far from comprehensive. However if you're a fan of House of Cards and you want the best picture and sound currently available, then the Blu-ray release remains the ideal option.
You can buy Season Three of House of Cards on Blu-ray here
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