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@Geoff_D review posted at Blu-ray forums

Ghostbusters (1984) 4K HDR10 review, UK Sony 2016 UHD disc. HDR metadata: Mastering display colour primaries: DCI-P3. Mastering display luminance levels: 4000/0.005 max/min nits. Maximum Content Light Level: 9633 nits. Maximum Frame Average Light Level: 2273 nits. Disc type: UHD66.


Ghostbusters (1984) 4K Dolby Vision review, US Sony 2022 'Ultimate Collection' UHD disc. HDR metadata: Mastering display colour primaries: DCI-P3. Mastering display luminance levels: 4000/0.005 max/min nits. Maximum Content Light Level: 9978 nits. Maximum Frame Average Light Level: 2283 nits. Disc type: UHD100.

Like Labyrinth before it I'd never "reviewed" Ghostbusters on UHD as I was so disillusioned with it originally, this is back when I was watching on an SDR 4K TV using the first-gen Panasonic UB900 player which could output an SDR 2020 signal but didn't have the 'HDR Optimiser' as it is today. So although the 900 still did SDR conversion better than most it had real trouble with content that had very high average brightness - and these early Sony HDR grades have brightness shining out the wazoo. Basically, Ghostbusters and several other Light Cannon™ UHDs looked far too bright and blown out in SDR, badly clipping highlights and making the grain look so fierce it was a massive distraction. So I sold those initial UHDs (the US versions with the HIDEOUS artwork) and waited to get a proper HDR TV before venturing near them again.

Alas, even when I got a proper HDR TV and rebought the Ghostbusterses (this time on the UK UHDs which came with that awesome OG logo artwork) I still wasn't overly impressed. I have since enjoyed them on UHD, don't get me wrongo, but the insanely hot HDR is a matter of taste and it's something I don't appreciate, not when it's forced upon content that was never, ever, ever intended to have several thousand nits blasted through it. I'm all for a subtle or even a mildly perky HDR evocation of what lies beneath on a motion picture negative as I'm not anti-HDR, I'm more anti-let's-blast-the-sh*t-out-of-this-for-the-sake-of-it. But hey, with the newer Panasonic players like the UB820 comes the HDR Optimiser and that's been handy for dialling down the excesses of these white-hot Sony HDR grades.

One thing still niggled at me though and that was the compression of these earlier Sony discs. Now, I want to make this clear: I'm not saying they were digital disasters. Hell, these encodes were damn near heroic given the imagery they were having to deal with as well as leveraging loads of audio tracks on top e.g. Ghostbusters had eleven audio tracks alongside the video and still had almost 60 Mb/s for average bitrate. But, like Labyrinth, the original 2016 UHD of Ghostbusters has something of a rougher, chunkier, almost geometric appearance to the grain and the bright HDR does the compression no favours, it's not a coincidence that many of the trouble spots are in areas of bright detail in a scene, like the top of Janine's computer in her office as Egon emerges from underneath the desk or several shots of billowing backlit smoke during the pow-wow with Gozer on the rooftop. There's also a tendency for people's faces to soften up in the old one, not breaking out into horrible macroblocking per se (heh, this ain't StudioCanal) but more of a digital haze as the detail is frittered away by the compression struggling to keep up. It's been bugging me for years, I've done plenty of wishing that these would get revisited e.g. xxx and Sony have only gone and done it in the Ultimate Collector's edition set.

Before I get onto the new UHD it's worth centering the discussion re: what Ghostbusters is doing visually at the source level, I don't mean with all that HDR slapped on but the film itself. The movie was shot 35mm anamorphic on the newest high-speed motion picture stock of the period, 400-speed 5294 or 250-speed 5293 (no-one seems sure which, and there's no mention in the AC article: https://ascmag.com/articles/laszlo-k...d-ghostbusters, though IMDB has it as 94), and either emulsion was grainy as HELL. Edit: After looking at the dailies of the Mayor's office scene there's a slate with 5294 on it, so there you go. You get the traditional anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame in wider shots and darker scenes tend to soften up as well but the detail is pretty 'clean' otherwise as they didn't use a lot of filtration on the show, there are a few shots with a characteristic 'bloom' around the highlights but the intent of the photography was to underline the realism of the piece, to maintain the verisimilitude that director Ivan Reitman wanted, and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs certainly delivered.

But a very pleasant surprise comes from this being such a VFX-heavy show (200-ish shots was a major amount back in 1984) yet the quality somehow seems to get better in most of those shots, looking cleaner and sharper with much less grain than the main live action footage. This runs contrary to accepted wisdom, that optical composites reduce detail & range and rough up the grain, but the secret weapon on Ghostbusters was engaging Richard Edlund's Boss Film to do the VFX. Instead of opting for the ILM-style approach of using VistaVision (double the image area of regular 4-perf 35mm) Edlund preferred the Trumbull-type usage of 65mm film, a third bigger again than VV and essentially three times as big as 4-perf 35mm. Indeed, Edlund is cited in the AC piece on the effects as saying that "35mm reduction dupe footage of effects can look even better than production 35mm footage".

The secret is not to just shoot large and blow it down to 4/35 at the earliest opportunity, for if you keep using the large format gauge throughout the optical printing workflow and then reduce it into anamorphic 4-perf negative at the very last step you can retain so much of this quality. Also, the VFX plates were shot on slower 125-speed 5247 as was typical for VFX usage to reduce grain build-up in the printing (that and 5294 was terrible for bluescreen work), so not only were they originated on large format 65mm but they used a comparatively less grainy stock too and Laszlo had to hammer them with light to give the depth of field that Boss Film wanted. Long story short: that's not DNR on the special effects scenes in Ghostbusters, they really are that clean and smooth vs the 35mm footage around them, albeit with a little gentle density flutter. If people say that the effects scenes here suffer for picture quality I wonder if they've ever even seen the movie as it sounds like boilerplate "professional review" bollox rather than someone having actually watched it. Yes, 99% of the time that statement is true enough, I've used it many times myself, and some shots here still look a bit ropey in themselves as you can see the matte lines, transparencies and/or garbage mattes, but in the main Ghostbusters bucks that trend.

What about the new UHD then? It is NOT a new transfer of the film in terms of going back to the negative and starting again, this is Sony's existing 4K transfer and the underlying HDR grade would appear to be very similar to the 2016 UHD (though more on that later). But the new video encode on this triple-layer disc makes an instant impression as the grain (non-VFX) is tighter and more organic than before, not because of any tinkering but because it's more finely resolved. What looks like giant chunks of grain on the previous disc become somewhat calmer this time around though it doesn't suddenly lack grain as there's still loads of it, you just get this more compact rendition. And with it comes more temporal detail, the opening scene with Venkman doing the ESP 'experiment' is a case in point. Some shots of Jennifer's face have that aforementioned digital mushiness on the old disc while the new one holds the grain and detail all in one shot, this scene alone regularly peaks at well over 100 Mb/s while the old one rarely ventures into the 80s. Same effect on the face of the dean as he explains why he's kicking them out of the university, the detail on his cheeks just kinda gets lost on the previous UHD. And all the bits with brighter patches that wig out on the old disc are greatly improved here, there's just less unnecessary noise in the image.

Ah yes, them brighter patches. I moan so much about Sony's HDR catalogue grading and I stand by every word, it undoubtedly gives more "pop" (ugh) but it quite literally overshadows things in this case as the VERY high average brightness of the image suppresses the shadows and overdrives the mid tones where a lot of the grain lives, as well as exposing grain in highlights more ruthlessly. If the metadata is to be believed then this newer disc has an even brighter maximum peak level on the HDR10 base than the old one but when watching in Dolby Vision the opposite is true, the DV rendition makes the image feel more balanced i.e. not so overloaded on the brighter side. Still very bright, still more than I'd like, but shadow detail is able to fight its way past the average brightness and faces look slightly less cartoony without such intense highlights zinging off of them. Indeed, if you read the AC article the intent was never to make this seem like a bright, bouncy, high-key comedy. Those same smaller speculars have more range in the DV output than the old HDR10 viewed in my standard calibrated HDR10 viewing mode. Dolby performance will of coursh vary from user to user and TV to TV, the player-led mode on older Sony sets like my own sacrifices some brightness but I can see I'm not the only person who thinks that the DV presentation is more subdued in general. I've quickly compared old HDR10 to new HDR10 and it looks like another Karate Kid as the newer one certainly seems to have slightly higher peak brightness than the old one, hopefully capsaholic will show this when they get their comparison up as even SDR converted images using the same settings can still be of some use when comparing like for like.

Colour is a wash between old and new though, they really are all but identical. It's got that slightly pastel look to primaries and skin tones that stocks from the '70s and '80s tended to have but there are nice bursts of colour when needed, like Slimer's ghostly green and the deep orange tone of the proton streams. Skin tones themselves don't appear to carry any particular bias, though the underlying colour temperature of this newer 4K transfer (going back to that first 'Mastered in 4K' Blu-ray) has a slightly greenier/yellower slant than the purple/magenta-tinged transfers of yore. Black levels don't go absurdly dark, there's always enough room above black so that things don't get crushed away whilst retaining a perceptually pleasing black level.

So yeah, this is Labyrinth all over again. Any sane person who watches stuff from 12 feet away will not give two hoots about these improvements, but for me they're worth their weight in crazy gold. Compression is significantly improved, not just from looking at numbers but from actually comparing the content in motion, and for such grainy imagery this sort of treatment is essential. Again: the old disc is not a compression disaster and I can see why the perceptual effect of having the coarser/noisier grain (and artefacts that result) might be why the old UHD seems 'sharper' to some, but it's really not. Though another reason for this effect is how hot the HDR is without the Dolby Vision to calm it down, as more brightness increases the sensation of contrast and contrast is a key function of sharpness. That's not to say that the DV encode looks dull because it doesn't, it just doesn't let the brightness engulf the whole image. Though if people shut off Dolby Vision and play the new disc in HDR10 then conversely it should look slightly brighter than the old UHD.
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