Blu-ray disc quality Blu-ray versus DVD

Playing Blu-ray discs is meant to be the only way to guarantee you get the best picture possible from your expensive, high definition television, offering true 1080p HD, uncompressed audio and even the 3D effect at home. However, a Which? investigation has cast doubt on the high-definition claims made by some Blu-ray content. Which? put the claims to the test and has found that some Blu-ray movies are almost identical in picture quality to standard DVDs. 

But even with the best discs, you'll want a Blu-ray player and TV that will do them justice. Which? tests more than 20 Blu-ray players a year with multiple titles and formats, and we've found not all are created equal - but our Best Buy Blu-ray players will make your favourite films look crystal clear and sound great, while being straightforward to use.

Outstanding Blu-ray discs

Zulu content

Blu-ray version looks like a different film. 

• Avatar
• Casino Royale
• From Russia with Love
• The Wizard of Oz
• Zulu

Which? found that newer-release films - Avatar and Casino Royale (released in 2010 and 2006 respectively) - looked fantastic, and far superior to their DVD equivalents. Casino Royale was bursting with detail, depth and solid, bold colours. Avatar boasted, 'extraordinarily good detail and depth, that really does show HD off at its best', according to our viewing panel.

As both movies were produced after the launch of the Blu-ray format, the high-definition results came as no surprise. Yet the stunning standard was matched by a handful of old classics. Zulu (1963), From Russia with Love (1964) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) looked stunning, full of sparkle, detail and colour.

Movies showing a significant improvement on Blu-ray

Gandhi content

Gandhi on Blu-ray puts the DVD to shame.

• Gandhi
• Grease
• The Matrix
• Terminator 2

Four of the movies we watched were significantly better than the DVD versions. However, none had the sparkle of the first group and the huge step-up in quality was more to do with the disappointing quality of the DVD rather than exceptional Blu-ray quality.

Blu-ray Grease (1976) was a big improvement over the weak and insipid DVD version. Likewise, the extra detail of Gandhi (1984) on Blu-ray put the soft, low-resolution DVD version to shame. Terminator 2 (1991) and a particularly muted Matrix (1999) were grainy on DVD, but solid and detailed on Blu-ray. However, none of the Blu-rays had the sparkle of the best high definition discs.

Marginal improvement or no difference

Ghostbusters content

Ghostbusters on Blu-ray disc? Don't bother

• Matrix Reloaded
• Die Hard
• North by Northwest
• Gangs of New York
• Master and Commander
• The Untouchables
• The Graduate
• Ghostbusters

A significant proportion of the Blu-ray discs on test failed to offer a significant improvement over their DVD equivalents, even though they tended to look superior. In some cases this was thanks to the high-quality picture of the DVD itself. Master and Commander (2003) and The Untouchables (1987) Blu-ray discs looked superior but were only 'slightly sharper' and not deemed to be a 'significant improvement' or as good as the discs rated outstanding. Matrix Reloaded (2003) looked great on DVD, but the Blu-ray offered 'no significant improvement' over the standard definition version. Likewise, Gangs of New York (2002) was good on DVD, but apart from having a slightly sharper image, looked very similar on Blu-ray.

But the marginal step-up in quality wasn't always due to top-notch DVD performance. Some Blu-ray movies failed to make an impression even when the DVD version was below-par. The DVD version of Hitchcock classic North by Northwest (1959) was detailed, if a little flat. The colour on the Blu-ray version had been ramped up, but resolution didn't appear to have improved and some of the detail was actually 'crushed' by the deeper colours.

Smeary, inaccurate colours and grainy picture noise made the Die Hard (1988) DVD look awful. Bolder colours and sharper, more natural images make Blu-ray look better, but only as good as a decent standard DVD should look and a long way off the best high-definition discs.

At the bottom of the pile was Ghostbusters (1984). The supernatural classic failed to impress on either DVD or Blu-ray. The DVD version was dull and lacked detail but the Blu-ray disc wasn't much better. Colour was exaggerated and the strong whites actually wiped out some detail (on the New York skyline for instance). The resolution wasn’t much better than DVD and the level of grainy 'picture noise' way too high for a full HD disc.

According to our experts The Graduate (1967) 'doesn't offer any picture quality improvement over DVD'. Just like Ghostbusters, the colour saturated the high-definition image and levels of detail were nowhere near the levels they should have been.

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