X-Men: Days of Future Past Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
As you may or may not be aware, a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format was launched in the UK on the 11th of April 2016, finally fulfilling the promise of the myriad of 4K TVs which have been sold in this country for the last few years. This new format brings with it not only a jump in resolution from 1080p to 2160p (which is in fact a 4x increase in pixel density) but also an increased bit depth for finer gradation of colour, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) for a deeper and more accurate palette, and High Dynamic Range (HDR) which extends the visible range to include "brilliant brights and deeper darks" versus standard Blu-ray content. I can’t blame anyone for thinking that that sounds like purest marketing spiel - the quote is from the disc's back cover - but the proof of the UHD pudding will be in the viewing, and we'll be putting up a selection of UHD reviews over the coming days.
With X-Men: Apocalypse waiting in the wings it’s a good time to be revisiting Days of Future Past. Instead of clogging up this disc review by retreading my thoughts on the movie I’ll proffer a link to my prior review of the 3D/2D Blu-ray and cut to the chase. Please note that this UHD edition only contains the theatrical version of the film and not the longer Rogue Cut, but after watching this shorter cut again I must say I enjoyed it more than I did first time around. It’s a quicker, sharper, snappier edit of the movie and sometimes that’s no bad thing.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray
In the interests of full disclosure I must first state that although I have a Sony KD55X9005B 4K TV with a wider 'Triluminous' colour gamut and 'X-Tended Dynamic Range', it does not feature the specific HDR transfer function of the latest 4K TV models. I am therefore using the Dynamic Range Conversion feature of the Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD player which converts the HDR into a range that’s more suitable for my television, but it’s not a simple hard-clipped Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) transform. It can be adjusted to preserve varying amounts of the UHD signal, and by using test patterns and a colourimeter I can confirm that I am receiving a good chunk of both the higher dynamic range and the wider colour. I can well imagine that some videophiles are frothing at the mouth right now, as an SDR review of a UHD HDR disc may be tantamount to blasphemy - but I’m not doing it for them, I’m doing it for me and all the other owners of legacy 4K TVs out there who’ve been caught on the hop by this HDR malarkey. (FYI the screenshots presented here are all from the 2D Blu-ray and are not intended to be indicative of the final UHD product.)
20th Century Fox has brought Days of Future Past to UHD in a 2-disc set which also includes the regular 2D 1080p Blu-ray and a UV digital copy. The UHD is presented in 2160p and framed in the intended 2.40 widescreen aspect, encoded with HEVC. As I noted in my prior review of the Blu-ray, the movie was shot on Alexa and originally finished in 2K resolution and, in the absence of any information from Fox as to the provenance of this source, we must assume that the 4K UHD disc has been upscaled from the 2K master. To that end, you’d think that there’s very little difference in the appreciable resolution between the two editions of the film - the standard Blu-ray being a particularly good example of the HD format - and you'd be right. Using direct 'A to B' comparisons there's only a small trace of extra detail in the UHD and yet the image is definitely 'cleaner' than the regular Blu-ray as there's less video noise, giving the impression of more precision in UHD even if there’s not a major increase in overall detail.
Next we have UHD’s other selling point: the enriched colour gamut. The regular Blu-ray was no slouch in this department either as it ably conveyed the intent of the filmmakers, with a darker look in the future scenes and something of a warmer, softer, old-fashioned “Kodachrome look" for the ‘70s-set segments, but it is improved upon further in UHD. Primaries that were bold enough before are more richly saturated and even the more muted '70s scenes benefit, looking perkier and more vital without contradicting the aforementioned intent. I mentioned in the Blu-ray review about how certain shots in the VFX-heavy White House finale - filmed against a giant wrap-around green screen - seem to impart a greenish tinge to faces but the effect is largely negated in UHD with only a slight tip of the balance, and skin tones in general seem to convey more distinct tonalities than before - even the bags under people's eyes stand out more. It’s also the case that the inherent artificiality of the White House sequence is further mollified by the higher dynamic range, with the slightly stagey-looking lighting now falling in a more convincingly natural way and even the CG Sentinels seem to blend much better as a result.
Indeed, the expanded dynamic range is where the biggest differences are found because the brightest parts of the image are afforded a more naturalistic appearance, conveying a defter, more diaphanous splay of light in some shots and beautifully potent specular highlights (like glints of sunlight) in others. Take the scene where Trask is doing a presentation to some gathered Vietnamese officials in a hotel conference room: the lighting casts some extremely bright highlights and the detail in those areas is wiped out on the regular Blu-ray, especially on faces and clothing. But UHD’s higher range means that it can expose hitherto-unseen detail in those harshly lit points without sacrificing the overall brightness (in fact the highlights are even brighter) and it is precisely that balance of brightness and highlight detail which current video systems can struggle with. Magneto's plastic Pentagon prison shows another example: as the guard takes Magsy's meal into the elevator his reflection is now visible in the shiny white floor, adding another subliminal touch of reality that may otherwise go unnoticed. Various windows also reveal more detail and texture, like lead panelling or rippling in the glass itself which was previously blown out to white. Crucially the lower end doesn't suffer for this excess of peak brightness, as the blacks are able to dig out more shadow detail without looking milky.
But here's the $64,000 dollar question: is the UHD format worth bothering with for having richer colour and bits of windows which were previously invisible? For this one example it's a case of "what you like", as the regular Blu-ray is still very impressive and the UHD has not been given an aggressively gimmicky HDR grade - but there’s still something about the UHD that marks it out as superior when you switch back to the conventional Blu-ray. It’s more of a cumulative effect, with the smoother studio-quality upscaling and the increased colour & dynamic range all combining to produce an image that's at turns more vibrant and more realistic than before. The efficiency of the new HEVC codec also plays its part, as although there weren’t any obvious compression artefacts on the 1080p Blu-ray the busier action scenes manage to retain more temporal detail in UHD, with the superb Quicksilver slow-motion sequence standing out, and I spotted no overt banding.
Regarding the sound, Fox have included the same DTS-HD 7.1 audio as before and it still sounds bally marvellous, so allow myself to repeat…myself: “The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is quite simply superb. Clear dialogue, immersive sound steerage and some solid bass combine to create a very enjoyable mix. It’s got an excellent dynamic range and has a wonderfully seamless wraparound feel which is just as deft in the dialogue scenes as it is during the action beats; Quicksilver's introduction scene has him playing ping-pong with himself and his voice zips back and forth around the room as he does so. John Ottman's music score is woven throughout the sound stage, and while his cues for the larger action scenes aren't as memorable as Henry Jackman's bold themes for First Class, the rest of the score has a haunting, regretful quality and he also gets to reprise his own main theme from X2”.
In terms of extras the only thing that’s included on the UHD disc is an audio commentary from Bryan Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg, which first appeared on the Rogue Cut edition of the film. The 2D Blu-ray in the pack is the same disc as reviewed previously but I've given this package an extra mark for the commentary, again I’ll quote an abridged version of my previous comments: "There’s an hour of extras contained on the 2D disc. The Deleted Scenes (5 mins) are made up of moments that won't be missed, not least by Bryan Singer himself who calls the original ending "crappy" in his optional audio commentary. There's another deleted scene in the 6-minute Kitchen Sequence, where Mystique goes back to the Mansion and speaks to Charles. The 5-minute Gag Reel does what it says on the tin, although it's actually pretty funny compared to some that I've seen.
Next up is the Double Take: Xavier & Magneto featurette, which runs for 11 minutes and looks at each character through both sets of actors, young and old. X-Men: Reunited is 10 minutes of basic insight into the genesis of the movie. Classification: M (11 minutes) examines some of the new mutants in the movie and the people who play them, and Sentinels: For a Secure Future (9 minutes) takes a similar tack with the Sentinels, giving us some information from the VFX team about how they created them and how their powers work. The Gallery: Trask Industries includes stills of Mutant Experiments, Blueprints, and Sentinel Construction. Last up is some promotional material, including three theatrical trailers for the film".
It is fair to say that, at first glance, X-Men: Days of Future Past probably isn't the most stellar example of what the Ultra HD format can do (thanks to an already superb Blu-ray), but the qualities of the UHD version gradually become apparent the more time you spend with it, resulting in a more intrinsically lifelike presentation that definitely has the edge over the regular Blu-ray. As upgrades go it's probably worth waiting to pick it up in a sale rather than at full price - or avoiding completely if you want to wait for a possible UHD release of the Rogue Cut - but it still represents a solid start for Ultra HD Blu-ray.