Building a truly great home theater is expensive. Over the years I have tried to create the best that I can afford. Which decidedly does not involve building a custom theater room. I just do the best I can with my living room. That, paired with the fact that electronics tend to get cheaper over time, has helped.
My sound recently got a major upgrade with a pair of Sonos Era 300's. Their ability to render a pretty good height channel for Dolby Atmos out of my Sonos Arc may not be as incredible as actual dedicated height speakers, but it's cheaper than ripping apart my walls to wire them in.
I wanted a cool $3,000 OLED TV when my old TV died, but that's way, way out of my budget. Instead I bought a mid-range Sony 65" KD65X80J for $780 on sale. It's far from perfect, but it has decent brightness, HDR color fidelity to display DolbyVision, and can pass-through Dolby Atmos sound. Which makes it worth paying $300 more than a cheaper model (until I check my wallet... then I'm all "What was I thinking?").
Which left me to my media source.
Early streaming efforts were pretty crappy. Color fidelity was awful. Motion artifacts were terrible. And resolution was abysmal. So I invested in a Samsung Blu-Ray 4K UHD player. The picture quality was outstanding. So sharp and saturated. But I could never get the advanced audio to work. Sonos couldn't handle DTS, it can only process Dolby Atmos. But some discs only came with DTS, which meant that I had to rely on conversion by other components, which usually didn't work and got me Dolby 5.1 instead. Rather than wasting money on Blu-ray Discs that may or may not give me the audio I was paying for, I abandoned it. And was thrilled about it, since most discs had a STOP PIRACY warning which you were forced to look at and couldn't fast-forward past (which is fucking stupid... I bought your fucking disc, didn't I?).
Then Apple came out with AppleTV 4K. It could stream much, much better quality 4K video in full HDR10 DolbyVision color, complete with Dolby Atmos. Which is to say that every movie I purchase from the iTunes Store which supported spatial audio would be in Dolby Atmos format for my Sonos system. Yay. When comparing the two visually and audibly, it's darn close to Blu-Ray UHD video quality. The only time I could tell was if I paused the video and compared it frame-by-frame. And so I started buying all my movies digitally, which is cheaper and easier than Blu-Ray anyway. Even if it does mean that I'm always under threat of the stuff I buy getting jerked from the iTunes Store and having nothing to show for it (which should be illegal... at the very least I should get my money back). It's a pity that the user interface for AppleTV continues to be incomprehensibly shitty, but I guess nothing is perfect.
So now I only use my Blu-Ray player for old movies that I am not able to re-purchase as digital, and it's not worth the hard drive space to rip them.
As for DolbyVision? Here are some of my favorites which are taking advantage of the HDR color gamut and video quality...
- Bullet Train (2022 - David Leitch)
When it comes to all the benefits that DolbyVision offers, few movies come as close to perfection as Bullet Train. From the incredible colorscapes of Tokyo to the vivid lighting on the train in question, there's some real visual magic happening here.
- Atomic Blonde (2017 - David Leitch)
Two strange things on this phenomenal Charlize Theron flick. 1) Though the video is in glorious DolbyVision, the sound is not in Dolby Atmos... which is bizarre. 2) When I went to add it to my list and look up the director, I had no idea that it would be the same guy that did Bullet Train! David Leitch very obviously knows how to use the extended gamut in his work. And with Atomic Blonde, he used it to beautiful effect. Most of the film is rendered in cold blues and greens and the HDR allows that to happen while still allowing very good definition. And when warm colors pop up, they add a remarkable contrast that really sets the scene on fire. I just don't understand why we didn't get Atmos, which would be amazing.
- Pixels (2015 - Chris Columbus)
About half-way through the movie when the aliens invade, their hyper-saturated pixel forms are so beautifully saturated against the backdrop of the real-world that it kinda messes with your head. But in a cool way. It's a surprisingly effecting use of HDR which turns a mediocre movie into something beautiful to look at.
- John Wick 2 & 3 (2017 & 2019 - Chad Stahelski)
David Leitch, who directed the first two movies on my list, is executive producer on the Wick franchise. Whether it's a coincidence that the colors on these film is also fantastic I don't know. But it's an interesting thing to note given how fantastic these films look in DolbyVision.
- Avatar: The Way of Water (2022 - James Cameron)
Look, the color in this movie is incredible, as you would expect from something that's artificially rendered. They can make every last object whatever color they want... however saturated they want. They can add glows or artificial lighting... it's all on the table. So, yeah, in DolbyVision this is phenomenal. And if I had an OLED television, it would be fucking mind-blowing. But it's a video game. It's a cartoon. It's not real. You cannot compare it to actual movies in the Real World. Because even if the Real World footage has been color-graded and processed, it's still... real. And yet... if you want to see stunning visuals unlike anything else, here's your movie.
- The LEGO Batman Movie (2017 - Chris McKay)
I actually had to watch this in DolbyVision... and without DolbyVision... at the same time to see if what I was seeing wasn't my imagination. I couldn't tell if my mind was filling in the blanks or if the depth and detail I was seeing was actually there. And it is. They use color like a bomb in most every scene, exploding it over everything. But not in a bad way. In a beautiful, lush way that's just there.
- Any Disney/Pixar Film Using DolbyVision
Animation, with its rich, saturated colors, should be the perfect way to showcase DolbyVision. And, for the most part, it is. Movies like The Incredibles 2 and Monsters Inc. look fantastic in an HDR colorspace.
- Blade Runner 2049
This movie has some incredibly saturated visuals that look amazing in HDR. But DolbyVision is more than just pretty, saturated colors. It's also about having very well-defined details in the shadows... and making sure that there's definition when the color pallet is washed out. In that respect, Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely stunning.