For some movie fans, the quest for better sound and vision has seen us adopt all manner of new technologies over the years. But with 4K UHD and Atmos sound, we may just have reached nirvana.

In the beginning

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that we had the opportunity to own movies for home viewing, as the first VHS tapes clunked into the world. Movies had been an event – be it a trip to the cinema, or a family get-together on Sunday night in front of the telly. Now we could watch them anytime!

But videotapes looked rubbish. A decade later, the next “major” video format came along, Laserdisc. Big, shiny, fragile discs that – just like the vinyl albums that shared their size – had to be turned over or even swapped partway through a film. Not there yet.

Digital Versatile Discs and beyond

Then came DVD, around the year 2000. Digital vision, all on one manageably-sized disc, and usually with movies in their original format – leaving black bars at the top and bottom of the then common 4:3 ratio TV screen. Sound, too, was improved. Many people thought it the pinnacle – and many still do.

But Blu-ray arrived soon after, bringing higher resolution vision than DVD – as long as you had a “Full HD” TV, of course. Surely this was it? Nuh-uh, for 2016 saw the arrival of the highest tech yet – 4K Ultra HD.

Delivering video with four times the resolution of even Blu-ray, and often toting enveloping sound mixes that didn’t just fire sound around you, but also above you, 4K finally hit that perfect spot for true cinema-at-home.

Of course, there were a couple of snags. You needed a receiver that pumped out all those Dolby Atmos channels, plus the speakers to match. You also needed a 4K television and 4K player.

4K all the way?

Realistically, 4K is likely the last format that will allow movie lovers to actually own physical copies of films, as internet speeds – and compression – improve. But they also allow for them to spread out on a disc without heavy visual compression – and all of those sound channels don’t come cheap space-wise. To sit in the midst of an Atmos sound bubble while crisp vision of a favourite film plays out is truly a revelatory experience.

Yes, but there’s still the cost. Interestingly, as prices drop, most people who update their TVs are going for 4K models, despite there being next to no free-to-air transmissions in the format. So, they’re ripe to simply plug in a 4K player for amazing vision – but many are connecting their 20-year-old tech DVD players! With backwards compatibility, and the ability of sub-$300 4K players to upscale DVDs and Blu-rays to look better, why watch something that looks and often sounds so substandard?

Well, not everybody’s a movie geek that wants the best possible sound and vision – we totally get that. But we do wonder if these people realise what an amazing moviegoing experience they’re missing out on. Especially when they’re partway there already.

The tech is here, now – and this time it won’t be getting exponentially better in any hurry. Why not spoil yourself?

NOT HAVING A BAR OF IT

This is a true story. Years back, a bunch of friends had a movie night at the home of one of their parents, who had a behemothic rear projection TV.
Mad Max went into the DVD player (then high-tech), but an issue was noticed by one viewer – everybody onscreen looked about 10-feet tall, and alarmingly skinny. The TV was set to expand widescreen vision to fill up the entire 4:3 screen.
A quick adventure in the settings menu later, all was good again, and a fun movie night was had.
The phone rings the next morning, “My parents are freaking out, what have you done to the TV, and how do I change it back?” Guidance was given.
The reason for wanting the regression? The black bars at top and bottom – allowing for the picture to have correct dimensions – were “wasting their big screen”.
Yes, not everybody’s a movie geek.