Somehow I now like watching movies at home almost as much as I do at the theater, and frankly that surprises the hell out of me.
I love movies, and the experience of going to a theater and watching them blasted across a massive screen is still one of my favorite things in life. I’ve also never been an AV guy. I was one of the last people I know to get an HD TV in 2009. I only got it because my job is writing about videogames, and by that point you pretty much needed an HD TV if you were in that line of work. I’ve never had any kind of real home theater setup, and still just use the speakers built into my TVs. I know what looks and sounds good, and I also know what looks and sounds good enough for me, and the price difference between the two never seemed worth it. There have always been plenty of advantages to watching movies at home, but it never came close to matching the theater experience for me.
And then somehow I wound up with two 4K TVs and a handful of 4K Blu-ray players.
Blame videogames, again. When Sony and Microsoft added 4K functionality (with HDR) to their videogame systems, I felt the need to catch up. And since I couldn’t buy a fancy TV and just stick it in my office, where nobody else in our house would ever be able to enjoy it, the first 4K TV I owned had to go in the room where my wife and I watch most of our TV: our bedroom. And since I wouldn’t be able to just use the bedroom TV whenever I needed for work, I eventually had to get a second 4K TV for my office. (Look, I know this sounds ridiculous. I’d judge the hell out of myself, too, if I were you.) With both the Samsung Q7F QLED 4K TV and Vizio M65-d0 up and running, I was ready to dive head first into all 2160 of those p’s that a 4K TV corrals together. Suddenly my house looked like a Best Buy TV section, only without the desperate salespeople.
Initially the only actual 4K-enabled media I consumed on these TVs were videogames. (Again: that’s my main job.) If I watched movies on them, it’d be through Netflix or our cable box, both of which were just standard HD. And yeah, stuff gets upscaled on TVs like this, so it all still looked good, but other than certain games none of it was at that amazing showroom floor level of visual clarity that you might expect from a 4K setup. The Xbox One X, the second 4K-supporting device I welcomed into my home, doubled as a 4K Blu-ray player, but other than watching the occasional old non-4K disc out of my collection, I never made an effort to see what it was really capable of.
That changed when I wound up with a 4K copy of Thor: Ragnarok. That’s when I got bit hard with the 4K bug. That’s when my wife started to worry about the number of black-shaded 4K Blu-ray cases that were suddenly lining up on my office bookshelf. Because, as I wrote here at Paste, Thor: Ragnarok looks pretty good in 4K Ultra HD, and that made me safely assume that other movies might, too.
The next movie I watched made an even greater impact on me. Coco in 4K is simply the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen on any television screen. It felt less like computer animation and more like a window into another world where colors were almost painfully bright and where everything was unnaturally beautiful. If movies like Ragnarok and Blade Runner 2049 awoke my interest in 4K, Coco is what turned me into a guy who might have a problem.
Now that I’m a few months into an uncontrollable 4K UHD habit, I have a few thoughts to share. As good as that Vizio TV looks, it can’t compare to the Samsung QLED, especially one that’s running a Samsung 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. That’s become not just my preferred setup, but basically the only one I use when I watch movies now. And I watch movies on it several nights a week, from recent blockbusters hitting home video for the first time, to old favorites getting spruced up for their 4K debut. (I’ll be writing about these movies and those thoughts on 4K occasionally here for Paste.)
Annihilation is a great example of a recent movie that legitimately benefits from 4K. I saw it in the theater during its short run, and despite some similarities to Tarkovsky’s Stalker, was moved by its character-driven, psychological take on science fiction. It’s not a movie where special effects are absolutely crucial—again, it’s more about the characters—but watching it again in 4K, and seeing the way “The Shimmer” flows and shines on-screen like gasoline rainbows, only enhanced the sense of otherness and alienation that its characters feel. The psychedelic conclusion pulsed in a way that I could almost feel physically, in a form of synesthesia not unlike that found in certain videogames. I wouldn’t say it was better than watching it in a theater, where the sheer scope of the screen still left a mighty impression, but between the pristine images on the QLED TV and my ability to fully control my environment, it did somehow feel more overpowering than what I remembered from the theater—both visually and emotionally.
I never thought I was an AV guy. I still don’t think I am. I’m just a fan of movies who has finally found a way to watch them at home that comes close to the theater experience. Hopefully nothing ever fully replaces theaters, but if they all disappeared tomorrow I might be satisfied with the 4K TV and Blu-ray combo I have in my house.
Next Time: The Mission: Impossible series, which arrives on 4K UHD on June 26.