Let's have a closer look shall we?
For the disks themselves, the UHD Blu-Ray video was encoded in HEVC 10-bit HDR10 at ~51.7Mbps (a very good average bitrate) compared to the standard Blu-Ray's AVC at also a very decent 24.2Mbps.
I. 35mm Scenes
If anything, to my eyes I would say the madVR upscaling was perhaps a little superior! For example, TARS looked a little sharper and the image on the computer monitor may have looked a wee bit better with the 1080P version although admittedly the HDR grading may have affected the brighter areas (eg. maybe some clipping in the HDR-to-SDR process). The scene with the teacher obviously provided an opportunity to look for improvements in the resolution of the stands of hair... Alas, I do not notice any improvement.
II. 70mm Scenes
B. Saturn (00:55:01)
This scene is interesting. You're going to have to click on the image or download it, display 1:1 and on a high quality black or dark gray screen to really appreciate this.
What color is space? BLACK, right? Notice something rather disconcerting with the UHD Blu-Ray version... Compared to the standard 1080P, it's surprisingly not as black! I don't think it has to do with madVR's HDR-to-SDR processing since I have not noticed this problem elsewhere (plus madVR has no issues with the pure black letterboxing of 35mm scenes). Looks like there's some kind of black level issue here. Even if the HDR version might be enhancing the brightness, the black level looks like a dark gray with slight greenish tinge instead of true black. You can actually see that the black level of the UHD Blu-Ray is not as dark in the example above also with the Endurance but this image of Saturn against the blackness of space is more obvious.
Resolution-wise, I would have thought I'd see more in the rings of Saturn, maybe more subtle bands would show up, or perhaps better demarcation between the different rings. No such luck suggesting that there's minimal resolution difference here.
Sure, the color and contrast of the HDR effect on a good screen distinguishes the 4K version; whether you prefer it is a subjective matter. But there's an issue with the black level not quite up to par even compared to the standard 1080P Blu-Ray!
From a resolution perspective, I honestly don't think the 35mm portions of the movie improved in resolution over the madVR upscaled 1080P. As I've said before, I'm certainly not going to run to buy a 4K version of movies filmed in 35mm unless it's one of my favourites and this movie certainly did nothing to change my perspective on this.
I did not expect much from 35mm, but I was clearly disappointed in the 70mm portions. Wasn't 65mm/15-perf supposed to be something like "18K"? At least a difference was evident with Dunkirk, but sadly not here. It's one thing to pixel peek at inches away from the computer monitor and noticing slight differences but sitting from a few feet away looking at my 75" TV screen, what little improvement here is simply insignificant. I had a look at the 70mm scenes from The Dark Knight Rises and thought that looked better than Interstellar.
On the digital side, the visual effects were supposed to be 4K+ renders and all this done in a 4K digital intermediate. Real or Fake 4K in fact rates Interstellar as "Real 4K". Again, where's the resolution enhancement??! I certainly did not see anything special with the CGI "Saturn" or the "Endurance" examples above. So while on paper it might be "real", in reality this is an example of how one can't just assume that the final output reflects expectations! Sometimes all the higher resolution is doing is just highlighting details in the film grain.
For the videophiles who have a copy of the UHD Blu-Ray Interstellar, what do you think? Are you guys seeing any improvement in the resolution? Are you seeing that elevated black level?
Personally, I would pass on this UHD Blu-Ray and be happy with the standard Blu-Ray (alas, I've already bought the movie and will keep it despite dissatisfaction). Looking at other reviews online: like this one on The Digital Bits giving Interstellar A+ for "Video Grade" ("Now, it should be noted that the Blu-ray version was already very good looking in 1080p HD, but the full 2160p 4K image bests it by a wide margin."), High-Def Digest giving it 5/5 "HD Video Quality" ("often stunning HEVC H.265 encode, surpassing the Blu-ray by light-years"), and AV Nirvana likewise 5/5 with claims of "Now THIS is what I like to see for a catalog UHD title." I see surprisingly little critical commentary about the questionable image quality! Gee, unless I'm comparing a different mastering or there are regional differences, I think it's important to remember to remain cautious with reviews in general!
Psychology is interesting isn't it? As much as I enjoy Nolan's movies, there's a certain hype about a director willing to shoot 70mm IMAX "film". There's a strong expectation bias for UHD Blu-Ray to show off the greatness of these "18K"-equivalent analogue frames. Video reviewers can with a bit of ingenuity do side-by-side comparisons IMO much easier than with audio reviews. Yet these are the kind of reviews we see, replete with more than a little hyperbole? Hmmm, maybe just like the audiophile world, one needs to be a little cautious with video reviewers as well; heck, always be a little cautious when there's something to sell. :-)
Ultimately, just like with "high resolution audio", remember that not all content demands a bigger "bit bucket"; whether it be digital or analogue source. It goes back to the master source... And like the audio remasters, sometimes newer isn't necessarily better; but at least in the video world they're generally increasing dynamic range rather than crushing it!
Well, it's the post-holiday-post-CES lull as we head into February. Amazing how fast time flies!
The only tech "upgrades" I got recently were a couple of nVidia graphics cards for machines in the home. It was time to switch out a couple of old AMD Radeon R9 270X's in my computers. In the living room, since my kids still play a few games with visiting friends, I switched the R9 out for an ASUS GTX1060 card and for my daily workstation, the inexpensive EVGA GTX1050 has been serving me well.
For 1080P resolution, the 1060 really works very well for general gaming even with FPS titles I've tried. Even though I just got the 3GB model, I suspect it'll be awhile yet before any games "need" more VRAM for textures; by then, I'm sure there will also be a need to upgrade the general speed of the CPU & GPU. The GTX 1060 is probably reasonably equivalent to the Xbox One X although the GPU inside that machine has much more VRAM access but the CPU is weak compared to any decent multi-core desktop AMD or Intel.
As for workstation purposes, the 1050 is inexpensive and remarkably power efficient! As a half-length card, it's completely powered off the PCI-E slots, there's no need for extra 6/8-pin connectors to the power supply. It's also got a TDP less than 1/2 of the old Radeon which is great for a machine that's essentially on 24/7. I don't need much 3D processing since I'm not going to be playing games on it. This also translates to a single very quiet fan which reduces the ambient noise of the computer (which over the years has gradually been getting quieter with better speed).
One nice thing about feature maturity is of course things becoming easier and hassle free. The Radeon R9 270X came out in 2013 before widespread availability of 4K screens so while it supported my BenQ 27" 4K monitor just fine through DisplayPort, every few hours I saw some digital errors (eg. color flickering) or sync issues with screen going blank for a second or two to the point that at times I needed to turn off the monitor to reset (checked and not a cable issue). No such issues now in the last few weeks with the new nVidia card. Perhaps this is similar to the hassles back in the day with USB DACs and drivers. As time goes on, it has become plug'n'play with native OS drivers for most devices.
All these changes (price, power draw, size, lower noise, reliability) are the benefits of product maturity. And for us digital / computer audiophiles, it is wonderful to partake in these benefits as computing becomes faster, storage becomes more voluminous, and better accessibility with inexorably lower cost.
Have a great week ahead everyone! Hope you're all enjoying the sights and sounds...
Here's a video of Nolan interviewed claiming that 35mm has "at least 6K of resolution" and that he's "very much" involved in his 4K remasters...