We recently conducted a viewing test using Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The test involved watching the film on two major streaming platforms that shall remain unnamed, then comparing the experience to our 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray of the same movie. The results were less than flattering, to the streamed version that is. First off, streaming was capped at 1920 x 1080 as opposed to the marvelous 3840 x 2160 provided by our trusty home cinema projector.
Then, the streams looked oversaturated to the max. Colors were exaggerated and completely off, and overall the image had a false, overly bright appearance. In contrast (pun 100% intended), the Blu-ray offers perfect mastering, with balanced bright and dark areas plus a gorgeous HDR effect.
The lower resolution of the streamed versions denied 2001 much of its impact. Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of the Arthur C. Clarke story features pioneering cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth, aided by some of the most impressive practical and in-camera effects committed to film to this day. Details abound at every step and scene, and so the 4K Blu-ray with its nearly compression-free quality is the best way to appreciate 2001. Sure, the 1080p online version will do to get the overall idea, we’re not saying it’s that bad, but you will miss out and settle for a strangely harsh but at the same time undetailed playing of a masterpiece that boils over with detail.
The 4K Blu-ray for 2001: A Space Odyssey arrived from Warner Bros. back in December of 2018. It supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, so essentially every HDR-capable device is covered. The quality on display is quite sublime, as over the course of the movie’s nearly 150-minute runtime we venture across numerous environments, each presenting a unique color scheme. The orange and yellow-dominated African veldt of the Dawn of Man sequence, followed by Blue Earth seen from orbit. The stark contrast between glowing human-made space stations and vehicles and the blackness of space, notably lacking stars because 2001 aimed for scientific accuracy as much as possible.
Then the surface of the moon, a very rocky and detail-laden place that’s notably different from the real moon, as the movie was made years before video from the lunar surface was available to the public.
Of course, then we get the interior of Discovery 1, the big ship were astronauts Bowman and Poole spend their time traveling to Jupiter together with the notorious HAL-9000 supercomputer. Details, colors, nuances: the 4K Blu-ray simply looks fantastic in HDR, showing careful attention to color calibration on the part of the mastering team. The streamed version simply can’t hope to compete.
By the time the psychedelic Starchild sequence comes along, you’ll be very happy if you’re watching on a big screen with proper 4K HDR rather than the adequate but ultimately disappointing edit purveyed by the streamed counterpart.
Surely the world’s trending towards an ever-greater focus on streaming, but 2001: A Space Odyssey provides a sobering reminder that for now, at least, streamed can’t beat a proper physical disc. The Blu-ray shines with 4K and redolent HDR, emboldened by a superb balance of colors and contrast. It’s a true must-watch classic of world cinema that deserves your time and appreciation, ideally on a big screen. And that’s despite the vision of the then-future shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey hasn’t exactly turned out as expected. We still don’t have giant space stations with hotels and coffee shops, no permanent moon bases or commercial flights to space. But we do have 4K HDR!