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Blu-ray Reviews: The Sixth Sense

Originally published in Sound and Image, Nov/Dec 2008, v.22#2
Last updated 4 July 2009

The Sixth Sense
1999 - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg and Peter Anthony Tambakis

Movie: 5 Picture: 4.5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 4.5

Let me take a wild guess and suggest that you, the reader, already have The Sixth Sense in your DVD collection. M. Night Shyamalan's breakthrough film survives repeated re-watchings, even though you know what's going to happen, for three reasons. The first is the studious consistency in the way the movie sticks within its own rules. The second is Haley Joel Osment. The third is Toni Collette. Between them, the acting is stupendously moving. So why should you buy the Blu-ray version?

Is it the sound? It's presented in multichannel PCM, and of course has its pitch accurate instead of being raised by four per cent (due to the speed-up of PAL DVDs). But while the sound in this movie is important, the Dolby Digital of the DVD is adequate (as, for that matter, is the 640kbps Dolby Digital on this disc, with which the PCM is backed up).

Could it be the special extras? Most of these are identical to those on the DVD, but you lose a seven minute featurette and a nine minute featurette, and instead receive a thirty seven minute featurette and a thirty nine minute featurette. These are interesting enough, but not worth the upgrade.

Instead, we get back to what Blu-ray is really all about: picture quality. This Blu-ray has over 30GB of content, much of which is the 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC video encode. The movie doesn't shout at you: 'Look how sharp I am!' Instead, it presents as an entirely artefact free, smoothly displayed image, with plenty of detail.

It is the absence of artefacts that makes this Blu-ray a delight to watch. To see the differences, go to www.hifi-writer.com/he/bdreviews/sixthsense.htm. There you will see, in comparison shots with the DVD, how much less noise there is with this Blu-ray compared to the DVD.

Running time: 107 minutes
Picture: 1.85:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 22.86Mbps
Sound: English: LPCM 48kHz/16 bits 3/2.1 @ 4,608kbps; English, French, Italian: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps; Italian: DTS 3/2.1 @ 1,536kbps
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Arabic, French (Titles), Italian (Titles)
Extras: Reflections on a Set (Making of featurette) (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 39 mins); Featurette 'Between Two Worlds' (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 37 mins); Featurette: 'Moving Pictures: The Storyboard Process' (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 15 mins); Featurette: 'Music and Sound Design' (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 7 mins); Featurette: 'Reaching the Audience' (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 4 mins); Featurette: 'Rules and Clues' (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 6 mins); Four deleted scenes with intros (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 15 mins); Three trailers (4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 3 mins)
Restrictions: Rated M (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

The Sixth Sense video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Comparison 1

This movie did not seem quite as razor sharp as some Blu-ray discs. That, I think, was to do with the cinematrography rather than the transfer. Nonetheless, the above shots are quite instructive. Look in the details at the portraits of what I presume are a couple of the US Founding Fathers. Sure, the Blu-ray is noticably sharper and more detailed. But don't look at the subjects of the portraits. Look instead at the 'white' area around them. On the Blu-ray this is clean, but with the DVD version there is a low level mottling which is characteristic of MPEG2 noise when there is a fairly high compression level.

Now look just beyond the left edge of the vertical wooden frame. On both shots if you look carefully enough you will see that to the left of this there is an white 'ghost' of the edge. This is pretty obvious on the DVD version, and very subtle on the Blu-ray version. But it is there on both. This comes from a process called 'edge enhancement' -- or simple detail sharpening.

In practice, you will not see the Blu-ray edge during your watching of the movie. Most people won't see the DVD edge either, nor the mottling in the mini-portraits. Nonetheless, the DVD artefacts hover at a low level of perception, just below the level of consciousness, but clearly enough to detract from the reality of the image.

The net result is that the Blu-ray just seems, well, more real.

Comparison 2

In the above scene, there wasn't anything that really stood out as being revealed by Blu-ray, but obscured by DVD. Sure, Blu-ray was definitely sharper, and therefore more comfortable to watch. But see the large beige area in the detail (which covers the area to the bottom left of the world globe). On the Blu-ray version there is noise, as in grain. In the DVD version this is gathered into visible pattens, and blotches. Yuck.

Comparison 3

But, of course, Blu-ray still offered more detail. Above, there is about as much clarity in the delineation of the bricks between the second and third windows (from the left) in the Blu-ray shot, as there is in the bricks to the left of the left-most window in the DVD shot.

Comparison 4

Poor Haley Joel. Imagine watching this scene with a full high definition front projector on a large screen in your lounge room. If you're watching the DVD you will see this mottled kid with indistinct features, against a mottled background, with a touch of apparent ghosting around his shoulders. Now, wouldn't Blu-ray be nicer?

Comparison 5

So, are DVD and Blu-ray pretty much the same? No, not by the hair on Haley Joel's cheek!

© 2002-2009, Stephen Dawson