After reading comments from one of the members in the blu-ray.com thread whose opinion I trust and usually agree with, I decided to give these discs a shot after all instead of selling them. So far, I’ve finished FOTR EE and the first half of TTT EE.
Firstly, these encodes are absolutely a 2K upscale. I’ve seen enough 4K discs from both 2K DIs and proper 4K scans to know what each typically looks like. While watching FOTR, it immediately gave me the same impression as the later Harry Potter films in 4K, which are upscales; there’s a slight uptick in detail when compared to the 1080p discs, but it lacks the finer details a 4K scan provides.
The other bit of evidence that these are the same 2K masters as the 1080p discs is that all the scenes in TTT that are problematic on the 1080p discs, with their smeary DNR artifacts, have the same problems here, just amplified. I tend to think the DNR for the EEs is baked into the master and they may have tried piling on additional noise reduction on the 4K discs to mask these issues.
I’m sure lots of people will like the new color grade for FOTR. My only gripe is that the Shire and Rivendell, both of which had a romantic golden hue on the 1080p discs, are much more neutral now and lack that warm quality. I suppose it’s okay since the infamous green tint is gone from the whole film, but regrading the Shire and Rivendell to get back some of that warmth would’ve been welcome. Detail is good overall, though many long shots have a somewhat digital appearance with occasional slight aliasing, no doubt from sharpening.
TTT is frustrating. Some won’t like the new grade. I think it’s good overall, but I think I prefer the grade on the 1080p version. It suits the tone of the film better. The bulk of the movie actually looks pretty good in terms of detail, but the most frustrating part is Rohan. You’ve probably seen the screenshots, and they’re not lying. Most of the Rohan exterior shots have been absolutely wiped clean of detail with excessive DNR, and these same shots were fine on the 1080p discs with excellent detail overall. Seems to be any shot with visible blue sky in it. It’s annoying because as they switch back and forth between interior and exterior, the interior shots look absolutely fine, suggesting that they didn’t simply turn up the DNR knob and walk away; they selectively applied it to the exteriors only and completely ruined them. Some other shots are similarly bad, like when Gollum is leading Frodo and Sam through the marsh.
That said—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I think what I’ve seen so far is an overall improvement on the 1080p discs. FOTR is pretty good, but grain-managed for sure (which I don’t hate, but don’t necessarily like either), and while TTT has some really bad moments, the bulk of it is good. Somebody could make a nice fan project of TTT by reincorporating the 1080p Rohan exterior scenes regraded to match the new grade (or regrade the 4K version to match the 1080p grade). Swapping out the flashback revisionism would be welcome also. Haven’t watched ROTK yet, but from what I’ve read, it sits somewhere between FOTR and TTT in terms of quality.
I want to be clear though: any “professional” reviewer who watched these 4K discs on a good display at a reasonable distance (I sit about 7’ from a 65" Sony A9F OLED that I calibrated with CalMAN) and gave these a 5/5 or 10/10 or whatever scale they use simply wasn’t paying attention, or only did casual spot-checks and missed the worst parts.
And there’s no way these are real 4K back-to-the-negative scans. No way.