HBO Max’s stream of Dune (2021) in 4K with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos is impressive, but nowhere near reaches the capacity of the theatrical presentation or presumably what will be output from the 4K Blu-ray Disc.
The HBO Max 4k stream does offer a very good audio experience with deep-sounding effects that are out of this world. If you’ve got a subwoofer in place this movie sounds completely different with LFEs (Low-Frequency Effects) activated than it does without. You might even say the LFEs are as much a character in the film as Duncan or the sandworms when considering how much the deeper audio changes your experience of the film.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is riveting in its sound design, music composition from Hans Zimmer, effects, and wide dynamic range that can only be delivered with surround sound and a subwoofer to push those deep levels.
On the visual side, the HDR delivered via Dolby Vision adds some good color depth to the video image. The blue eyes of the Fremen (which were more crudely integrated into David Lynch‘s version of Dune), are vibrant and convincing with Dolby Vision. But what really comes to mind when viewing the streaming version of Dune is the sharpness of the video.
Sure there are moments when the video sharpness is impressive through the stream as you can almost count the hairs in Paul Atreides’ beard, but this sharpness is not as distinct as what you can see presented on 4K Blu-ray. We expect when the 4K disc releases to find at least 1.5 to 2x the sharpness of the 4K stream from HBO Max.
The details in Dune are worthy of an award. The stillsuits worn by the Fremen are incredibly detailed (hats off to the costume design department) with each fold rendering nicely through the 4K stream. The clarity of the suits, which are dark and monochromatic, lends not only to the 4k resolution but also HDR that distinguishes between the subtle values.
But what we tend to look at when comparing video sharpness in home media presentations is the eye. On HBO Max the character’s eyes never seem to reach the level of detail we might expect from 4K resolution. What’s more, some close-ups when in atmospheric conditions don’t really look that good. Take for example this shot of Dr. Liet-Kynes at about 58:50 that is backlit — leaving her face somewhat flat. It’s a cool shot but there is not much sharpness in the eyes that we can see.
Regardless, Dune is a movie that should be viewed as large as possible. It was constructed for the big screen with supersize spice harvesters, sweeping views of the futuristic city of Arrakeen, and dragonfly-inspired ornithcopters that at times take up the entire wide-screen format.
It must break the hearts of directors and cinematographers knowing their movies are being viewed on tiny, 5” smartphones. However, just because Dune was viewed on a smartphone once (likely through the HBO Max app) does not mean it can’t be appreciated for its story and later, viewed on a larger screen to experience its visual majesty.
We don’t say this often, but Dune (2021) is one movie worth upgrading your home theater to get the maximum experience. Better yet, see it in the theater where it was meant to be seen.