HBO’s House of the Dragon is one of the best-looking series of 2022, offering streaming resolution up to 4k (2160) with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. The first season released on 4k Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on Dec. 20, 2022. The 4k Blu-ray combo editions from Warner Home Video/Studio Distribution Services include a total of eight discs (four 4k Blu-rays and four 1080p Blu-rays) along with a code to redeem Digital Copies. Here’s a review of the series on 4k Blu-ray Disc, offering the highest resolution available in home media. You might also check out our weekly episode reviews.
HBO’s House of the Dragon is based on the book “Fire & Blood” by George R. R. Martin and premiered on HBO and HBO Max on August 21st, 2022. The prequel to Game of Thrones, HOTD is set 200 years earlier (172 years before Daenerys Targaryen is born) and focuses on House Velaryon, House Hightower, and the main events that lead toward the fall of House Targaryen. The show was written by Ryan J. Condal and George R.R. Martin.
On 4k Blu-ray Disc, House of the Dragon episodes play in 2160p resolution. And, with Dolby Vision and HDR10, supporting TVs and screens can display deeper color depth and detail in shadow and highlight areas. Streaming in 4k UHD from HBO Max, we measured video to average around 18.84Mbps with an indicated peak rate of 29.96Mbps. The 4k Blu-ray video plays at 3x the bitrates, with absolutely no banding or image degradation found in any of the scenes. The video played at low points around 25Mbps but peaked at a whopping 107.7Mbps at times.
House of the Dragon episodes are dark though. Such has been the commonplace of many darker dramas. You might consider brightening your screen if the imagery is too obscure. We tested in cinema mode on two different TV screens, and both were on the dark side even in daylight scenes.
But where the imagery is dark it makes up for it in sharpness and richness of detail. Closeups are immaculate and the dynamic range is impressive in most scenes. The dragon effects work has really come a long way since GOT S1, so much so that we may take for granted that dragons are pure fantasy.
The shot of the Crabfeeder at 4:20 (Episode 3) from within the cave is a good indication of what HDR can do to expand color levels and contrast range. The caves are very dark but the outside is brightly lit by the dragon Caraxes’ fire breath riden by Daemon. The dark cave and brightly-lit exterior both reveal details not visible in lesser formats. And, even in the blackest of black scenes the image is grainy but does not show any banding in gradients.
What can 4K resolution do? There is a shot of page in a book from what Rhaenyra is reading at 8 minutes and 22 seconds that is so detailed you can almost read it (if, by chance you know High Valyrian). And, her clothing has layers and layers of detail that render great in 2160p resolution.
But the episodes are not all 5/5 in video quality. There is very flat and grainy imagery starting at around 26 minutes in Alicent Hightowers bedroom. Likewise, the whole scene when Daemon takes Rhaenyra to a brothel looks even worse than Alicent’s bedroom.
Episodes of House of the Dragon on 4k Blu-ray are offered in Dolby Atmos / Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channels. Audio played at 2.5 – 2.8Mbps average, jumping up to 3.9Mbps at points. The sound is just excellent in this series. Dialogue is very clean and crisp, delivered mainly through front channels where voices float above ambient sound and soundtrack compositions. When there are surround sound moments you can really get a sense of being immersed with audio that moves through speaker channels naturally. The low-frequency audio (especially when the dragons are around) is expressed beautifully (and frighteningly) through subwoofers as if they are near.
The environmental and ambient sounds are excellent in this series, with subtleties even in the quietest scenes. One such subtlety can be found in Episode 1 – Chap. 4 when King Viserys is meeting with Otto Hightower and Prince Daemon walks in after a night of executions in the town. You may not have noticed this before but the sounds of falling rain create an immersive effect as if you are in the room with them.
The screech of Rhaenyra’s dragon Syrax in Episode 2 at 35 minutes has a cool effect that moves quickly through several channels, and when it flies overhead activates rear and overhead speakers.
It’s not like every minute of every episode is loaded with Atmos moments though. Far from it. The best audio moments are scattered among dramatic dialogue, often long and drawn out.
There are bonus features on both the 4k Blu-rays and 1080p Blu-rays, although only on discs one and two. Unfortunately, there are no deleted scenes anywhere on these discs, and neither are the “Next Episode” trailers or “Inside the Episode” minidocs after each episode on HBO and HBO Max. But plenty of history can be found in the featurettes such as Welcome to Westeros and Before the Dance: An Illustrated History with George R.R. Martin. This was definitely a missed opportunity, because deleted scenes have been one of the most desired elements of owning physical media.
House of the Dragon: Season One is available in both a standard plastic case and Limited Edition Collectible SteelBook. The SteelBook has an illustration of dragons that continues on the back and front, with a photo of the cast on the inside behind the discs.
The SteelBook packaging for House of the Dragon: Season One does something untraditional, and that is to glue the digital code pamphlet (which also serves as a disc index) to the back of the SteelBook case. Because of this, only the plastic wrap protects the digital code from being accessible.
Just like HBO’s Game of Thrones series, episodes of House of the Dragon are presented beautifully on 4k Blu-ray Disc. The HDR delivered through Dolby Vision and HDR10 is exquisite in the way colors and details are rendered. Most of the video is reference-quality 4k, although there are scenes when low light renders a flat and grainy image (visible also in digital formats). There are moments in this show that are as good as any theatrical feature film in the genre, and so the bigger your TV or projection the better to enjoy the imagery. The audio is an immersive and dynamic experience that is reference-quality Atmos in many aspects, with excellent overhead and rear audio salted strategically throughout the episodes. But the bonus material should have included deleted scenes and probably should have inserted all the trailing “Inside the Episode” minidocs available with HBO. Regardless, this season is a must-own on 4k Blu-ray Disc.