I’ve analysed both transfers and compared them to the previous US Masterpiece Collection. Although Gary at DVD Beaver talks about the new Vertigo transfer being a slight improvement over the 2005 transfer, it’s very much in the eye of the beholder.
The primary difference between the Masterpiece and Legacy transfers is the horizontal matte bars at the top and bottom of the frame. In the 2005 transfers, the bottom matte bar was thicker than the top one. In the new 2008 transfers, this has been corrected slightly and on both transfers the film frame has been shifted downwards by exactly 2 pixels.
Apart from that, the transfers are almost identical. If anything, the 2008 transfers have slightly less film grain and are ever-so-slightly sharper. Perhaps Veritgo’s transfer is slightly warmer and perhaps Psycho’s is slightly darker, but that’s really splitting hairs.
However, all this is only noticeable when comparing identical frames from each transfer and magnifying them with a graphics package. In reality, when you’re sat on your sofa watching the DVDs on a television, it would be impossible to tell them apart.
In short — the Masterpiece and Legacy transfers are going to be the best quality releases of Hitchcock’s Universal-ly owned films until the long awaited Blu-ray releases arrive.
As Gary mentions in his review, the Legacy version of Vertigo has been slightly foobar’d by Universal — instead of including the original mono soundtrack (which is the optional soundtrack on the 2005 release), the “mono” soundtrack on the new DVD is, in fact, a DD2.0 stereo reduction of the 5.1 DTS mix (complete with ricocheting bullets and extra Foley effects).
What else do you get with the new Legacy editions? Firstly, each has a new commentary track. I won’t comment on those until I’ve had chance to listen to them both in their entirety. Of the two, on paper Psycho should have the more in-depth commentary, courtesy of Stephen Rebello (author of arguably the most authoritative book about the film).
Each DVD also contains a new documentary, although in the case of these two titles, they are not specifically about each film. The documentary on the Psycho DVD is about Hitchcock’s legacy and, on the Vertigo DVD, it covers four of Hitchcock’s collaborators. To be honest, you’re unlikely to watch either of them more than a couple of times. Is was, however, amusing to have both Donald Spoto and Hitchcock’s daughter Pat appear in the same documentary — little love is lost between the two of them, with Spoto being exceptionally bitchy about Pat in his latest book*
Both DVDs also feature extracts of the Truffaut audio interviews with a montage of footage from the main film. Whilst the audio is of great historical interest, the famous book is considerably more digestible.
So, the important question — who should buy the new Legacy editions?
If you already have the Masterpiece Collection, then it’s very hard to recommend buying the new editions — the extras simply don’t add enough value.
If you have a previous edition DVD from Universal (regardless of region), they are well worth considering. The previous R1 transfers were letterboxed and the non-R1 transfers have been average at best.
If you don’t own either of the films, and you’re not interested in buying the Masterpiece Collection, then the new Legacy DVDs come highly recommended.
* Although I bought Spoto’s new book, I stopped reading it about halfway through. Apart from reading like a re-hash of his previous “Dark Side of Genius” book, I find Spoto’s painful writing style (full of insinuations and loaded language) difficult to digest.