Life of Pi provides an interesting case study in the translation to UHD. Like the majority of the early UHD releases, the film was completed on a DI at 2K, which means that any gain in perceived resolution must be a result of up-conversion. But like Avatar and Prometheus, Pi was also filmed in native 3D, and the film's creative team repeatedly notes in the extras that 3D was intended to be the preferred viewing format. (Wherever possible, they worked on the film in 3D, even in editing.) The challenge for a UHD rendition of Pi is less a matter of increasing the resolution than of using HDR encoding to create a perception of depth in a format that doesn't support 3D (which is a widely noted omission in the UHD specs).
Fox's HEVC/H.265-encoded 2160p UHD presentation of Pi uses HDR encoding to "turn up" the colors of Claudio Miranda's Oscar-winning cinematography in almost every scene. The increase in saturation and brightness may not be as immediately obvious in the early scenes set in Pondicherry, where the profusion of vivid hues prevents any one of them from standing out, but once the film reaches its central drama of Pi and Richard Parker adrift in their lifeboat and raft, the difference can't be missed. Against the array of blues in sea and sky, the frame's contrasting colors pop with new intensity: the reddish interior of the lifeboat, Pi's dark skin and light-colored attire, Richard Parker's striped and multi-shaded fur, the silver of the flying fish and numerous other shades. Brightness and contrast are also improved, so that even relatively monochromatic scenes, like the magical nighttime encounter with a school of jellyfish and a massive whale, seem more immediate and tactile. The UHD's image may not fully approximate the 3D version's "reach out and grab you" immediacy, but the additional vibrancy brings a sense of depth to the experience that exceeds anything on the 2D Blu-ray (which, I hasten to add, is still an excellent image).
Pi's encounter with the meerkat population of the "floating isle" provides a fine example of how HDR encoding can increase the perception of superior resolution even when the source is less than 4K. With the additional contrast and color saturation, the long shots featuring hordes of CGI meerkats appear more detailed on the UHD, and the ability to make out individual creatures in the crowd is enhanced. The same effect applies to the dense and mysterious tangle of vines and undergrowth of which the isle is apparently constituted.
Unlike the fire effects in the UHD rendition of Mad Max: Fury Road, none of the CG artistry in Life of Pi appears to suffer from 4K/HDR treatment. In fact, the only questionable difference that I spotted was in the present-day scenes where the adult Pi is telling his story to the unnamed writer played by Rafe Spall. Because those sequences are intended as the film's anchor in reality, their palette is more realistic and they should look relatively similar on both the Blu-ray and the UHD, but, at least to my eye, the Blu-ray has more natural-looking fleshtones. This may simply be a matter of proper calibration, which, as of this writing, is still unavailable for UHD.
Overall, though, Life of Pi is my favorite of the UHDs I have viewed to date. The question of accuracy remains unanswered (for those who care about such things), but the disc's HDR encoding seems entirely in accord with the film's magical-realistic themes and visual style.
As with its other initial UHD releases, Fox has not included a Dolby Atmos track. The UHD's DTS-HD MA 7.1 track appears to be identical to the Blu-ray's, and it is as impressive as ever. See our previous review.
4K Bluray details
Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Upscaled 4K (2160p)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, 1.85:1, 1.33:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
French: DTS 5.1
Danish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Dutch: DTS 5.1
Finnish: Dolby Digital 5.1
German: DTS 5.1
Italian: DTS 5.1
Norwegian: Dolby Digital 5.1
Swedish: Dolby Digital 5.1
English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
4K Ultra HD
Two-disc set (1 BD-66, 1 BD-50)
4K Blu-ray: Region free
2K Blu-ray: Region A (B, C untested)