Queen-A Night at the Opera (DVD-Audio) (2002) (NTSC)
Music Video-Bohemian Rhapsody in DTS 5.1 and LPCM
Lyrics-In booklet and on-screen
|Year Of Production||2002|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Roy Thomas Baker|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
English Linear PCM 96/24 2.0 (4608Kb/s)
English MLP 96/24 5.1
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"I watched as fear took the old men's gaze, Hope of the young in troubled days
I see no day, I heard him say, So grey is the face of every mortal"
A Night At The Opera was Queen's 4th album release and my personal favourite. Released in late 1975, 4 years after the band's formation, the album arguably marked the high point of their career and also the transition point from niche fantasy work, epitomised by the Queen II album, to a much more marketable and popular glam-rock style. The album has several notable features breaking new ground - whilst Bohemian Rhapsody can't claim to be the first rock-operetta (I fancy that accolade belongs to The Who's Quick One While He's Away) it is certainly one of the first pop-videos, laying the foundation in Christmas 1975 for what is an accepted norm today. Secondly, The Prophet Song was one of the first to maximise the use of 2 channels for effects in their own right, rather than building up an holistic 'stereo' image and lastly '39' was one of the only songs I have heard concerning the perils of relativity to space travellers - somewhat poignant today, as this review was written on the day we heard news of the Columbia space-shuttle's explosion on re-entry.
For those not familiar with the Queen canon I guess I should say something about the contents. Away from the 'glam-rock' on-stage appearances, Queen were a very tight, musically accomplished, 4 piece band with a flair for musical innovation. All 4 members of the band composed their own material and this album nicely showcases their individual quite distinct styles ranging from the romantic and passionate ballads of Freddie Mercury, the gutsy, street level "I'm in Love With My Car" from Roger Taylor, the uplifting 'You're My Best Friend' from John Deacon and the imaginative, intellectual fantasies from Brian May. As well as his consummate skills as showman, Mercury also possessed one of the finest voices in rock whilst Brian May provided the perfect statue of stillness as a foil for Freddie's on-stage antics. As well as being one of the keynote rock guitarists of the last century, May combines a distinctive style arising from consummate skill as a guitarist with a technical adeptness to produce a unique and instantly identifiable 'wall of sound' (no synthesisers!). What of the music? - well that includes the classic 'Bohemian Rhapsody', the pop 'Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon', the Vaudeville 'Seaside Rendezvous', the romantic ballad 'Love Of My Life' and the more hard-rock 'Sweet Lady' - truly something here for everyone! More than any other album I can think of, A Night At The Opera provides an insight into the thoughts, feelings and philosophy of the band members.
A Night at The Opera was one of my first albums (on vinyl of course) and I was lucky enough to see Queen perform the album set from the 2nd row of Bristol's Colston Hall in late 1975 - spotlights cutting through the dry ice highlighting the Lurex-clad Freddie Mercury whilst 'wingman' Brian May supervises an impossible wall of sound from guitar, the fluent flow of bass from an impassive John Deacon whilst Roger Taylor presides from the throne of an impossibly large drum kit - hmm - vivid memories. It doesn't seem possible that it is now 12 years since Freddie's sad death in 1991. OK - enough nostalgia - on with the review! This DTS entertainment engineered DVD-Audio disc from Hollywood Records (the US label) is a complex product on account of DTS trying to produce the technically best transfer possible. The original release in 2001 (one of the first DVD-A releases) caused quite a stir from the die-hard, conservative lobby due to its innovative 5.1 surround mix by original producer Roy Thomas Baker. This led to a second release in 2002 with Brian May as co-producer. Prior to writing the review I listened to the CD version, the LPCM and DTS tracks and then finally did track-by-track A/B/C comparison with the three versions of the DVD-A release.
If you've got this far you might just want to know "Should I buy this DVD-A?" The short answer is 'Yes'. The longer answer follows.
|1. Death On Two Legs|
2. Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
3. I'm In Love With My Car
4. You're My Best Friend
6. Sweet Lady
|7. Seaside Rendezvous|
8. The Prophet's Song
9. Love Of My Life
10. Good Company
11. Bohemian Rhapsody
12. God Save The Queen
There are three audio tracks - if you stick the disc in your DVD-Audio player and press 'Play' you will start in the DVD-A section and the first track will play. The DVD-A is 5.1 surround encoded in 96/24 PPCM. If you pop the disc in your DVD-V player and press 'Close' - nothing happens! - You have to press 'Play' which will load up the first track in default LPCM recorded at a high resolution 96/24 (!) at 4608 kbps. To access the DTS 96/24 track you have to go back to the menu or toggle your 'Audio' button on the remote.
For the non-technically inclined, DVD-Audio tracks will only play on a DVD-A player or a Home Theatre PC with a DVD-ROM feeding an Audigy II sound card. The default stereo LPCM will play on any DVD player. The DTS 96/24 track is interesting. Although DTS 96/24 is being marketed by DTS as an alternative to DVD-A, there's almost no software available at present. I don't have DTS 96/24 capability and the only reviewer (to my knowledge) on the site who does at present is Chris T and she was not overly impressed with a casual listen to this version. Maybe more on this at a later date! Anyway I tried the DTS 96/24 track on 4 players. My high end EAD player munched it up and spat it out as analogue DTS 5.1. Two mid-range players I tried it on (a Sony 9000ES and a Panasonic DVR-E20) weren't at all happy and either didn't play it or just played some channels. A co-reviewer found a dropout in the DTS version of Sweet Lady on a Toshiba player. Funnily enough, my el-cheapo Chinese generic DVD player (an Omni 3100) cheerfully output the digital feed into a Yamaha 995 AV processor with no problem whatsoever - another case of caveat emptor!
Whilst on technical, DVD-authoring matters, I was intrigued to hear a major glitch between tracks 1/2 and an unnatural pause between tracks 2/3. On the original album, CD and this disc's DTS and LPCM tracks, the whole album flows smoothly from track to track. On the DVD-A track however, there is a marked pause of around 3 seconds between the 1st and 2nd tracks. Worse still, there is a brief snatch of the piano intro to 'Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon' at the end of the previous 'Death On Two Legs'. There is a less marked, yet still intrusive, pause between tracks 2 and 3. Further enquiry into the inter-track problems have revealed that this is evident on Panasonic and Denon players but was not evident on three site reviewers Toshiba 900 and Pioneer 733 machines - it would seem that some element of the code confused the Panasonic and Denon players' tracking. Also I noted that on some players, the LPCM took a minute (yes 1:00) to spool up into the 1st track.
OK, onto sound quality. This album is a really complex mix of vocals, acoustic strings (harp, piano and ukulele included) as well as the more usual rock band instrumentation. The resolution provided by the DVD-A tracks is nothing short of extraordinary. Listen to the double bass in 'Death On Two Legs' - you can almost sense the rosin-enhanced scales of the bow reverberating on the instrument's strings or the wires on the snare frazzle and hiss. You can hear fingers running on the harp strings of 'Love Of My Life' with a wonderful rich rendition of the instrument. I could hear details not obvious on CD such as the high pitched electronic glockenspiel on 'You're My Best Friend' or the differing timbre of electric (!) guitars on 'Sweet Lady'. All glorious sound - I'd say the quality and resolution of the LPCM would be on a par with vinyl (much better than CD and sans pops and cracks of the LP), the DVD-A a cut above and the DTS running an honourable 3rd.
Onto the surround sound - well, as I have previously noted in my Hotel California review, complex, multi-instrumental works can really be appreciated in surround whereas individual features tend to be lost in a 2 channel wall-of-sound. I believe Roy Thomas Baker's surround mix is superb and very much in line with the creative aspirations of the band at the time of the album release - I have no doubt that Freddie, in DVD Heaven, would approve enthusiastically. Incidentally, I could hear no appreciable differences in the two mix versions, the 2001 original or the Brian May co-produced 2002 version - the only difference I could pick was the balance of strings in the intro to The Prophet Song and to my mind this was not significant (if anything I preferred the original). I really can't do the surround mastering justice - you'll have to listen yourself. Suffice it to say that the surrounds get a real workout with voices, guitars and percussion flying all over. Occasionally I thought the surround effect a little disjointed - there's a sudden break of guitar in the right surround in 'The Prophet Song' which sounds out of place - but by and large this was a creative and enthralling experience. I would say that this would be the definitive test disc for checking the timbre matching of your surround to front speakers.
The subwoofer was discreetly used and only really drew attention to itself in the double bass accompaniment to '39' - I guess there was too much going on in the other 5 speakers to really appreciate it except in the quieter acoustic instrumental pieces.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The video quality is good.
The audio quality is superb.
The extras are worthwhile being principally the lyrics booklet and the classic video production of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
|DVD||EAD 8000 Pro, using RGB output|
|Display||NEC MP3. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Audio Decoder||Naim AV2. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Theta Digital Intrepid|
|Speakers||ML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.|