Steam Trains of Australia/Tracks and Trains of Australia (1983)

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Released 7-Apr-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 180:10
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jim Downes
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    You certainly have to admire the people out at ABC Video. They certainly are not at all discriminatory with what they release on DVD and seem to wander all over the place with what they put out. Whilst naturally there is a slight bias towards the natural history sphere, simply because that is a very dominant part of their work, certainly other areas get a look in. So it is with some amazement that I sat down to review what is to my knowledge the first DVD of steam trains to emanate from one of the major distributors. Commendably too, they make it very clear on the slick cover that the programmes contained on the DVD were originally released on VHS tape back in 1991. Such openness does make for a refreshing change amongst those that release documentary material on DVD.

    The DVD comprises two distinct programmes, and whilst they might have been issued on VHS tape back in 1991 the source material goes back even further than that.

    The first programme is Steam Trains Of Australia, and as the name suggests briefly looks at the end of steam on the railways of Australia back in 1972 and the subsequent efforts of many to preserve the closest thing to a living machine that man has ever invented. That journey brings together material predominantly from Weekend Magazine, a television programme that ran on the ABC for many years that will be fondly remembered by older readers. They ranged over a wide variety of material to look at what made Australia the unique nation it was back in those days. The material ranges in age from 1972 through to 1984. It looks at such diverse aspects of the Australian steam scene as:

    Finishing off the first programme is a lengthier programme dating from 1984, running just over thirty minutes, from the long-running ABC television series A Big Country that looked at the resurrection of the branch line from Glenreagh to Dorrigo in northern N.S.W. The line earned the nickname The Rag Tag Railway when it was first built as the operations on the line were to say the least a little relaxed. The show basically shows some of the efforts of the volunteers to reopen the line and the huge amount of work they had to do. The Dorrigo Steam Railway And Museum has still not opened to the public but efforts are certainly continuing to establish a world class railway museum and what potentially could be one of the best preserved railways in the world. Always short of money and labour, check out their web site.

    The second programme on the DVD is Tracks And Trains Of Australia and this looks at the rather diverse nature of the railways of Australia. It starts with what is sort of an introduction without any commentary to the famous Puffing Billy railway in the Dandenongs near Melbourne (without wishing to offend every Melburnian, about the only reason I would actually live there would be to be able to visit Puffing Billy regularly). What follows is a truly eclectic collection of material from Weekend Magazine it seems:

    The programmes themselves might comprise material anything up to forty odd years old, often times displaying plenty of reasons why we know that it is this age, but if you have any interest in Australian steam or railways in general, then you will not need any encouragement from me to replace your old worn out VHS tape. Forget the technical side of things, just indulge in this for its sheer historic (and occasionally hysteric) importance.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Since the material was originally produced for television, the transfer is naturally in a Full Frame format that accords with the 1.33:1 ratio of the old style television. Well, almost anyway. It would seem that the transfer is actually in the very unusual aspect ratio of 1.29:1. This will probably not be noted by most but if your display device is not prone to significant overscan than you might notice the rather small difference. The transfer is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Since we are at times talking about material dating back to the very early days of colour television in Australia (and indeed before it), you can guess that we are not talking about seriously high quality stuff here. At best the sharpness is better than average, but at times is certainly tending toward soft. Detail is adequate enough but there are plenty of times where you wished for a whole lot better. Shadow detail is generally okay but that is only because it really does not come into play that much. Clarity is average, with most segments offering up grain in various quantities. The whole thing really does look its age and if there is any regret it is that ABC Video seem to have performed little in the way of clean up or restoration work on the source material before producing a master.

    The colours are pretty much woeful, but then again that was not entirely unexpected given the purpose of the original source material. However, it certainly does not aid the presentation overall when supposedly colour material tends towards mere tinting rather than genuine colour. Some segments are, however, much better than the average and hold up a lot better under scrutiny. Basically we are talking undersaturation city throughout, so there are certainly no problems with oversaturation or colour bleed. The black and white material is about as varied in quality as the colour, some rather good, some pretty ordinary - more grey and grey.

    Whilst there are loads of problems with loss of resolution, it would be fair to say that they are source material issues and so there are no obvious MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts are unfortunately rather prevalent at times, mostly aliasing - and sometimes annoyingly so. The second programme is much more afflicted than the first, and at times the extent of the aliasing in rails is almost too much to bear. Examples can be seen at 46:20, 48:31, 54:05 and 61:48 in the second programme. There is also some minor moiré artefacting around 58:03 in the second programme. Film artefacts? Get your encyclopaedia out for you are pretty much going to see everything possible in the way of film artefacts. Wobble, jumps, specks, scratches, blobs, reel change markings and whatever else will be seen with gay abandon throughout the programmes, but most especially in the older material.

    This is a Dual Layer formatted DVD, with the two programmes each contained on a single layer. There is therefore no layer change to worry about..

    There are no subtitles on the DVD, which is rather disappointing for the hearing impaired.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The dialogue and narration comes up fairly well in the soundtrack and is generally easy to understand. There are no apparent audio sync issues with the transfer.

    The original music is not specifically credited on the DVD but since the source of the material is ABC Television, the betting is that most of the music is stock material of little significant consequence.

    The biggest problem with the soundtrack is the inconsistency, with some segments being very hissy, other segments apparently having significant extraneous noise and others being rather clean and clear, given the age of the material. When it is bad, you know it - which makes the good bits all the more blessed for the relief they offer. Very functional sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    A bit of audio enhancement is all you get.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I don't for one moment suppose that this has been released anywhere else in the world, but if it has it would presumably be the same DVD since this is coded for all six regions.

Summary

    Technically we might best describe this as disappointing, but that really is missing the whole point of the DVD. Whilst it is certainly regretted that the opportunity has not been taken to clean this up significantly - presumably there would be little that could be done about the colour - both video and audio wise, the market for this sort of material is not exactly huge. The costs of clean up are thus probably unrealistically high per unit sold to make it a viable proposition. On a programme basis however, this is very interesting stuff indeed and for a railway buff would border on being priceless - especially to see how things have changed over the past thirty years.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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