Planet Earth: Australia (2002) (NTSC)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Earthlight: Special Edition; Mars: The Red Planet
Trailer-Naxos Musical Journey; Planet Earth: Oceania
Trailer-Salute To Vienna; Stargaze
|Year Of Production||2002|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Ralph LaBarge|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
As you may recall, a little while back I reviewed the first in a series of seven DVDs that are being prepared by Alpha DVD under the banner Planet Earth. These seven DVDs are to comprise video shot predominantly from the space shuttle, plus some from the International Space Station and the former space station Mir, of our insignificant little blue dot. Oceania was the first and now we have the second: Australia. Once again, Ralph LaBarge, Managing Partner of Alpha DVD kindly sent us a test sample of the DVD a couple of months ago, which yet again I did not get around to finishing the review of before the local distributors, Wild Releasing, fronted up with a review copy of the final production version of this all-region DVD. So once again I am able to write a review of the final version of Planet Earth: Australia and am able to say that it is identical to the pre-production sample I had already viewed.
The DVD of course comprises just over 80 minutes of images of the Earth taken mainly from an assortment of shuttle missions, with some imagery from the space stations and even satellites thrown in for good measure. As the title obviously indicates, the focus of this DVD is in fact our our little corner of this little planet, with just enough footage of New Zealand to either keep our Kiwi friends happy (since they are included on the DVD) or annoy them (since obviously New Zealand is not part of Australia - yet!). The variety of images on offer here is very reasonable, and gives some superb views of Australia and New Zealand from space. Some of the images are of the same location taken at different times of the year and it is fascinating to see the difference between the stark reds of the dry seasons compared with the greens of the wet seasons. Another thing that I certainly did not fail to notice was the fact that when you see our land from space, you get a very clear understanding of the basis of the colour and patterns of Aboriginal art. Maybe there is more to those Dreamtime stories than perhaps we give credence to. I am not suggesting that their Aboriginal ancestors actually travelled in space, but what I am suggesting is that they must have had a very clear understanding of this land to be able to so precisely - for that is what it is in some cases - capture the unique colours and patterns that we can see today from space. When you combine this often unique imagery with the Aboriginal-inspired music, this DVD does have the ability to show more of the essence of this land than some would perhaps like to admit.
Broadly speaking, the images are broken down on a state by state basis, with tracks one and two being Western Australia (gotta lead off with the best!), track three Northern Territory, track four South Australia, tracks five and six Queensland, track seven New South Wales, track eight Tasmania and Victoria, track nine mainly of the seas around the country and finally track ten being New Zealand.
The presentation and scope of the imagery is very much in the same mold as Planet Earth: Oceania, which bodes very well for the consistency of the planned seven DVDs. The educational aspects of the DVD are the equal of the earlier release too, and overall the series is continuing with high standards and thus high expectations.
|1. World Heritage|
|6. Shakimra Part 1|
7. The Great Divide
8. Rosella Plains
9. Dolphin Journey
10. Echoes Of The Ocean
Once again we have an NTSC transfer and therefore you will need to have a display device capable of displaying the signal in order to see anything. Once again, this fact is not clearly mentioned anywhere on the cover slick. Once again I suppose I can understand the fact that there are additional costs involved in producing a PAL master, but it is nonetheless a fact that PAL formatting might well have corrected the one real problem with the transfer: shimmer. Again, we will get on to this point below. The transfer itself is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78.1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
Once again too, we have to point out that the DVD is progressive scan mastered so that when played on a progressive scan player and displayed on a high definition display device, in the words of Ralph LaBarge "you will find the image quality to be truly outstanding". Obviously most of us do not have the benefit of such players nor display devices, so therefore the inherent limitations of the interlacing that we see in the form of mild shimmer will unfortunately be a fact of life. It should be made clear that whilst it can be seen, the shimmer really is not in itself that bad - it is simply a factor of sharp transfers and the eye being drawn to any imperfection in those images. Just like the earlier DVD, the structure of the transfer is into ten individual "tracks", equating to the music titles accompanying them. Each of these "tracks" is individually encoded with timing information and independently chaptered. Accordingly, any reference to places where problems arise has to refer firstly to the track number and then the timing point within that track.
With respect to the shimmer problems, examples can be found during track one at 0:27 and 1:37, track two at 0:40 and 5:04, track three at 0:27 and 1:06, track four at 1:03 (possibly the worst example on the whole DVD) and 4:10, track five at 1:46 and 6:29, track seven at 2:09 and track nine at 1:45. These are by no means exhaustive listings, but merely indicate where you might well find some obvious instances of the problem. The overall quantity of shimmer is probably higher than on the earlier DVD but still remains a minor component of the whole transfer.
The images themselves are generally very sharp, with just the odd lapse in focus allowable in view of the distances involved, with superb detail at times. There is an oblique angle shot for instance of Perth with a fire burning in the Darling Range and I swear you can pinpoint landmarks in the picture. Obviously the fact that the imagery is shot from space means that shadow detail is a non-issue entirely. Clarity is generally pretty good too, with only the obligatory issues arising from the inherently more "grainy" appearance of the native NTSC format. There are no problems with grain nor low level noise in the transfer.
There is a terrific range of colours in the images, which come up very well indeed in this vibrant transfer. Tones are superbly handled with plenty of saturation. Of course there are a few let downs here and there but these are going to be source material related rather than mastering problems. There is no evidence at all of any problems with oversaturation, colour bleed or any other imperfection worth naming.
Apart from the shimmer issue mentioned, there are no problems with the transfer at all: no MPEG artefacts, no film-to-video artefacts and no film artefacts. Whilst it might sound like I am overly praising Ralph LaBarge, he really does do a good job with the mastering in general. But then again, he has written a book on the subject! No, really, he has - it's called DVD Authoring & Production.
This is apparently a Dual Layer formatted DVD, since I did not manage to locate a layer change. If there is a layer change, it would most likely be during one of the black scene breaks between the various musical tracks and as such is completely non-disruptive to the flow of the programme.
There is just the one subtitle option on the DVD and it is in English. All it does is provide a brief description of what you are seeing on screen and the mission number the scene was recorded on, and this appears for the first few seconds of each chapter point.
There are three soundtracks on this DVD, comprising the music in a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1, dts 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. I listened to all three soundtracks and can honestly say they are extremely good.
The music was written and performed by David Hudson, and a terrific collection of ethereal ambient music it is too, based upon traditional Aboriginal themes by the sounds of it. As already indicated, it does a terrific job of emphasising the imagery and evoking the spirit of the Dreamtime stories.
Basically, all soundtracks are very good with not much to choose between them. Obviously you would go with either of the six channel efforts if you have the right gear, but if all you can handle is the two channel offering, don't despair, as it does its job very well. All soundtracks present the music very well indeed, and are free from any noticeable problems of any kind. The dts soundtrack seems to have just a little bit more body to the sound, and does not have the slight bassiness to the sound that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has. There is evidence of bass reverb during the dts soundtrack during track three.
|Surround Channel Use|
Very similar in content and presentation to Planet Earth: Oceania, this is another educational delight in every way.
Rather nice looking overall, neat and tidy. The main menu has audio and animation enhancement which is quite good.
Toss the DVD into your DVD-ROM drive and it will automatically ask to install InterActual Player if it is not already on your PC. After installation, you have a choice of watching the DVD itself or checking out the DVD-ROM content. Essentially the DVD-ROM content allows you to watch the actual DVD content whilst at the same time displaying the notes regarding the footage (see What's That?) as well as a still taken from the footage. The still equates to the the image that is available on the DVD in jpeg format. In addition, these stills are available in high resolution, medium resolution and low resolution formats to suit your particular needs. They claim there are over 240 images available, and whilst I have not been bothered to verify the veracity of that claim, there are certainly a heck of a lot of them on the DVD! Plenty of use for those images in school projects and so on I would guess. Whilst the DVD-ROM content itself is nothing that terrific, certainly the stored images would have plenty of value in the educational field.
Just as on the earlier DVD, this is the main highlight of the use of the DVD. As indicated in the DVD-ROM extras, each piece of footage is accompanied by a note describing the technical details of the shooting of the image (name of geographic area, mission number, date, spacecraft altitude, latitude and longitude, orbit number and so on) together with a short note about the area being seen. Click on the magnifying glass icon and you can see a bigger still image. All this is accessed during the main programme by pushing the menu button - to return to the image after reading the note you push menu again. Great stuff!
The Credits menu gains access to credit pages for each of the music, the video and the DVD production.
Promotional trailers for six titles: Earthlight, Mars: The Red Planet, Naxos Musical Journey series, Planet Earth:Oceania, Salute To Vienna and StarGaze: Hubble's View Of The Universe. All are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing much wrong with these from a technical point of view. None come with timing information encoded but all seem to run about two to three minutes.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Since this is an all-region coded DVD and an NTSC formatted DVD to boot, you can bet that you are looking at an identical release to the Region 1 version. I can confirm that this is indeed the case as my notes for the pre-production DVD review show identical timing marks for "problems" as my review notes for this DVD.
Planet Earth: Australia continues the series on a stirring note and notwithstanding the issues with the video transfer, overall I have to say that this continues to be enjoyable viewing as well as educational viewing and I not only recommend this effort but also eagerly await the next instalment.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|