Planet Earth: Oceania (2001) (NTSC)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
DVD Credits-What's That?
Trailer-Earthlight; Mars-The Red Planet; Naxos Musical Journey
Trailer-Salute To Vienna; Stargaze; Video Essentials
|Year Of Production||2001|
|Running Time||77:36 (Case: 80)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||None Given|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Auto Pan & Scan Encoded||
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1 EX (1536Kb/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|
A couple of months ago, I received one of those nice e-mails that are something of a pleasant perk of reviewing DVDs. The sender of the e-mail was Ralph LaBarge, Managing Partner of Alpha DVD - the people responsible for that magnificent DVD of images of space, namely StarGaze: Hubble's View Of The Universe. He was specifically advising that he was working on a new DVD, the first of a series of seven, and would I like a pre-production copy for review? Is the Earth round I ask? So a few weeks later the DVD turns up and I enthusiastically throw it into the DVD player to give it a spin. About 80 minutes later it was over and I had been privileged to be one of the first people in Australia to see Planet Earth: Oceania. Unfortunately, time just never seemed to work for me and I never really got to finish off a review of the pre-production DVD for publication. No worries, quicker than greased lightning and the local distributors for Alpha DVD, Wild Releasing, who were working with Alpha DVD regarding local release of this DVD even before it was released in the United States, fronted up with a review copy of the final production version of this all-region DVD. And so here I am writing a review of the final version of Planet Earth: Oceania and being able to say that it is identical to the pre-production example I had already viewed.
The DVD of course comprises almost 80 minutes of images of the Earth taken mainly from Shuttle missions, with some imagery from the MIR Space Station thrown in for good measure. Since this is the first in a planned series of seven DVDs to cover the entire Earth, the title Oceania might lead you to believe it is of images of Australia and New Zealand, and their near neighbours. Sorry, but that is actually going to be number two in the series - this one actually comprises images of and associated with the oceans of the planet. The variety on offer here is very reasonable, and gives some superb views of the Earth from space. Some of the images are also not in normal light but are in infrared light, which provides a most interesting contrast.
Whilst the scope of the imagery here is not as mind-boggling as that on StarGaze: Hubble's View Of The Universe, there is still plenty of interesting stuff indeed to be found here. And thanks to the work of Ralph LaBarge and his colleagues, the educational aspect of the DVD has been enhanced enormously compared to the earlier release. If this is the standard that we can expect of the remaining six DVDs in the series, then all I can say is roll on number two! She might not be perfect but at the price I doubt that you are going to see much better imagery of this insignificant blue planet in the middle of nowhere.
4. Lake Of Dreams
6. Morning Song
7. The Farthest Land
8. Garden Green
|9. Still The Moon|
10. Aurora Borealis
11. Circle Of Joy
12. Luna de Amor
13. First Light
14. Dance Of Herod
15. The Dawn
Okay, the main disappointment here is that this is an NTSC transfer and therefore you will need to have a display device capable of displaying the signal. Disappointing too is the fact that this fact does not seem to be mentioned anywhere on the cover slick. 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 - of which more anon. The transfer itself is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78.1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
Now I suppose that I should point out that when discussing the shimmering with Ralph LaBarge, he indicated that this would be the result of interlacing. Now to be fair, that is entirely feasible but to my mind this looks a bit more than just interlacing issues. Nonetheless, since I doubt that too many have progressive scan DVD players or display devices that can handle progressive scan, the fact remains that I would suspect that most are going to see some degree of shimmer at times throughout the DVD. Equally, the extent of the issue is not that huge and I doubt that the noticeable stuff lasts much more than two or three minutes in total in the programming. The structure of the DVD is into fifteen 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.
Now with respect to the shimmer problems, examples can be found during Track 1 at 0:20 and 1:21, Track 2 at 0:54, 1:43, 2:40 and 3:55, Track 3 at 0:44 and 1:23, Track 5 at 0:18, Track 7 at 1:58, Track 11 at 1:11, Track 14 at 3:30 and Track 15 at 0:41. These are by no means exhaustive listings, but merely indicate where you might well find some obvious instances of the problem.
Since we are talking about images taken from space, the odd lapses in sharpness of focus (and indeed the slight imperfections in the clarity of the shots themselves) are entirely understandable. Heck, I have difficulty focusing a photographic subject five metres away, let alone one anything up to three hundred kilometres away! Sharpness is therefore about as good as we can expect and in general this means - excellent. Detail is terrific, even to the extent that you might be able to discern some aircraft and shipping in some of the shots! Since the shots are from space, there is of course no worries about shadow detail here at all. Clarity is similarly a non-issue and there is no obvious grain here at all. There is no problem with low level noise in the transfer.
Naturally there is a wide palette of colours to be rendered here and it has to be said that they have been very well-handled in general. Just the odd shot here and there seems to be a little "off" - and no they are not the infrared ones - but I would strongly suspect that the problem is in the source material and not the mastering. Overall, the colours come up wonderfully well (just check out the shot of the Bahamas), nicely vibrant, and 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 other film-to-video artefacts and no film artefacts. Just as I said with respect to StarGaze: Hubble's View Of The Universe, this is another fine example of mastering in general.
This is a Dual Layered DVD, but so far I have not been able to detect where the layer change is. It is most likely 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 this is notionally an English option. All it does of course 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. Just a note for the owners of some players, certainly the Pioneer DV-515 included: you must select the subtitle option from the menu. If you select it from your remote, you have to re-select the subtitle option at the start of every "track".
There are two soundtracks on the DVD, comprising the music in a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or dts 5.1 EX. Since my system is not EX compatible, I cannot attest to how much difference this makes to the sound, but as normal 5.1 surround tracks both are pretty darn good.
The music was written and performed by Lisa Lynne, and another nice collection of ethereal ambient music it is too, predominantly based upon the harp. The whole soundtrack is quite complementary to the subject matter.
Basically, both soundtracks are very good with not much to choose between them. Both present the music very well indeed, and are free from noticeable problems of any kind. The dts soundtrack seems to have just a little bit more body to the sound, and does not have a slight edginess to the sound that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has. Choose either and I doubt you will be disappointed. Both make little use of the rear surround channels and the bass channel is not called upon much either.
|Surround Channel Use|
Alpha DVD have obviously taken a lot of time to consider the educational aspects of the DVD format for material of this sort, and provide a nicely informative collection of goodies here.
Rather nice looking overall, neat and tidy. The main menu has audio and animation enhancement which is quite good.
Well at least they do not assume that we are all experts and give us three pages of notes to briefly explain the differences in the three ways you can watch the DVD - 16:9 widescreen, 4:3 letterboxed and 4:3 pan and scan. Nice to see someone actually try to explain the difference on a DVD.
Throw the DVD into your PC and if you do not already have it, you will be prompted to agree to the installation of Interactual Player 2.0. Once that is done, you will have the option of exploring the DVD-ROM features. Basically the format is to replay the programme with everything on one page - video, still photo and the "what's this" notes. Where it differs though is that where there is a little magnifying glass icon, you can click on it and (as long as you are connected to the internet) be transported to the Kennedy Space Center Shutlle Mission Archive, where you can ferret around in the additional information about the Shuttle mission the relevant photos were taken on. It's actually quite nifty and quite informative, especially for the space nuts amongst us. The other big inclusion is that 159 of the images included in the programme are available as JPEG images on the DVD, in a choice of either low, medium or high resolution. The low and medium resolution stuff looks okay and very good respectively, but I could not check out the high-res images - too big for my machine! Overall I would rate the DVD-ROM stuff as pretty good and quite worthwhile.
Now this is the highlight of the work put into the DVD! At any point during the playback of the program, you can hit the menu button and will instantly be taken to a page of notes that describes the scene that you are currently looking at (including the scientific importance thereof) as well as notes as to the mission on which the image was shot, the date it was shot, the altitude it was shot from, the latitude and longitude it was shot at, the orbit number it was shot on, the roll and frame number of the image, the exposure type, the extent of the cloud cover and the camera tilt used. Gee, couldn't they have fitted in who shot it, what type of film was used and who processed it? Just kidding! This is the sort of educational aspect of DVD that we ought to see a lot more of and this lifts the overall extras package into an essential bracket. Oh, and you can also select the magnifying glass icon and see the original image in its entirety.
Split into three sections: music (including a CD discography for Lisa Lynne with album covers and track listings), video and DVD production.
Promotional trailers for six titles: Earthlight, Mars: The Red Planet, Naxos Musical Journey series, Salute To Vienna, StarGaze: Hubble's View Of The Universe and Video Essentials. 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 release. And 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: Oceania is the first in a series of seven DVDs to be released by Alpha DVD showing imagery of our planet taken from space. Whilst there is some minor problem with the video transfer, overall I have to say that this is enjoyable viewing as well as educational viewing and I cannot wait until the second DVD in the series is released - after all it will star the best part of the planet! The remaining DVDs in the series will presumably cover the other major continental land masses. Basically, go out and buy this one and prepare to indulge in the rest of the series as they arrive.
|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|