Standard Deviants: Physics Part 1

Standard Deviants: Physics Part 1 (1999)

A little while ago a new DVD publisher entered the playing field by the name of "Cerebellum". Some of you may have noticed the company with its release line-up that is quite a bit different from the other DVD fare we’re seeing so far. Cerebellum is specialized in Learning and Teaching Films, in educational programming for DVD and their VHS releases have earned recognition from various sides, including numerous awards. Their DVD releases are using some of the materials from the VHS versions, but additional footage and use of DVD’s interactivity show that Cerebellum is trying to get the most out of the format.

"Physics Part 1" is one of their first releases from their "The Standard Deviants" series, covering, well, the standard deviants of "Physics". For a number of reasons, DVD is the perfect format for learning and educational programming at home. Its ability to offer multiple audio and video streams, subtitles and most importantly non-linear interactivity make DVD a much better format than VHS. Apart from simply relaying the information to you, with a DVD player you can take a test right then and there. It’s of course not foolproof and you can still go back and forth to cheat, but for everyone who’s serious about his learning and education, these interactive DVDs can be a great and entertaining addition.

The material on the disc is presented in a rather entertaining way. Opening with the ground rules of Physics, the disc sets the playing field. Explanations and definitions and simple operatic instructions are given before the actual learning material starts. A variety of presenters give the show a very modern and hip feeling, as it is mostly cut like a music video. Spiced up with computer-generated segments and a variety of video effects, the presentation never feels dry or boring. In some instances, the video itself mocks or visualizes what is being explained at a time. I found the way of presentation quite intriguing and was surprised how well it held my attention.

Don’t get fooled by the flashy looks however. The presentation of the materials itself is handled at break-neck speed, racing from one key point to the next. Real explanations are rare and the video mostly focuses on iterating rules, axioms and formulas, giving a few practical examples and then moving on to the next. His is not to say it is bad, it s just very fast. It is obvious that the video is not designed to actually be confronted with the material for the first time, but to deepen and reiterate things that have been learned before. As such it is a great addition to traditional school materials.

Especially the quizzes, tests and reviews are very helpful to see how much of the material has been understood and can be correctly applied by the viewer. It certainly does not replace a real teacher or the actual practice of the subject matter, but it can help concentrate and compact all the knowledge.

The disc covers a wide variety of physical theories, starting with friction, potential energy, scalars and vectors, and then goes all the way to torque, force, projectile motion, kinematics, power and force diagrams. As you can see the focus on this release is on mechanics and other releases in the series will appropriately cover other aspects. One thing that I noticed about "Physics" is the unconventional use of the "Menu" and "Title" buttons on your remote control. The "Title" button takes you back to the main menu, something the "Menu" button would usually do, while the "Menu" button does nothing at all, or actually throws you into the discs content seemingly randomly. It is quite confusing and it will require you to change your menu-calling habits a bit. The menus themselves are somewhat confusing as well, with missing "Back" buttons and no chance to get back to the disc’s main menu at times, other than repeatedly pressing the "Title" key. Some streamlining of the navigation could substantially increase the disc’s efficiency and appeal.

The content of "Physics" seems to come from a video source altogether. As a result video artifacting is evident throughout the presentation. <$chroma,Chroma noise> and color bleeding is visible in the entire presentation and the colorful set-ups and clothing of the presenters does add to that quite a bit. In a video world it has never been a very good idea to have some in a red shirt sitting on a blue sofa in front of a blue or green wall. Due to the technical limitations of most current video standards these unwanted side effects are vastly exaggerated that way, and unfortunately it is a rule that has not been taken to heart by the producers of the video content for this release. Fuzzy, wavering edges with over-saturated colors are the soup of the day. I don’t even want to know what these images look like on a VHS tape.

Sadly the compression on the disc is just as bad. Riddled with compression artifacts from <$pixelation,pixelation>, shimmering and ringing, this DVD contains them all and would make a good showcase disc for everyone who has ever wondered what all the different artifacts look like. Since I believe hardly anyone buys these discs for their razor sharp images and faithful color reproduction these flaws can be excused. It would be nice however, if Cerebellum could solve these problems in future releases, especially since the 100 minute video presentation with a single 2-channel audio stream should leave plenty of room for high quality compression, even on a single layer DVD.

"The Standard Deviants DVD" is certainly not there to replace a real teacher, and it will not make Albert Einstein of the viewer. It is a great addition or refresher to more traditional learning methods and materials however, and through its modern and colorful presentation, I think it can complement these materials quite well. The material is well produced and presented. It never gets dry or boring and always finds a way to keep the viewer interested. It even got me interested in going back to refresh everything I had learned about Netwon’s Laws and all the other standard deviants.