DVD International and their line of HDScape titles always caught me as an intriguing concept. With titles like "Fireplace: Visions Of Tranquility" (which I would love to review) and "Stargaze 2", they offer relaxing visions of tranquility, and with the rise in high definition technology, they have an entire library of titles to keep you mesmerized at the natural wonders of the world. Released first on HD-DVD, this new Blu-Ray version promises "the ultimate HD Aquarium experience." Since I am a sucker for fish tank screen savers on my personal computer, I fell for it hook, line and sinker, if you'll pardon the pun.
When you first put in the disc you are brought to a menu where you can select a tank and also choose your audio options. When you choose to select a tank it opens another menu that offers five different tanks. We have 'Classic', 'Predator', 'Reef', 'Shark' and 'Nautilus'. The cool thing is you don't just have to watch still camera footage of each tank; you have three different choices on all but Nautilus, (which is available in 'Close Up' only). The choices on all the others are 'Full', 'Close Up' and 'Edited'. Once again the main menu also offers the useful option of repeating any variation of these choices if you need a little variety. Each one you choose plays five minutes long.
The 'Close Up' view is probably my favorite option of all because it is the most action packed and is filled with variety. The edited sequences are a little overdone and filled with slow motion effects that are distracting. 'Full' obviously offers simply the fish tanks themselves and is just like it sounds, the camera never moves and it transforms your television into a virtual fish tank.
The 'Classic' fish tank features a wonderful variety of about ten different fish, including Clownfish, Pufferfish, Butterflyfish, Damsels and even an eel. Obviously they are bright and vibrantly colored and I really get a kick out of sea life so I found the whole thing just great to look at and thoroughly enjoyable. And the plant life is equally wonderful and spectacular to behold, we have all sorts of different fauna to gaze upon and it is hypnotic how it sways with the water. All forms of Coral and Invertebrates are on display in this wide variety of tanks, from Anemones and Acropora to Montipora, Sponges and even Tube Worms! Any way you look at a project like this, these are undeniably awesome tanks, and I'm sure they cost a fortune and require lots of attention.
The other tanks get even more exotic and feature Stingrays and Sharks, Seahorses and Squirrelfish and I must say my favorite tank of all is easily the shark tank. On the plus side I simply love nature documentaries and I think it's really cool to be able to study these animals in high definition without the interruption of a narrator.
That said, the video portion of this release definitely leaves a lot to be desired because it definitely suffers from some video issues. It is presented in 1080p and fills the screen at about 1.78:1. The problem is the black levels leave a lot to be desired. In fact, we can see quite a few instances of crushing and even some pixelation. Rather than a solid black we are left with one shade of grey and that is simply inexcusable, also there is a noticeable softness and utter lack of detail to all of these tanks, and the colors, as radiant and electric as the multiple forms of sea life offer, they simply don't come to life like you would expect them to. It seems more like a standard definition DVD, to be quite honest, and that comes as a disappointment because I could see where this could really work out as a demo disc if it were done right. Also the menu is clunky and difficult to accurately maneuver and works just like a regular DVD, no fancy pop-up menu or anything like that, not for this release. In fact, the menu takes a long time in between navigation. It could have been done entirely better. If you ask me, the whole thing seems cheaply put together.
And the sound options could truly drive you insane, they are presented in regular Dolby Digital 5.1, except for Aquarium Bubbles, which only gets 2.0. The surround options offer really no bass to speak of and really may as well be in 2.0. The other audio options are Sea Space, which seriously sounds like some kind of TV news theme music from a small town in the eighties and gets old really quick. It sounds like a poor man's version of Philip Glass and I suggest you simply stay away from this music by Jim Behringer of DeWolfe Music, it sounds like elevator music from some strange terrible alternate universe, and I'm being nice. The Relaxation audio segment is more of the same but sounds like a bad cover band doing an infinite version of the middle section of a Yes epic. It makes you want to go to sleep, but is strangely nightmarish and depressing. But the audio is redeemed by the classical music option, here we have the soothing and beautiful sounds of masters like Beethoven, Vivaldi and Mozart and it fit quite nicely.
So, while I do love the idea, this whole thing seems like it could have been more. I mean, with the capacity of Blu-Rays being what they are, why do the scenes only last five minutes and why is the picture quality so poor? While these sea creatures are beautiful to look at and fascinating to behold and I really think the idea is cool, I think the true ultimate HD aquarium experience has yet to come, but for those who can't wait, this Blu-ray is the best we have for now. I just wish it were done a little better, because the sea life depicted could really look amazing under the right circumstances.