From DVD International, the same company that brought us "Exotic Saltwater Aquarium" (which I also had the pleasure of reviewing), comes "Fireplace: Visions of Tranquility" on Blu-ray disc as part of the "HD Ssape" line of products. This one is the updated version, as the original version that came out was not compatible with the PlayStation 3 for some reason. Luckily though, this new version works perfectly well on the PS3 and will allow you to turn your living room into a virtual fireplace without all of the messiness and unforeseen dangers associated with the real thing.
I have been getting pretty heavily involved with my own fireplace this winter, and have grown quite fond of the process of burning the logs. It is a relaxing ritual to adjust them just perfectly and put on a movie with nothing but the light of the fireplace. Now I can turn my LCD television into a hypnotic fire and let my mind drift away to the sounds of classical music and I won't have to worry about causing a chimney fire!
When you place this disc into your system a menu comes onto the screen (with a fire burning in the background appropriately enough) which presents us with our choices.
'Eternal Flame' is the first option. When you choose it our first fire starts, logs and all and already going strong, no lighting ritual or setup involved. It looks like our producers chose to use about six or seven sections of precut logs, and chose to use real wood, not that fake stuff that costs so much. And I must say, they have really placed the logs quite nicely, which means the fire is burning nice and even; having the right log placement is crucial when having a decent fire, it's more about oxygen than anything else, as you can learn by messing around with a poker and manipulating the wood. Of course that won't be necessary with this one, because we have to remember, it is a video, and the logs are already perfectly placed anyway. Although the framing seems just a little off on this first fire, because the grill along the bottom of the screen is cut off just a bit, I think perhaps they should have panned the camera back just a little for a more realistic effect, this takes away from the illusion. "Eternal Flame" lasts about 30 minutes and three seconds. Not so eternal, really.
'Complete Fire' also lasts 30 minutes and three seconds, and in this one the logs are placed in a different arrangement, but still very effective, and the fire burns just as strong, if not more so. And in this one the framing issue has been resolved because we can clearly see the grill this time around. Things are getting better, now, I must admit. The fire actually burns the logs into ash quite quickly, hence the title. My favorite so far. It also lasts about thirty minutes.
'Extraordinary Fire' is pretty cool because in this one the logs are placed in such a way as to let the flames go very powerfully by allowing even distribution of oxygen. It also stands out because it actually switches shots a few times and gives us a couple of different close-ups and angles, unlike the earlier ones. Interesting, but the framing issue with the grill is back this time.
'Romantic Fire' is peculiar because the video quality appears to be downgraded and it only looks about as good as VHS and the log placement is haphazard at best. Also it only lasts 17 minutes, which can be too long or just long enough, depending. And in this one the grill is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the makers were in a hurry, or perhaps this is a subtle and creative way of expressing the futility of love… We'll never know, because there is no commentary.
As for the video quality, it isn't actually 1080p, in fact it's 1080i, and it fills the whole screen nicely, although I suspect it may be stretched a little bit like those annoying HD channels can sometimes do. It really doesn't look that spectacular, more like an upconverted DVD, and the quality can strangely differ, as I noted on the rather shoddy Romantic fire. Still, with the lights off, this video does add a nice warm glow to any room, even if it isn't jaw dropping in clarity. Also the black levels aren't as dark as you may be used to.
The audio contains several different tracks to choose from, the first is called 'Crackling Fire'. It is only in 2.0 and features the calming sounds of a natural fire burning. You'll hear every ember snap, although there is an annoying sound in the background of what appears to be bubbles, in fact it sounds like a saltwater aquarium. Perhaps this fire is from the same place as the aquarium on the other release, we'll never know because there isn't a much needed commentary. We also have some musical options, which is pretty cool. The music is in 5.1 and you can still hear the crackling fire. First up is 'Classical Dolby Digital 5.1' and the music is simply wonderful as it is from of the best artists in history, including Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart. I really love the relaxing selections, from 'Piano Sonata No.8' to 'Prelude In D Major Flat' and we also have the Romantic selections, including 'Moonlight Sonata'. Although they don't really have that much surround clarity going for them and actually sound more like Pro Logic to be quite honest. We also have 'Christmas Dolby Digital 5.1' which contains such favorites as 'Little Drummer Boy' and 'Joy' and five other holiday classics, and this can obviously come in quite handy during the holidays, that much is certain. Really, I think they could have contained more music considering the storage capacity, but this is some variety at least.
For a so called special feature we have 'Medieval English Poem' written by Anonymous which is as tacky as it sounds, perhaps you are supposed to put this on to get her in the mood as you go and get ready or something. Who knows, but at least it's an attempt at an extra, although personally I think an old educational video about building a fire would have been amusing, or some commentary, that would have been funny.
I must say, this is without a doubt the best fireplace video I have ever seen, although I have never seen one. The video quality leaves a little to be desired, and the audio certainly is quite basic and I just think they could have gone a little further than they did with this one, especially considering the added storage capacity of Blu-ray discs. As it is they could have done the same thing on a standard def disc, especially since there isn't even a pop up video. So don't expect "Fireplace: Visions of Tranquility" to knock your socks off. If you do you may feel like you got burned.