Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 2/4/99
1998 (1999) - Mill Reef
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
I've always wanted to see the Earth from space... alas a dream
unfulfilled. But Mill Reef gives us the next best thing on DVD - 85
minutes of crystal-clear, high-resolution video of our blue planet,
shot by shuttle astronauts in orbit. Very cool.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/A
The video is stunningly clear - some absolutely gorgeous imagery.
The audio is relaxing Kitaro-type instrumental music, and it sounds
equally good. Plus you get a DVD with some unique features, for use
in both your stand-alone player, and your DVD-ROM drive.
Overall Rating: A
Earthlight makes for great DVD
demo material, a nice relaxing disc to play on continuous loop for
ambience while you work, or an awesome screen saver for your
computer. And the new Special Edition
adds 4 minutes of space shuttle launch video in full Dolby Digital
5.1 sound. A real treat!
85 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered,
Amaray keep case packaging, high-resolution photo album of Earth
shots from orbit (28 pictures, plus the ability to add more via Earthlight
web site), continuous-loop play capability, DVD-ROM screensaver,
program-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters),
corresponding location maps for each scene, audio: English (DD 5.1),
scene identification text in 12 languages
I've gotta confess right now, I really love this DVD. Any of you
who have read this page for any length of time, know that I'm a
serious space junkie. Apollo 13
and From the Earth to the Moon
both occupy places of pride in my DVD collection. In fact, I'll make
another confession. Right after high school, I walked into my local
Air Force recruiting center, determined to become a pilot and
eventually an astronaut. I passed all the aptitude tests, I was
exactly the right height, I'd grown up an Air Force brat, around
high-performance aircraft much of my life - I was a shoe-in. Alas,
my dream came crumbling down, when the kindly Lieutenant conducting
the test discovered that I'm slightly red-green color blind, which
automatically disqualifies you for pilot training. "You'd be
perfect for military intelligence," he said hopefully (I was
too crushed to take that as an insult). Of course, it never occurred
to me that there were other ways to become an astronaut - as a
scientist, or a doctor for example. What can I say? I was 18 and
foolish - it never occurred to me.
But Mill Reef has created just the thing for all us earthbound
spacefarers - a DVD loaded with video shot by NASA astronauts in
orbit, during space shuttle missions. Originally released last year
as Earthlight (see the
original Snapper artwork above), the disc blew me away. Ever want to
know what the Pacific Ocean looks like from 200 miles up? Or the
Sahara Desert? The eye of a Hurricane? Ever want to see the Moon
setting slowly over the blue crescent of the Earth, or see the
Russian's space station Mir so close you could almost touch it? Then
this DVD is for you.
The original Earthlight
packed some 80 minutes of high-resolution video and Dolby Digital
5.1 background music (in clips ranging from 7 to 40 minutes), plus a
DVD-ROM screensaver, all onto one DVD. For this new Special
Edition (see new artwork at top above), the folks at Mill
Reef have added a 4 minute video clip of a space shuttle launch (in
full 5.1 sound), computer-drawn maps that show you exactly where
each video segment was taken in relation to the Earth's surface,
high-resolution photo albums of Earth shots, and selectable
subtitles that tell you exactly where you are during each video clip
(in no less than 12 languages including, believe it or not Trek
fans, Klingon)! The result is an amazing DVD experience.
Now before those of you who purchased the original Earthlight
DVD get bent out of shape, know that there's a rebate offer packed
with the disc. The new disc comes in either an Amaray keep case
(video stores), or a CD-style jewel case in a software box (for
computer stores). All you have to do is send in your old disc, along
with the rebate card, and you'll get $10 back. It's Mill Reef's way
of encouraging the upgrade. And the upgrade is definitely worth it.
The video quality is absolutely stunning - just about as good as
analog video can look when transferred to DVD. Keep in mind, that
all of this was shot with an actual video camera (not a film
camera), so the picture has a very crisp, "you-are-there"
look to it. The Special Edition
specs claim that the original video has been reprocessed to make it
50% sharper than the original DVD. Watching on big screen, via
component input, I was hard-pressed to see the difference. But
that's not bad - the original video was stunning in the first place.
Just imagine if they sent a digital camcorder up on the shuttle (hey
- I'll volunteer to be the camera man guys)!
The disc can be played as a continuous loop (mood video anyone?),
or each of the 28 segments can be played by themselves. The
screensaver works pretty well using your DVD-ROM drive. The DVD
contains some 30MB of high-resolution shots to use right away, along
with another 150MB that are encrypted, and can be unlocked via "Spinware"
software, using the Earthlight
web site. There are three additional "Plus Packs" on
the disc - the first is unlocked for free when you register, and the
other two can be unlocked for $9 each (or $15 for both). I'm not
sure if I'd ever be interested in doing this, as much of the same
material can be downloaded for free over the Internet, directly from
NASA. But some
might find it cool.
By far my favorite item on the DVD, however, is newly-added 4
minutes of space shuttle launch footage. Having seen the real thing
live recently, I can tell you that the DVD goes a long way toward
capturing the experience. As the Atlantis roars off the launch pad,
you'll feel the bass channel kick in but good. My only complaint is
that the launch audio is mixed between the actual rocket sound, and
the Mission Control audio. The result is that the sound isn't quite
as thunderous as it really is live. Once the shuttle rolls after
launch, the sound of the boosters really slams into you. It's the
oddest thing - a ripping or rattling noise that sounds as if the
very sky were tearing in two. You feel it in you chest, and the
ground shakes - the DVD obviously doesn't quite fully convey it. It
would have been cool, if you had choice between the mixed audio, and
wild sound only. That's a major nit-pick there - this is really a
great DVD. I hope it's the first in a long series. Hey Mill Reef -
how about shots of the shuttle in space, in addition to Earth
footage on the next one? Whatever you do, keep 'em coming!
The Earthlight: Special Edition
is a truly unique DVD, and I wish I had six more just like it. I
could watch this disc for hours. Whether you play it to astound
family and friends with DVD-quality video, use it as a screen saver
on your computer, or just satisfy the kid within, this is a must
have disc. And don't forget to use that $10 rebate if you have the
original Earthlight. In my
opinion, it ranks right up there with Video
Essentials and Super Speedway,
as essential to any good DVD collection.