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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 2/4/99



Earthlight: Special Edition
1998 (1999) - Mill Reef (DVD International)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Earthlight: Special Edition

Original Earthlight case artwork
Program Rating: A+
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!

Specs and Features

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

Review

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!

Bottom line

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.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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