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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » HDScape HD DVD Sampler (HD DVD)
HDScape HD DVD Sampler (HD DVD)
DVD International // Unrated // Region 0
List Price: $6.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Originally offered through HDScape's website for the cost of shipping and handling, this long-delayed sampler of the fledgling studio's HD DVDs features 45 minutes' worth of excerpts from ten different discs.

Exotic Saltwater Aquarium
Aquarium footage is a home theater demo mainstay, and this five minute excerpt is naturally anchored around shots of extremely colorful and often unique looking fish.

Visions of the Sea: Exploration
The four minute clip from Visions of the Sea: Exploration follows the same sort of approach but aims its cameras underwater. The image is more crisply defined by comparison and has a preference for dazzling close-ups of undersea life.

Antarctica Dreaming
This five and a half minute preview of the documentary Antarctica Dreaming is the only footage on this sampler with any sort of sustained voiceover. Although the voiceover in this clip is promotional in nature, it notes that the full documentary can be viewed with proper narration along with the expected soothing soundtrack, making the full release more than just home theater eye candy. The excerpt on this sampler features a wide array of footage, including legions of penguins and elephant seals, ice floes and the expansive ocean, and striking land formations carved by fire and ice. It's both the best looking as well as the most enjoyable footage on this sampler. A review of the full disc is also available.

Serenity: Southern Seas
Accompanied by music from Terry Oldfield, this five minute excerpt revolves around lapping waves and beaches at dawn and dusk.

Fireplace: Visions of Tranquility
Another home theater demo mainstay, this is a three and a half minute clip of -- you guessed it -- a fireplace. Plagued by compression artifacts, it's unfortunately also one of the least impressive clips on the sampler.

Stargaze II
Unlike most of the high-definition video footage on this disc, Stargaze II takes the unique approach of showing a series of high-resolution stills of celestial bodies. That otherworldly beauty is often impressive, although it naturally follows that the image has a two dimensional appearance that veers away from the tactile pop many home theater enthusiasts seem to prefer. The excerpt runs four and a half minutes in length.

HD Window: The Great Southwest
The photography in this five and a half minute promo is gorgeous, shot by someone with a keen eye for composition, although the quality is dragged down by softness and a lack of fine object detail. Along with a slew of panoramic vistas, this excerpt from HD Window: The Great Southwest also captures dozens upon dozens of colorful hot air balloons in flight.

HD Window: Hawaii
This four minute collection of footage of the beaches and lush foliage of Hawaii fares better than the other HD Window release previewed on this sampler.

Digital Video Essentials
At two and a half minutes in length, this teaser for Joe Kane's video calibration benchmark is the shortest of the promos on this disc. It bafflingly opens with some dated, low rent CG before moving into a montage of test patterns and very impressive HD video of a couple at dinner. For more on Digital Video Essentials, Joshua Zyber has posted a detailed review of the full release.

Shostakovich / Debussy / Brockman
The last of the ten clips on this disc is a live performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Quintet Op. 57 culled from an upcoming release by AIX Records. The performance is nicely shot, but the milky gray black levels are somewhat of a disappointment.

Video: This sampler is really geared towards giving early adopters an inexpensive way to show off their home theaters, although this HD DVD doesn't approach the best of what the format has to offer. All but a couple of these promos do look very nice, if rarely outclassing what I'm used to seeing in high-def on cable. With the exception of Stargaze II's celestial high-resolution scans, the material is all sourced from high-definition video.

With footage stemming from ten different sources, the quality can be erratic. The two most striking promos are for Antarctica Dreaming (review to come shortly) and the razor sharp and vividly colorful dinner conversation offered as part of Digital Video Essentials. On the other end of the spectrum, HD Window: The Great Southwest might stand out as the most disappointing high definition footage I've watched on HD DVD; it's so soft and so lacking in fine detail that much of it is easily mistaken for standard definition.

All of the footage on this disc is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been encoded using AVC. The compression is generally adept but suffers from a few hiccups. There's some very light artifacting visible at times in the background of Visions of the Sea: Exploration, but it's subtle enough that it's easily overlooked on a display 50" in size or smaller. Far more noticeable are the bricks in the background of Fireplace: Visions of Tranquility, which suffer from some ghastly macroblocking.

Overall, the video quality is fine but not what I'd consider to be reference material. Like all of HDScape's releases, this sampler is being issued as a combo disc, and its flipside will play in any traditional DVD player.

Audio: The majority of these clips are accompanied by Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. The music predominately has a New Age flavor and maintains a decent presence that's reinforced nicely by the surround channels. It's meant to be relaxing, so don't expect thunderous waves of bass, violently crashing cymbals, or any sort of tempo. The short promo for Digital Video Essentials is in lossless Dolby TrueHD and attacks with a far more aggressive sonic assault, but otherwise, the audio is rather uneventful.

Extras: None. The disc does offer technical specifications for each title (frame rate, resolution, the models of cameras used, etc.) along with the ability to play each clip individually, loop one particular promo, or loop the entire set of ten clips.

Compatibility Notes: Part of the reason HDScape's sampler was so long in coming was a series of production hiccups, and those don't appear to have been entirely resolved. The Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on reportedly has difficulty playing this disc, and a representative from HDScape has stated that a firmware update expected sometime in May 2007 will resolve this.

Conclusion: This sampler from HDScape may have had more appeal when it was originally announced late last summer for just the cost of shipping. It's not that its current $6.95 sticker price breaks the bank, but the idea of spending seven bucks for 45 minutes of promos rankles a bit, and the footage in this condensed form is better left as background imagery; this isn't something you're likely to want to watch, especially not more than once. Viewers with a particular interest in some of HDScape's titles should certainly give this sampler a look, but otherwise, I'd suggest putting that seven dollars towards a proper HD DVD instead. Skip It.
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