It hasn't been that long since I was part of the pretentious college radio set, and being 28, male, and not so much a dumpy, middle-aged secretary with six cats and a couple pints of Chunky Monkey in the freezer, I'm way outside the target demographic for this HD DVD. Still, there's kind of a mandate that every high-def release has to be reviewed, so I'll give it my best.
Taped in 2000, "Manilow Live!" catches up with the sixty-something schmaltz-slinger during a sold-out show in Nashville. He's shrugged off the sequencers, drum machines, and banks of synthesizers of his usual backing band in favor of a full orchestra, and with thirty musicians on stage, Manilow belts out a couple dozen of his most-loved songs. Yup, this HD DVD is Mani-loaded with hits, including:
Video: Presented in 1080i and encoded using AVC, "Manilow Live!" has the slightly smeary look, soft tinge, and somewhat wonky contrast of an older high-def recording. The tighter close-ups hold up alright, but the rest of it looks like one of those concerts that airs on InHD at 7 AM. Passably okay but one of the weaker looking concerts available on the format.
Audio: "Manilow Live!" sports two 4.0 soundtracks -- one in Dolby Digital Plus and the other in TrueHD. Toggling back and forth between them, the differences were fairly subtle, although bass seemed more pronounced in the TrueHD track. The low-end is reasonably substantial, considering the lack of a discrete LFE channel. The center channel is sorely missed, requiring Manilow's vocals to be spread across both of the remaining front speakers, and the mix reserves the rears primarily for crowd noise and some vocal reverb. That leaves the backing orchestra with only two channels to work with, but the lush instrumentation comes through well enough despite those limitations. It's a decent effort overall, but a center channel and a more immersive use of the surrounds would've netted a higher score.
The HD DVD also offers optional Japanese subtitles.
Supplements: This HD DVD sports an audio commentary with Mr. Manilow himself. He Who Writes The Songs offers his thoughts about many of these tunes and tosses out nuggets about how "Mandy" was originally an up-tempo number, introducing unfamiliar audiences to the music of Frank Sinatra, how "One Voice" came to him fully written in a dream, and the cottage industry that is "Copacabana". He's not overly chatty and really clams up around a third of the way through the set.