Earthlight is one of those titles that nicely demonstrates DVDs potential to move into areas other than movie and TV content. The disc is comprised of several dozen incredibly beautiful videos of the Earth as seen from the Space Shuttle at 150 –250 miles up. The films show the surface of our small blue world from above the clouds slowly passing beneath the camera lens. There are day views of recognizable landmasses including the Persian Gulf, Central and South America, Australia and America's West Coast. Also included are views of the Moon setting over the horizon, the Mir space station and various large weather phenomena. As if that weren't enough you also get a handful of night views showing such marvels as the eastern seaboard with its myriad clusters of city lights.
The images on this remarkable disc are derived from 70mm footage taken by Shuttle astronauts and it's consistently clean, clear and artifact free. The colors (mainly blues, whites and muddy browns naturally) are amazingly realistic, showing little over saturation and no bleed. Black levels are also consistently good. If you've seen any of the many books and calendars with high quality NASA images you'll know what to expect.
Earthlight's soundtrack is a collection of semi ambient compositions by Ryan Shore that complement the images on screen. The songs are presented in Dolby 5.1 and make use of the surrounds to create a subtle and deep sound field. There aren't any big booms so your sub won't have much to do but that's to be expected with this kind of material.
Earthlight has a number of interesting extras. First there's the organization of the main content itself. The videos are arranged into 'Albums' of two chapters each. This means that you can select your favorite chapter groups and watch them as a group or set your player to repeat them over and over (the disc is intended to be watched in continuous play mode either as a whole or in small blocks.) Next there's a subtitle feature that shows information on the selected view. This is handy because some of the landmasses are difficult to identify without them. These subtitle screens are available in just about every major language including (yikes!) Klingon. Hardcore space buffs can look at NASA's navigational maps showing the position of the Shuttle for each 'earthview' and watchers can choose to start their session with footage of a Shuttle Atlantis liftoff. A nice static photo section presents snapshots taken by the astronauts and users with a DVD ROM player can subscribe to an interactive Web service to get even more of these images. Finally there's a screen saver for DVD ROM owners that uses these images to create a desktop slideshow.
Earthlight is a fantastic disc. It's marketed as a relaxation aid and that's a very accurate description. Placing it in the player and sitting back with a cup of tea is highly recommended as is using it as a pleasant background for house cleaning or other indoor chores. If you're a space buff this is a must have disc.