Blu-ray
Worth a Look
3 stars
Amazon
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Overall Grade
3 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Living Landscapes: The World's Most Beautiful Places

Street Date:
April 25th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
June 12th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2006
Studio:
HD Environments
Length:
75 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our HD DVD review of 'Living Landscapes: The World's Most Beautiful Places.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

"Nature porn" in the high-def world is the equivalent of what the first Nickelodeons to motion pictures in the early part of the 20th century -- endless loops of beautiful waterfalls, leaves blowing gently in the wind and hummingbirds pollinating flowers, all solely for the benefit of dazzling the eye and exciting the senses. No, it's not "about" anything, but who needs plot when all you want to do is show off that new high-def TV you just paid six grand for?

Produced by Global Village Productions, the 'Living Landscapes' series falls squarely into this category of nature programming. So far, the company has released nine entries in the franchise, each a 60-minute travelogue of a specific exotic place. Shot with high-definition cameras, the series was first released on DVD in both standard-def and the Windows Media high-definition (WMV) format, and now it has been re-released in its full 1080p glory to both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Since I was completely unfamiliar with the series, I decided to tip-toe gingerly into the world of 'Living Landscapes' by experiencing this stand-alone "greatest hits" compilation first. Dubbed 'The Most Beautiful Places in the World,' this 75-minute assemblage is essentially a series of high-def trailers for the franchise, compiling a series of samples from each of the nine current 'Living Landscape' titles, including 'Bali,' 'California Redwoods,' 'Costa Rica,' 'Fall in New England,' 'Hawaii,' 'Olympic Rainforest,' 'Pacific Coast,' 'Rocky Mountains' and 'Sacred Canyons.'

With a title like 'Living Landscapes,' it should come as no surprise that this disc offers no story and no narration -- instead, it's simply one breathtaking shot after another, all set to the sort of standard-issue muzak you might find in your local grocery store. But as bland as that may sound on paper, to its credit, the series is quite beautifully photographed -- perhaps not at the absolute peak level of a 'Planet Earth,' but still you'll be hard-pressed to find a single shot in 'The Most Beautiful Places in the World' that doesn't tickle the eye.

The rest of the 'Living Landscapes' package, however, leaves something to be desired. There are no extras here of any kind -- not even any simple text documentation. And as released by distributor HD Environments via Amazon's Customflix DVD publishing arm, the Blu-ray case also has a rather cheap feel -- the cover looks like it was done in 20 minutes with Photoshop, and even the paper looks like a color Xerox made at Kinko's.

Still, if it's nature porn you desire (and as early adopters, most of us are pre-disposed to be amorous of such things), 'The Most Beautiful Places in the World' certainly delivers on the bottom line.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

While their packaging may leave something to be desired, Customflix has done a fine job with 'The World's Most Beautiful Places' where it really matters. This is a very pleasant, good-looking 1080p/MPEG-2 encode (identical to its HD DVD counterpart), featuring truly you-are-there style picture quality.

I was partucularly impressed with the cleanliness of the source -- it's crystal clear, with excellent blacks and very natural contrast. Colors are vibrant, yet very clean -- and they're refreshingly free from oversaturation. Detail is often exquisite, and the sense of depth is often akin to looking out of a freshly-scrubbed window. And while 'The World's Most Beautiful Places' gets only only a BD-25 single-layer disc to move around in, it would seem the program's short 75-minute runtime and the lack of any supplemental features save it from any noticeable compression deficiencies.

Alas, in one downside to this presentation, there is an edgy look to the transfer that's readily apparent throughout, with all the slow pans across vast vistas resulting in noticeable jaggies. Otherwise, this is a very supple, attractive high-def presentation.

(Note that while it's not a technical fault of the transfer, in one major annoyance, the "HDEnvironments.com" logo has been burned into the image, appearing at regular intervals over the bottom-right corner of the screen. This can be distracting, and only adds to the occasional sense that the 'Living Landscapes' series is a bit too reminiscent of those cheesy, late-night montages you see right before a TV station goes off the air for the evening. Hopefully, future releases in the series will drop this annoying "feature.")

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The audio department is where 'The World's Most Beautiful Places' starts to slip, although not fatally. Customflix offers only a meager 448kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, and a higher-resolution encode certainly would have resulted in a presentation of better fidelity and realism.

That said, the soundtrack is perfectly listenable. The nature sounds and breathy lite-jazz offer little low end to speak of -- any percussive sounds never have much impact. High-end is smooth, however, and there is a decent amount of spaciousness and warmth to the wind instruments. Surround use is relatively meager, with only select ambient nature sounds directed to the rears, and at a fairly low volume to boot. Score bleed is also present but lacking in true heft behind the listener. Again, a decent mix but nothing more.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

There are no supplements included. In fact, adding to the somewhat chintzy feel of the package, there isn't even basic Blu-ray pop-up menu-style navigation -- instead, all we get is a static main menu, providing scene access.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives, either.

Final Thoughts

While some may be put off by endless montages of pretty scenery accompanied by bland muzak fit for an elevator, as high-def eye candy goes, you could certainly do worse than 'The World's Most Beautiful Places.' This "greatest hits" compilation of the 'Living Landscapes' series is perhaps as straightforward a Blu-ray release as is possible, delivering very fine video and good-enough audio, but nary a single supplement in the package. If nature compendiums are your thing, this one's defintely worth a shot .

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-2

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • None

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

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