Wonders of the Solar System Blu-ray Review
Wonders of the Universe is presented on Blu-ray in a 1080i transfer - although there are a few portions which are not in HD. One would really have hoped that by now the BBC transfers have moved on to 1080p - I criticised them a year ago for pulling this stunt on Being Human : Series One. But the fact is, I presume, that this is how the native material was shot - so is how it has to be presented.
The series looked good on BBC HD - but on this disc the material looks absolutely stunning. From the very beginning of the first episode until the very last second of the whole series, every frame is beautifully shot and looks absolutely stunning. The level of detail is amazing - every droplet in waterfalls, every facet of rock faces is shown up in great detail as the camera swoops breathtakingly around the scenery. Then it is into outer space where the CGI is seamless; looking beautiful and informative at the same time, every facet of the planets in question being beautifully rendered
The impressive thing about the transfer is how well it copes with everything that is thrown at it. For example, several key scenes are shot at night, and slowed down so you can see the movement of the stars above Cox's head. These scenes would challenge a standard definition transfer - but here the shadow of Cox in the darkness is as clearly defined as every pinpoint of light in the sky above him.
Colour, too is well rendered. Cox's seemingly endless parade of T shirts all look natural and bright, and the colours of the planets are also clear and vibrant. Contrast in the image is well presented and black levels are deep and inky.
So is the transfer perfect? Well, very nearly. The only blot on an otherwise perfect landscape is some edge enhancement in places. You have to look closely to spot it, but it is there. Apart from this minor issue this is an excellent picture.
2entertain have presented the soundtrack in a DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack, and I had high hopes for this mix. The first thing to mention is that the dialogue (essential to a series like this) is always clear and precise, well presented within the mix and always easy to understand and hear.
The excellent soundtrack is also well mixed, soaring at times when needed, and other times underpinning events on screen subtly and cleverly. Sometimes well known songs are used, sometimes it is a more ambient soundtrack - but at all times this is beautifully balanced.
The track is surprisingly balanced in the bass as well. Although this track is never going to provide you with room shaking bass (and you wouldn't really want it to), your sub will still get a nice workout at times, notably during the planetary fly-bys in the CGI sections.
Finally, when needed the surrounds get a nice workout too, providing ambient sounds and also occasionally opening the score out superbly.
The key, here then, is balance. The soundtrack is not absolutely perfect, but it does provide a really nice mix, with everything from bass to high frequencies being well represented. It does the job very well and complements the series superbly.
Sadly, we get zero extras here. I am guessing that when the series was shot they simply weren't expecting the success that they got - so they may well have not shot any extra material. But it would have been nice to have at least some commentaries. But there is nothing here.
I have yet to meet anyone that has seen this series and not heaped praise upon it, and I am please to say that 2entertain have done the series justice on Blu-ray. The series itself ranks amongst the best that the BBC have produced, managing to inform and entertain without ever pandering to the lowest common denominator in the audience. It will educate you whilst opening your eyes to some amazing sites, both earth bound and extra-terrestrial.
It is a shame that we are only given a 1080i picture, but despite this it still does an excellent job of rendering the original series in an impressive way, and the DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack is also impressive. Sadly, there are no extras.
If you saw the original series and want to relive it then you can do worse than pick up this set despite the flaws. If you weren't lucky enough to see it, but have an interest in the subject matter - then I can recommend this as a blind purchase. Even if you have no interest in the subject you should definitely still give this a rent. You may be surprised at just how good it is, and find yourself subsequently purchasing. This is a highly recommended disc, and even though the lack of extras drags the overall score down to a seven - this is still a highly recommended disc.
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