Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Visions of Europe Blu-ray Review

Featuring twelve hit programs from the breathtaking aerial travel series, Visions of Europe is now available on Blu-ray from Acorn Media.  The value-priced collection offers soaring views of the most spectacular sights in Europe, from sun-kissed Tuscany to the grand streets of Paris.  Shot in high-definition from helicopter-mounted cameras, the programs include some of the most popular European Visionsdestinations including Italy, France, Greece, Germany and Austria, as well as Visions of the Great Cities of Europe. Offering the ultimate in armchair travel, the 6-Disc boxed set also includes more than three hours of bonus material not seen on public television, accompanied by informative narration and soundtracks of regional music. From one of the most popular series on public television, these stunning productions provide a view of Europe’s most beautiful sites in stunning, high-definition clarity.  Take an emotional visit to your family’s homeland, revisit favorite sites, or take the trip of a lifetime without leaving home—whatever your inspiration, you’ll never have a better view.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

My father was in the Air Force and while we moved around a lot within America, we only had to do one overseas tour which we did my junior year of high school in England.  While we lived there we did get to see a lot of the sights in England and had one trip to Europe where we saw a little bit of Belgium, Germany, and Austria.  That trip fascinated me and I always wished that we had had more time to see more places but we never made it back before we left England.  So when I was offered this set to review I jumped at the chance since not only was it in high definition, but it also covered a lot of places like France and Italy that I had completely missed from my previous trip.  It also offered me a chance to see the places that I had been to and wanted to see again.
The six disc set includes the entire Visions series which is nice to have all together because they are so well done that if you are interested in one of them, chances are high that you will want to see the other ones anyway.  The series is filmed from a camera mounted helicopter that allows you views that you would never usually see and it offers a close up look at these landmarks which is even better in high definition.  While I wish that they also included footage from the locations that they film from the outside, that would probably result in a fifteen disc set which most people other than me wouldn’t be interested in.  This is very much a highlight reel of each of these beautiful locations.  Some of the locations are only given a brief amount of time, while others like the Austrian Alps are given much more time.
For each location, you get the added bonus of a regional soundtrack of a composer or composers of the region you are watching.   That could include Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Strauss, Schubert, Wagner, and more.  The music is a nice subtle touch that’s a nice addition to the fantastic visuals.  Each episode runs about 55 minutes  which may sound like a lot but honestly it just breezes by with the amount of places we visit.  The good news is that there’s a lot of bonus footage on each disc if you need just a little bit more.  This series has great production values but I wish it provided more than just some general information and was more like an actual tour, but to do that they would have to cut down on the amount of locations to spend more time for each place.  It’s a trade-off I would be willing to make but I’m not sure if others would agree.  If you are all ready for your worldwide trip from your armchair, let’s get started:
  • Visions of Italy:
    • Northern Style – Visit the Alps, Pompeii, Palermo, Siena, Florence, Venice, and more.
    • Southern Style – Visit Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Calbria, Rome, and more.
    • Sicily – Visit Cfalu, Termini Imerese, Palermo, Marsala, Siracusa, Catania, and more.
    • The Great Cities – Visit Rome, Saint Peter’s Square, the Coliseum, Florence, Naples, Capri, and more.
  • Visions of France:
    • Provence – Visit the mountains of Luberon, Arles, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and more.
    • The Riviera – Visit Cannes,  Cote d’Azur, Nice, St. Tropex, Monaco, and more.
  • Visions of Greece – Visit Corfu, Crete, Meteora, Mikonos, the Peloponnese, Rhodes, Santorini, Thessaloniki, and more.
  • Greece: Off the Beaten Path  - Visit the Nissiros Volcano, ancient marketplaces, hilltop towns, old fishing villages, and more.
  • Visions of Germany: Bavaria – Visit the  Bodensee, the “German Riviera,” Rothenburg, King Ludwig’s many castles including Neuschwanstein (which was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland), and more.
  • Visions of Germany: Along the Rhine – Visit Lake Constance, Cologne, Bonn, the Black Forest, Heidelberg, and more.
  • Visions of Austria – Visit HallstattVienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Bregenz, and more.
  • Visions of Great Cities of Europe – Visit Budapest, Dublin, ItalyLondon, Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, and more.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080i (1.78:1) transfers for this set are a mixed bag.  Some of them look incredible while others have compression and other issues especially the two disc Italian set.  The Greece edition has been up-converted and it looks the best of the twelve series with no issues to drag it down.  The other sets are pretty good and there’s occasionally some nice detail, but it’s never consistent.  Colors also vary throughout the series with some of the shots looking amazing and vibrant and others where the colors are washed out and look diluted.  Overall, the issues were never so bad that it detracted from the stunning places it was filmed at.  As the series progresses, I’m sure it will look better and better as time goes on.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Each edition contains an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and a music only Dolby Digital 2.0 track, except for Visions of Italy which has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a PCM 2.0 track, and a PCM 2.0 music only track.  The dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the collected regional music also sounds pretty good too.  The decision to add classical music from someone in the region that’s being covered is clever and works well for the series.  It also lends some nice authenticity to the visuals.  This is an above average mix that works well for the programs that it’s intended for.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars) 

Acorn Media has generously given hours of extra bonus footage for those people that would like to see more.  Interesting enough, only the Greece edition’s bonus footage has up-converted video.
  • Visions of Italy Disc 1:
    • Northern Style Bonus Footage (20 min) – Bonus footage from the various northern locations of Italy.
    • Southern Style Bonus Footage (26 min) – Bonus footage from the various southern locations of Italy.
  • Visions of Italy Disc 2:
    • Sicily Bonus Footage (23 min) – Bonus footage from various locations in Sicily.
  • Visions of France:
    • Provence Bonus Footage (23 min) – Bonus footage from various locations in Provence.
    • The Riviera Bonus Footage (24 min) – Bonus footage from various locations in The Riviera.
  • Visions of Greece:
    • Greece Bonus Footage (31 min) – Bonus footage from the various locations in Greece.
    • Off the Beaten Path Bonus Footage (19 min) – Bonus footage from a variety of locations that are “off the beaten path.”
  • Visions of Germany:
    • Bavaria Bonus Footage (22 min) – Bonus footage from various locations in Bavaria.
    • Along the Rhine Bonus Footage (21 min) – Bonus footage from a variety of  locations not included.
  • Visions of Austria & Europe:
    • Austria Bonus Footage (19 min) – Bonus footage from various locations in Austria.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

This is the cheapest way to tour Europe and the high definition shots can be breathtaking in their beauty.  While this isn’t intended to replace and actual trip or tour, it does allow you to see what’s is available to see in each country and make your plans accordingly once you have decided what you want to visit in person.  If you’ve already been there, then this is a perfect way to rekindle your memories of each place which worked for me when I saw the Zugspitze (the mountain in the picture above) that almost killed me when I accidentally went down the advanced ski run during my second attempt at snow-skiing!  Take a journey from home and enjoy new sights and sounds!
Order your copy today!

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