I love to entertain regularly at my house, whether it’s a family get-together or an evening of cocktails with friends. Consequently I’m always on the look out for fresh ideas to keep my guests entertained. Naturally, music is one of the key elements to creating a fun, relaxed or upbeat atmosphere. My selection of tunes comes from a desktop computer, a CD player and a turntable.
But as the number of consumers who own large, flat panel TVs continues to grow, a new trend has been evolving – the trend to entertain through video. That HDTV in your living room looks giant and rather bland when it’s turned off, don’t you think? You could put on a random channel but after all guests didn’t come to your place to watch TV.
So how can you turn that lifeless black screen into a form of entertainment? Consider HDScape’s collection of Blu-ray discs (1080p) and standard DVDs (480p). HDScape offers several titles that feature scenic content that is ideal for playing on your TV during just about any function at your home. The idea is simple – these HDScape discs can turn your TV into living art. Nine different HDScape discs are available, six of which were sent to us for review on Blu-ray disc. Check out the mini-review of each title below. For more information, or to purchase HDScape products, please visit www.hdscape.com.
Exotic Saltwater Aquarium Blu-ray
As the title implies, this disc will transform your TV into a virtual exotic saltwater aquarium. There are a total of five different aquariums to choose from: Predator, Classic, Shark, Living Reef and Nautilus. Each tank features different exotic fish, creatures and corals. Four of the five tanks offer a choice of three play modes: Full (a steady camera shot of the tank), Close-Up (a close-up shot of each fish as the camera follows it for several seconds) and Edited (a combination of various shots). The Nautilus tank offers only the Close-Up mode. As with all of the other HDScape titles, this disc can be played in a continuous loop so that you don’t have to fiddle with it while having company over. This disc brings great quality HD visuals that are very soothing but is perhaps the simplest of the six titles reviewed here.
One of three relaxing 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio tracks can be selected from the disc menu to accompany the picture. There is also a two channel track called Aquarium Bubbles, which sounds like, you guessed it – aquarium bubbles. The pace of the audio tracks might be great for someone practicing yoga but I had to fight to stay awake listening to them. Of course, you can always mute the soundtrack and listen to whatever floats your cherry from another audio source, which is what I did while watching all of these discs.
Ocean Aquarium Blu-ray
Ocean Aquarium, filmed on location in Papua New Guinea, offers a selection of aquarium-style “lockdown” shots in which the camera focuses on one particular part of the reef for a few minutes. It captures visually spectacular images of fish, ocean creatures and vast coral reefs. The disc’s menu offers playback of the main program, five looped mini-programs and two bonus programs. One of the bonus programs captures still and moving landscape images shot from the surface of the water. The other bonus program offers underwater footage that was captured vertically for those with rotating or vertical TV mounts. This disc offers a far more visually appealing picture than the Exotic Saltwater Aquarium disc. The difference is between what you would see while scuba diving (Ocean Aquarium) and looking in a tank at a fish store (Exotic Saltwater Aquarium). There is only one soundtrack on this disc – again something appropriate for yoga fans. Overall, this title contains a sharp HD picture that’s guaranteed to capture just about anyone’s attention. Of the six titles, this was definitely one of my favourites.
Visions of the Sea: Explorations Blu-ray
Continuing with the underwater theme, this disc delivers majestic images of the coral reefs in Fiji, Bonaire, Honduras and The Bahamas to your TV screen. The natural beauty of the coral reefs is presented in a crisp, highly detailed 1080p picture. The images of both the fish and the corals are super sharp and shine with vibrant colours. Most of the scenes on this disc had a great picture depth and appeared almost three dimensional on our reference Pioneer PDP-6020FD KURO plasma TV. Visually, this was my favourite of the HDScape titles. In addition to the main feature, there is also a “Behind the Scenes” featurette showing how the various underwater shots were captured.
Visions of the Sea: Explorations offers a selection of two soundtracks – one 2-channel and the second 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD. The quality of the laidback Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is noticeably better than on the previous two discs. Again, if you’re like me, you might want to mute the disc’s audio and choose something more upbeat if you put this disc on while entertaining friends or family at your house.
HD Window: The Great Southwest Blu-ray
This disc captures the calm beauty and diversity of the remote landscapes in the Southwestern United States including Arizona, New Mexico and California. The footage contains a large variety of still shots of mountain ridges, rock formations, bodies of water and sand dunes. Some of the shots are sped up to show the cloud formations moving across the sky. This disc also familiarizes the viewer with various types of trees and other vegetation that flourishes in these regions. There is also some footage from a hot air balloon show, with tens of colourful balloons filling a clear sky. The resolution and the colours of this disc bring a sharp, natural picture to the screen. The absence of animal life on this disc however makes it much less interesting than most of the other discs reviewed here. The disc’s audio menu gives you the choice of playing the 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack by itself or overlaid with nature sounds.
Antarctica Dreaming Blu-ray
This disc explores some of the coldest, most remote regions of our planet including the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands. The main feature begins with the camera slowly panning across glaciers and frozen landscapes captured from the surface of the water. The 1080p picture captures all the details and the amazing scale of the glaciers and floating icebergs with all their natural beauty. Various forms of wildlife make appearances throughout the footage including five species of penguins, four kinds of seals and fierce seabirds. Again the 1080p picture brings so much intricate detail to these frozen world species, they appear almost to be real. A couple of extras are included on the disc: Mini documentaries (narrated) and behind the scenes footage. Two lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtracks complement the on-screen action. This was also one of the better discs reviewed here.
Stargaze HD: Universal Beauty Blu-ray
Stargaze HD: Universal Beauty will allow you to transform your television set into a space observatory, filling the screen with the mystical beauty of the Universe. Viewers are presented with a collection of still images from the famous Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Throughout the journey the viewer is treated with images of nebulas, star clusters, galaxies, supernovas and other deep space objects. The combination of the images and the quality of the 1080p picture can be enchanting at times, especially for those with an interest in space, although it doesn’t have the same visual impact as the other discs that capture exotic fish, wildlife and landscapes. As each image appears on the screen, its name is also briefly displayed. The program concludes with a listing of each image and tells you which instrument was used to capture it. Accompanying the picture is a somewhat eerie, lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.