About two decades ago, video guru Joe Kane decided that consumers needed a way to adjust their TVs for optimum picture quality, and he produced a laser video disc that included numerous test patterns along with a detailed guide and the necessary blue filter to properly adjust color and tint. That disc, A Video Standard, was followed some years later by an updated version, Video Essentials, which included what was then called Dolby Digital AC-3 (what we now know as Dolby Digital), along with additional content referencing Lucasfim’s emerging Home THX audio system. Later versions included DVD and Blu-ray releases, all with the goal of allowing consumers to optimize their system’s video and audio quality.
Since then, there have been numerous other video optimization discs, including the Avia DVDs (a single disc version for consumers, and a pro version for calibrators), as well as others from Monster Cable, Spears & Munsil, and Silicon Optix HQV along with subsequent versions on DVD and Blu-ray from IDT HQV, to name just a few.
But the most ambitious efforts to date are the new World Of Wonder DVD and Blu-ray discs from Disney, of all people. Introduced at the CEDIA show in September, the WOW discs are by far the most extensively comprehensive calibration discs yet offered, in terms of their ability to effectively coach consumers through the process of understanding various video and audio adjustments, as well as providing a wealth of pristine source material that could only come from a media giant such as Disney.
As has been the case for a long time, the video quality of a display with the default out-of-the-box settings is usually quite far from what a professional sees in the broadcast or post-production studio environment. That disparity is what calibration discs such as Disney’s new WOW offerings seek to eliminate. Typical consumer displays suffer from too much of everything—too much contrast, too much brightness, too much color saturation, all in the name of having the display look impressive in a brightly-lit retail environment.
Those default settings provide a typically garish picture in the home, however, with over-emphasized flesh tones that are not natural-looking at all, and over-the-top brightness that can cause eye strain and viewer fatigue. The problem with many calibration discs is that a fair amount of knowledge and expertise is required of the user—Joe Kane’s various releases over the years are typical examples. Test patterns are presented without much in the way of cogent explanations to indicate what the test patterns are supposed to do, or to show how displays are to be adjusted with same.
Here’s where Disney’s WOW discs are better than the others. Instead of assuming the viewer is a video expert, the WOW discs provide multiple levels of content proficiency, so that neophytes (that would include the majority of consumers) can gently ease into the highly complex world of video, with suitably detailed text, graphics and audio commentary along the way, including examples of over-adjusted and under-adjusted test patterns.
Disney’s WOW is offered in four versions: as a single DVD disc, a single Blu-ray disc, and in double-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets that have a companion disc, Visions: Inspired By Nature. The HD Blu-ray version of the Visions: Inspired By Nature disc provides a spectacular-looking, eye-candy grade ensemble of high definition sequences that are sure to impress your friends when you’re showing off your newly adjusted HDTV.
While the release of DVD versions of World Of Wonder is entirely understandable given the widespread adoption of DVD, for most HDTV owners the Blu-ray versions will be of greater use, and those are the ones to look for, especially the double-disc set with the additional nature clips, which retails for only $10 more than the single-disc version.
As the Disney media empire includes their movie studios as well as broadcast networks such as ABC and ESPN, the Blu-ray WOW disc includes a rich array of HD content that goes far beyond what typical calibration discs usually offer. Consider the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray calibration disc, which provides a few minutes of good-looking HD video as a sampling, but is marred by sped-up, fast motion effects that are disconcerting to say the least.
Contrast that with the numerous HD clips on the Blu-ray WOW disc, especially those on the Visions: Inspired By Nature companion disc, and it’s clear that the Disney effort is by far the most comprehensive calibration disc effort to date.
Not that they’re without fault, as there are some technical and typographical errors in the various educational segments. In this country, with our bastardized version of the King’s English, gray is spelt with an “a” primarily (although Webster’s allows the use of an “e” as an alternate). So their references to “greyscale” might have viewers wondering if the copywriter might be a Canadian, Australian or British import (or perhaps someone who enjoys a cup of Earl Grey tea).