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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: Africa

It is no secret that if you want to use your HDTV to the max, you attach a blu-ray player to it and then play one of BBC's nature documentaries. When I first upgraded to a HDTV in 2009, I watched Planet Earth, and it was an experience to behold and enjoy. When I upgraded to my new LG Plasma Display, I picked up Africa just to see.

What makes the BBC blu-rays so great is that they're made and formatted for the standard HDTV screen. Movies are formatted for the 1:37:1 aspect ratio rather than the 16:9 HDTV aspect ratio, and as a result when you watch a movie, you get black bars at the top and bottom of your image, which means that Baraka, for instance, while being mastered in 8K before being down-sampled to 2K, looks gorgeous, you don't quite get to make full use of your 1080p display compared to what Africa or Planet Earth provides.

Africa comes in 6 episodes, with 3 episodes per disk. Each episodes spans an hour, and covers the Kalahari, the Svannah, Congo, Cape, Sahara, and a wrap up episode that covers the bigger picture. Each episode comes with a behind the scenes section that's about 10 minutes long. The footage is nothing short of amazing, including Starlight cameras that reveal the nocturnal behavior of black rhinos, and a slow motion capture of a battle between 2 giraffes in a desert.

I'm normally very impatient with every "behind the scenes" documentary, because most of the time I'd watch them and say, yeah, you had a multi-million dollar budget, good for you. But some of the footage that the series provided were so jaw-dropping that I actually looked forward to the "behind the scenes" documentary. In one of the episodes, the crew shot silver ants in 50C heat in the Sahara desert, which looked brutal as heck.

I wasn't looking forward to he last episode, because normally these documentaries tend to be a huge downer. After all, nearly every non-insect species featured in the TV series is nearly about to go extinct (one good reason to own this Blu Ray). But the last episode was actually surprisingly optimistic, including detailing a huge multi-country plan to surround the Sahara with trees to prevent further desert incursions.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Since you can't easily stream the series without losing video quality, the best way to enjoy it is to borrow it from a friend, rent it, or watch it over the air (though I'd be surprised if the presentation is better over the air than from a blu ray).

Highly recommended.

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