Amazing Space offers amazing Hubble views; and an Epson service update
By Jim Bray
Space may or may not be the final frontier, despite what Kirk, Spock and Picard – and countless others – have said, but it's still a heckuvan awesome frontier and one about which we may never learn all there is to know.
Not the final frontier? Well, there are concepts such as the multiverse being talked about in recent years and I'm not nearly scientist enough (or at all, to be honest) to discuss such things intelligently. Suffice it to say there may be other frontiers. But unlike such potential frontiers as the multiverse, Space isn't merely a concept over which to expend skull sweat. It's here now, and we're taking baby steps to tackle it - and it can be argued that who and what we are as humans and citizens of the, well, whatever it turns out eventually that we're citizens of, was created out of Space.
As the box for the new Blu-ray/DVD/CD Amazing Space says, "space is not 'out there somewhere.' We are in the midst of it. We are a part of it - from the physical world around us to the smallest cells within, we are interwoven into one vast, living ocean of consciousness." Or as Carl Sagan once said: "We are all star stuff."
Space is also a great show, thanks to advances such as the Hubble space telescope, which has been snapping wonderful shots of our universe for a quarter century. From its early and somewhat distorted days to today, Hubble has sent back the most glorious scenes that are above us in the heavens, only the smallest glimpse of which we can see via our own senses. Want to feel small and insignificant? Check out Hubble's work as it shows us just how small and insignificant we - and our planet - really are.
There has been a number TV, film and video presentations about Hubble and its pictures, but this may be the first one that's meant more as a meditation and relaxation tool than a scientific exercise. As the press materials say, "Now armchair adventurers can embark on a breath-taking, spiritual journey through space - which will both entertain and calm you - with the powerful, meditative, audio-visual experience Amazing Space, a three-disc (Blu-ray/DVD/CD) collector's set available May 26 from Film Chest Media Group."
I wish I'd read the press release more closely going in, because as soon as I saw "Hubble" and "Blu-ray" I bit, but when I put the high def disc in my player and fired up the rest of the audio/video system, I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong; the images here are spectacular – and I might get struck by lightning for saying this: I wish it were in 3D because many of the images have wonderful depth on the flat screen and that third dimension (if done well) could have you fly your home theatre right into galaxies, or nebulae, or whatever. The 1080p picture on the disc is reference quality; I watched it on both a 106 front projection screen and a 50 inch plasma and the shots looked superb on both.
Alas, the "or whatever" in the last paragraph means you don't get to learn what you're seeing. There are no captions and no "star by star commentary" to tell you what you're seeing on the screen. Some of the pictures are familiar to aficionados, and there is a couple of great planetary shots thrown in for good measure (including a terrific zoom involving Mars). I really missed knowing what each shot was, however.
Unfortunately, astronomy isn't what this disc is about. It's kind of a video version of the type of new age music I'd hear playing at whatever shaman I was visiting at any particular time during my many attempts to get rid of the agony of my feet (but that's a different column!). In this presentation, the music - by Kristin Hoffman and performed by her and some collaborators - is just as important as the visuals, which is undoubtedly why there's an audio CD of Ms. Hoffman's score included in the package. So if you're looking at Amazing Space as a way to learn about the cosmos, you'll be disappointed.
But if you like doing your "medication, yoga, dance, dreaming, or just relaxing" in front of mesmerizingly beautiful images, Amazing Space will, according to the press materials, "gently lift you from your fast-paced life on Earth into the colorful, floating bliss of the cosmos – where you will enjoy the peaceful, awe-inspiring splendor of space while meditating on the vastness, significance and mysteries of the universe…"
Whew! I'd rather be torn apart by wild dogs than meditate, dance or do yoga (though I've been known to dream and relax), so that aspect of the disc is lost on me, and I have to admit that Hoffman's ethereal music wore on me and, despite the on screen grandeur, threatened to put me to sleep. But of course I wasn't doing yoga, dancing or meditating, either, and I'm no fan of new age music. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
I was also disappointed in the audio track. The quality was fine, but there was no lossless track, and when I tried playing the Dolby Digital 5.1 track I got no sound at all. A DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD track would have been nice, especially since Hoffman's music is recorded very well.
Obviously, I'm not the target audience here. I enjoy the disc more when I turn off the sound and just go gaga at the gorgeous galactic graphics. Regardless of my boorishness on the whole new age aspect of this disc, however, I'll be keeping it handy so I can use its glorious images when I test video equipment. The high def, 16x9 content is worth the price of admission.
Amazing Space also includes a series of short interviews with Hoffman and the production's editor and producer, and there's also a two-sided pamphlet inside the box that gives you information on each musical selection (there are eight over the disc's approximate 52 minute running time) as well as some advice on things meditational.
A few weeks back I did a column praising Epson for their excellent customer service when my home theatre's front projector developed what C3PO might describe as "a mild flutter." That column outlined how I contacted Epson with a question about a small (and relatively minor at the time) red spot that was visible when the screen was blank and, upon receiving its serial number, they immediately offered to – and did – replace it under warranty with a refurbished unit.
The process was quick and painless and the "new" projector was hung from my ceiling in almost no time at all. Well, it had to be because if I hadn't sent back the flawed one within a week they'd have charged my wife's credit card – and I'd be a dead man.
But it all worked out fine. I wrote the first column the day I actually sent back the old unit, so I hadn't even tried the replacement then, but I had no reason to think there'd be a problem, what with the overall quality of the projector (I could have lived with the red spot if it didn't get worse, such was my enjoyment of the unit) and Epson's service. I promised to write again if things didn't turn out as planned.
Well, they didn't. Wouldn't you know, the first time we fired up the replacement - which was already mounted on the ceiling to aim it properly at the screen - we noticed a bit of clatter from its fan, a noise similar to what I've heard when the fan on my PC is about to give up the ghost. The noise would abate somewhat by the time a movie was over but it was still more than I had from the old projector, so I smelled a rat - or at least a bad fan.
I was torn about whether to contact Epson again because the new unit's picture quality was spectacular and I hoped the fan would somehow heal itself - but when I realized how silly it was to dream that it would just get better on its own, I reluctantly contacted Epson again. And once again they leapt into action, even to phoning me to confirm some of the details. Another fly in the ointment was the fact that I was going away for vacation in less than a week, but they assured me I'd have time to both receive and return before I left - and they were right.
So the third Epson projector now hangs from my ceiling, another refurbished unit, and it works great so far (about 40 hours of lamp time in). No issues with the picture, no fan noise out of the ordinary, nothing. Hats off to Epson again for standing behind their product.
Which, thanks to 4K UHD, is nearly obsolete now anyway. And doesn't that just figure?
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.