Your Daily Phil

HD DVD Review: Heroes Season 1, Disc 1

Posted by lozenp on January 21, 2008

Editor’s note: This is the first review I’ve tried, so no doubt the format, length and details of subsequent reviews will evolve until I find a process that works.

I hadn’t watched Heroes when it first came out. At the time, there were too many other shows to watch so I didn’t let myself get involved in another one. As time went on, many of the shows I chose to watch instead failed to make it (for instance, “The Nine”) while Heroes went on to be a hit in its first season.

After catching the pilot via a free download on Xbox Live Marketplace, I made a point to have this be the first HD DVD I would rent when my Netflix subscription started up.

First Impressions
One thing I’ve noticed with HD DVDs is that some will immediately launch the movie, some will come to a menu screen like a traditional DVD. Since there is more than one episode per disc, it makes sense that this disc opened into the menus. While there is a ton of stuff on the disc, the Menu is not intimidating, just six choices. One minor source of confusion came in that you select the episode you want to watch under a “Chapters” menu item and not a “Episodes” link as most every other TV shows on DVD I’ve seen.

Other menu options include Universal’s “My Scenes” feature that allows you to save your favorite scenes or bookmarks, an “Extras” area where you can view some deleted scenes or watch an unaired director’s cut of the pilot with or without commentary, and another Universal HD DVD staple – U Control (more on this later).

How’s it look and sound?
Having never seen the show on TV, the only comparison I could make was to the Xbox episode I downloaded. I’ll spare the scientific jargon and just go with “this looks quite a bit better” as my official comparison. HD DVDs in general look amazing, and this one is no different.

Colors
A nice mix of subtle colors and strong bold choices (the red of the cheerleader’s outfits and the green of the football field being among the strongest) give the show a very believable feel. At no point are any of the colors blown out or over saturated for effect. Overall it’s a very nice balance.

Blacks and whites
This area is possibly the best place to show off the power of HD DVD. There are plenty of dark moments in the show, but at no point did I see any steps, banding or artifacts in the black levels (or any colors for that matter). If anything, the blacks might be a bit too dark, to the point that you might lose some shadow detail in some of the darker scenes. Don’t get me wrong though, I was very impressed with the black levels, some of the best I’ve seen.

Similarly, the whites are not overblown or overexposed, but the nature of the show means there’s not too much brightness to worry about.

Sound
Some of the other HD sites will lament the lack of next generation audio on the discs, having instead to settle for a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track. To me, however, I haven’t seen anything that would benefit from the advanced audio options, at least not on disc one. There was limited action, most of the two episodes were taken up with backstory, setup, and conversations.

That said, you will notice your rear speakers kick in every once in a while to create atmosphere in the New York shots, and to some extent in the fire scene in the pilot.

Dialogue is well balanced. I was able to set a volume level and leave it there throughout the show without having to adjust it. Ambient sound and music are used throughout the first two episodes to set the tone for many scenes, and the mix was very well done. It was spooky when it needed to be, and suspenseful when that was called for. All the while not overpowering the main audio.

Overall picture quality
Heroes is a very well done disc. The show was originally shot on a high-def source, so they started with good source material. It looks better than any broadcast HD show I’ve seen. Detail is very rich, at one point you are able to see the texture in the hood of a sweatshirt one of the characters is wearing. Skin tones are well done, although on a couple occasions there is a bit too much yellow on the actor’s faces.

The worst problem this disc had was noise. I’m not sure if this is an NBC thing (the new show Chuck has a HUGE problem with noise in the whitest areas of many scenes) or just the only real weakness in an otherwise strong HD DVD. In a couple scenes the picture seems speckled and soft for no apparent reason. It’s not just in the effects scenes or in the dark scenes. If anything, the scenes where it’s worst don’t seem like they would pose a problem at all. It’s not pervasive, but it’s definitely noticeable.

Extras
Heroes went all out with the extras in this show. While I haven’t gotten all the discs yet, even the offerings on disc one are worthwhile.

There is the standard deleted scenes, which to be honest I didn’t look at yet because there were other things worth checking out first.

Director’s Cut Pilot
The first disc only contains the first two episodes of the show, while the rest of the discs have at least three episodes, most with four. There’s two reasons for this: first, I believe the pilot was originally two hours long when it aired on broadcast TV, and second a “Director’s Cut” of the pilot is included on the first disc as well, with the option to listen to commentary from director Tim Kring.

The majority of the director’s cut is the same as the pilot that aired, I’d say about 80-85% of it. The majority of the changes come in two areas. First, there is a whole terrorist subplot in the unaired pilot that completely disappears from the one that debuted on NBC. Second, the character of the police officer is introduced in this show instead of waiting until the second episode as in the actual show. The police officer and the terrorist plot tied together very tightly so when they decided to remove one aspect, it made sense to take the other with it.

Overall, it was a worthwhile watch. Interesting, albeit not earth-shattering commentary from the director (including that many of the pilot’s scenes were shot on sets from “Chasing Jordan) made it worth watching the pilot a second time, and some new twists on the story added something to the show and aided my understanding of future episodes.

U-Control
This is where the first disc’s extras shined. For those who don’t know, U-Control is a feature of Universal HD DVDs that allows the viewer to turn on or off certain picture-in-picture and other pop-up facts. There’s three different options here: character connections, which allows you to read a brief bio of the main Heroes and access a very handy “family tree” style board that shows how the characters become more and more intertwined; artwork presentations, which allows you to view and zoom in on select paintings and other pieces that tie into the main story for a closer look; and finally helix revealed, which points out places where the “Helix” that weaves its way throughout the store is cleverly placed into scenes, such as when a pool hose is twisted into the “s”-shaped mark.

As a new viewer of the show, I found the U-Control features to be a nice way to learn more about the show and get quickly into the mythology.

Final Notes
Overal, the first disc was a pleasant surprise. Great video, audio and fun extra features made this a worthwhile rental and ensured that I would be watching the rest of the series as well.

Have a suggestion on the content in the review? Leave a comment!

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