To the touch, this boxed set is pretty cool. The surface of the box feels a bit like the grooves on a vinyl record, with a matte finish. The box contains two three-fold DVD holders and some printed information.
I noticed the DVD holders and DVDs don’t contain any tactile markings to indicate which disc is which, but read on.
Being an audiophile, I enjoyed some of the quite elaborate and rich soundscapes which allow the listener to immerse into the atmosphere of the movie. This, for me, is one of the pluses of DVDs over older magnetic tape options. It means that if I am ‘watching’ a DVD with sighted friends, that I am getting something more than just dialogue out of the experience.
Loading a DVD
Imagine my amazement and excitement when I selected one of the DVDs at random (well I thought it might be disc 1, but didn’t know) only to hear the disc spin up and a clear voice announce:
“Doctor Who, Series Two, Disc 4.”
“If you would like audio menus, press the enter key now.”
So, clearly I had the wrong DVD in the player, but yes, as you might imagine, I was too eager to hear what the talking menus were like to go and find the first DVD! This was very cool indeed, and how I dream technology in 2006 should/could always work – additional redundant information that gives audio and visual guidance to the user.
As it happens I always forget what buttons are what on my DVD remote, but I figured the round button, with arrows round it was the enter button being referred to, so I hurriedly pressed it, to hear what would happen next.
Once you get the hang of it, navigating the audio menus is very easy and quite straightforward. Menus wrap, and each option is spoken in a clear, recorded female voice. Note that the menus are implemented on the DVD, so they should work on any DVD player.
To navigate the menus, you use the up and down arrow keys, and press the enter key to select the item just announced.
Audio options is the most interesting sub-menu. Here you can choose from four options:
Turn Feature audio on. This is for standard 5.1 channel surround sound, the standard audio option for the DVDs.
Turn Commentary on. This turns on the producer’s commentary on the episode.
Turn Audio Description on. This option allows you to hear the DVD soundtrack, plus a person describing action that isn’t obvious through the dialogue alone.
Return to main menu. Takes you back to the opening speaking menu.
Note that if you appreciate the full 5.1 audio experience, with surround sound, you will have to somewhat sacrifice this for a lower quality stereo mix, with the audio descriptions dubbed in. It’s more informative, but it isn’t nearly so impressive and its audio impact is diminished. I imagine that these are trade-offs required to work within the DVD format specification, and perhaps future generations of technology could provide the description track alone, rather than a stereo mix of the DVD audio plus the descriptions.
Having said the above, however, it is a lot better than not having the choice of audio description for the episodes!
If you have a good surround sound system, and are viewing the DVD with sighted friends, you may opt to have the original feature audio, and check in with someone else about key actions, the choice is yours. Sighted viewers may get frustrated with the audio description, which is quite in the foreground.
You can find the DVD you want to listen to, because each DVD tells you its number;
You can activate and fully navigate the DVD menus without sight, with the well thought-out and clear spoken menus; and
You can enable or disable the audio description of all the non-dialogue goings-on, credits, etc.
So, if you are looking for a coolly accessible DVD Christmas present, this may well fit the bill. It is a shame that series one doesn’t have this level of accessibility. Certainly it doesn’t have the audio DVD labeling and talking menus, and I am not clear on whether it contains audio description.
The Royal National Institute of the Blind and the BBC should indeed be very proud of this exciting and highly accessible DVD release! Let’s hope it is the first of many, and that other Audio Visual publishers follow their innovative lead.