Secret World Live appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I wouldn’t call the picture of World a total disaster, it presented many problems and came as a definite disappointment.
For one, the choice to make it a 1.78:1 image made little sense. From what I understand, World was shot 1.33:1, so this meant they needed to crop the original photography. This never seemed terribly intrusive, though the concert looked a bit tight much of the time.
Even without that issue, however, the picture would be problematic. Sharpness was generally acceptable. More than a few shots came across as moderately soft, especially when they became wider. However, most of the show seemed reasonably concise and well-defined, although it seemed moderately pixilated on occasion.
Unfortunately, jagged edges and some shimmering crept in occasionally, and I noticed mild edge enhancement. Apparently shot on film and not videotape, some source flaws emerged. I saw occasional examples of specks, grit, nicks and marks. The biggest problem, however, resulted from the massively grainy appearance of the image. Many have referred to these as compression artifacts, but I don’t think that’s the case. A few times during the program – the “head-cam” shots of “Digging In the Dirt” and a spoken introduction to “Secret World” – the presentation offered some non-filmed material. Those shots all looked totally free from the graininess that dominated the rest of the show. The absence of flaws in those shots made no sense if the problems stemmed from artifacts; those should distribute pretty evenly throughout the show. Nonetheless, the damage remained, and the graininess made the image tough to watch much of the time.
World didn’t present a terribly broad palette, but the DVD replicated the tones fairly drably nonetheless. Red lighting came across as messy and thick, and other hues were flat and lacked much life. Black levels generally seemed pale and listless, and shadow definition was somewhat weak. I once read a comment about Secret World Live that stated it looked like a QuickTime video. I wouldn’t go quite that far, as the DVD presented occasional examples of reasonably attractive shots. However, the comparison was closer to the mark than I’d like, and World presented a fairly poor image.
Happily, the soundtracks of Secret World Live helped compensate for the weak visuals. The DVD offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. For the most part, the pair seemed pretty similar. The main difference came from the way they distributed bass. The Dolby track used the LFE channel more actively, whereas the DTS one usually pushed low-end to the main speakers. If you use full-range speakers set to “large”, this shouldn’t cause any problems, but for those with smaller speakers, you might prefer the Dolby track.
Otherwise, I thought both seemed quite satisfying. A true remix of the source material, World made nice use of all five channels. As one might expect, the forward speakers dominated, and they presented the music in a clean and well-delineated manner. Instruments popped up in appropriate locations and blended together quite smoothly. The track also used the surrounds more actively than usual. This occasionally felt a little gimmicky, such as at the start of “Steam”; it featured percussion that slowly swirled around the room. Nonetheless, this never felt too awkward, and it mostly added a nice sense of involvement to the proceedings.
Audio quality was very solid. Vocals sounded concise and natural, though I got the impression many – if not most – of them had been re-recorded for this document. Pete’s singing didn’t always integrate cleanly with the visuals, and a lot of his lines simply didn’t seem live. The discrepancies weren’t glaring, but they caused a few distractions.
Whether or not World used non-live vocals, they sounded good. All instrumentation came across as vivid and distinctive. The material was tight and well defined, and each element stood out nicely. Highs were clear and bright, and lows usually appeared firm and reasonably powerful. Actually, bass response probably could been a bit stronger, but I didn’t have any real complaints in that department. Overall, the audio of Secret World Live sounded positive.
Unlike most concert DVDs, Secret World Live comes with a decent complement of extras. Timelapse speeds us through the set-up of the “Secret World” stage. During the three-minute and 10-second piece, we watch the crew build the stage, the audience file in, the band play, and then the teardown process. It’s a cool look at all the work that goes into staging a complicated concert.
Behind the Scenes runs 15 minutes, five seconds, and covers various topics related to the “Secret World” tour. We see images from the show along with comments from Gabriel. He discusses the staging, what he intended to do with the concert and various elements, and the band. The best moments come from the actual behind the scenes shots, as we watch the roadies make it work. Otherwise, Gabriel offers some fairly uninspired remarks that don’t shed a ton of light on the tour.
In the Quiet Steam Photo Gallery, we get two supplements packed into one. While we watch stills from the “Secret World” shows, we hear the subdued remix of “Steam” called “Quiet Steam” (natch). This runs six minutes and 24 seconds. It’s not a great collection of shots or a terrific version of the song, but it’s a reasonably nice addition to the set.
We find a look at Gabriel’s latest tour in Growing Up Live 2002/03. During this seven-minute and 35-second featurette, we see elements from the shot and hear Pete discuss the staging and the band. He offers some decent insight into what he wanted to do, and this offers a good teaser for the concert.
Finally, Secret World includes a booklet. This includes some concert photos as well as band and production credits.
Peter Gabriel has always been a lively and vivid performer, and Secret World Live shows him in good form. The concert doesn’t always succeed, but it presents much more good than not and is a solid presentation. While the DVD enjoys excellent audio, it suffers from weak visual quality and only a mediocre mix of extras. The show’s good enough to merit a tepid recommendation, but this DVD will remain a disappointment due to the flawed picture.