Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Like many musical releases, Sign saw its first DVD life as a non-US edition of questionable legality. Whether or not it was legit, it got bad marks for quality.
When news of this Canadian Sign DVD hit the Internet, fans figured it was another semi-legal but unauthorized release. Apparently it’s as legit as it comes, at least in Canada, where Alliance always had the rights to the movie. That makes this the real deal, and we can tell that from the surprisingly high quality of the package.
Visuals fare best. Sharpness consistently looked quite good. Some shots exhibited minor softness, but not to a significant degree. The majority of the movie was nicely delineated and well-defined. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement appeared.
To my surprise, print flaws were virtually absent. Some darker shots exhibited a bit of grain, though most of what looked like grain actually came from on-stage smoke. Otherwise, I saw a couple of specks and that was about it. Sign looked very clean.
Colors mostly seemed quite dynamic. Like most concerts, Sign presented most of its hues via lighting, and those tones run the risk of turning too dense. That virtually never happened here, as the myriad of lights almost always remained smooth and distinctive. Again, smoke occasionally made things look slightly murky, but those examples were the exceptions to the rule.
Other elements like costumes also exhibited a lively quality not often found in concerts. Maybe I just watch bands with bland color schemes, but this show definitely offered a broader palette than usual. Blacks uniformly looked tight and firm, and most low-light shots displayed good definition. As with the other aspects of the image, smoke sometimes made darker bits appear slightly messy, but that was inevitable. Ultimately, I felt Sign exceeded my expectations and deserved a “B+” for picture.
One notable variation occurred when we saw the video for “U Got the Look”. I don’t know its production history, but it looked like it was shot on tape. It always existed as part of the Sign film, though perhaps Prince didn’t intend for it to show up and only included it to placate the record company. If he’d meant it to be a portion of the flick from day one, I’d think he’d have shot it on film and it’d better integrate in regard to picture quality. Here it looked like a video, as it showed a murkiness and a chunkiness not found during the rest of the flick.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sign ‘o’ the Times, it presented a good mix but not one that’ll dazzle anyone. As we might anticipate, the soundfield stayed focused on the front. Like many concerts, this one went with stereo imaging for the music and not much else. Localization of the elements seemed unspectacular. They spread across the front in a reasonable manner, but they never came across as particularly well-defined in those realms. The surrounds occasionally added some reinforcement, such as an echo of the title tune’s drums, but they played a passive role for the most part.
Audio quality was somewhat erratic, though most elements sounded good. The biggest issue came from a too-active LFE channel. Bass response could become overwhelming at times, as my subwoofer boomed in an exaggerated way. Part of the time matters stayed reasonable, but in general the bass kicked too heavily for my liking.
The remainder of the mix sounded fine, though I might describe the elements as a little lackluster. Vocals and all the various instruments seemed clean and concise, and I can’t point to any particular flaws they displayed. However, I can’t claim that they were especially vivid and dynamic, either. The soundtrack replicated the music in an acceptable manner but simply didn’t come to life to a great degree. That wound it up with a “B-“.
I didn’t expect any extras from Sign and I didn’t get any. The package doesn’t present any form of supplement.
Frankly, I don’t really care. Sure, some goodies would be nice, but I’m just happy to get Sign ‘o’ the Times on a non-VHS format. This is its first truly legit DVD release in North America, and it also never came out on laserdisc in the US; fans had to settle for an expensive and less-than-inspiring Asian disc.
That makes this anamorphic widescreen Sign a real treat for fans. Sign is about as good as it gets in regard to concert films. They don’t get more exciting than this, as it depicts Prince at his absolute peak. The DVD presents very satisfying picture along with erratic but acceptable audio. It comes with no extras but that’s a minor quibble. Sign belongs in the collection of every music fan, as it’s one of the all-time greats.