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Best of Europe: Italy
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For more about Best of Europe: Italy and the Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray release, see the Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray Review
Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray Review
Join Rudy Maxa for a visit to the greatest landmarks Italy has to offer.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, June 22, 2009
It's difficult not to be envious of the rich history Europe enjoys. As an American I have plenty to be proud of, but there's something awe-inspiring about walking down a road once travelled by Julius Caesar, or standing within Rome's vast Pantheon. I often wonder what it would be like to actually live in a place like Italy, surrounded by so many monumental structures and perhaps working in a building that sits on top of thousands of years of human history. Do you think it's possible not to eventually take all that history for granted, or do you think you'd always maintain a degree of reverence toward the vast empire once built by your ancestors?
Best of Europe: Italy offers four 26 minute segments that focus on prominent tourist destinations within the country of Italy. Hosted by Rudy Maxa, a longtime consumer travel expert and former host of "The Savvy Traveler", the show offers a glimpse of the best attractions at each location and tips to make your stay a little easier. In addition to the informative narrative provided by Maxa, we're given occasional text-based pop-ups that warn potential travelers of the dangers or potential nuisances that could affect your vacation. The following is a list of each episode with an outline of the locations visited within each city:
Baths of Caracalla
Campo de Fiori
San Clemente Chapel
Santa Maria Church
Piazza San Marco
Basilica di San Marco
Piazza della Signoria
Cathedral of Florence
Church of Santa Maria Novella
Poggio a Caiano
Villa San Michele
NAPLES & AMALFI COAST
Cappella San Severo
National Archaeological Museum
Ruins of Pompeii
Island of Capri
Temple of Poseidon
As a travel show, Best of Europe does a good job providing a thorough overview of each attraction. Maxa has clearly done his research, conveying excellent historical context as well as a topical analysis of the best local spots. It has to be difficult to separate what's important or not important when your dealing with such a brief runtime (especially when focusing on Rome), but the end result was surprisingly informative with coverage of all the major spots I remember from my trip to Rome. I still prefer the personality of Samantha Brown (host of "Passport to Europe") over Rudy Maxa, but I'd consider Best of Europe to be more informative in comparison (along the lines of Rick Steves).
Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080i utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 28Mbps), Best of Europe: Italy offers a reasonably proficient visual experience that's downgraded by the presence of some digital artifacting. Taken as a whole, the level of detail in the scenic vistas of Italy appear wonderfully crisp with natural colors, deep blacks, and excellent contrast. Unfortunately, the video also suffers from the presence of easily noticeable moire effects that lead to some nasty artifacting. Anytime you see lines running parallel to each other with minimal space between them, shimmering will take hold of those lines, giving that portion of the picture a lack of line consistency. A great example of this effect is a striped shirt on a tourist, or fine lines on cathedrals or building scattered throughout Italy. I noticed the problem the most in the first episode (Rome), but it still appeared in the other episodes as well. Other than that one problem and the occasional out-of-focus shot, fans of the television series will soak up every minute of the beautiful visual experience.
Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The only audio offering on the disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track in the native language of English. Even though this isn't a surround sound experience, the audio crew recording the original source material did a nice job capturing the ambiance of the city streets, bringing out every nuance of the hustle and bustle around Maxa as he does his best to blend in. Moving on to the music, the selections in each episode are standard fair for a television documentary, with a mixture of choral and orchestra entries. While it doesn't add much to the overall experience, the score was never obtrusive or inappropriate for the subject matter and offered an appropriately balanced volume when blended with the dialogue in the narration. I never had to strain in an effor to make out the dialogue, which is key in a narrative-heavy travel show.
The overall audio track is far from impressive when stacked up next to a surround sound lossless mix, but considering the material doesn't demand that kind of treatment, I doubt anyone will have many complaints after listening to the track.
Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no extras included on the disc.
Best of Europe: Italy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Whether your planning a trip to Italy, or searching for a way to relive your prior experience, Best of Europe: Italy is an enticing high-definition offering for the world traveler in all of us. The production values aren't the greatest, but seem entirely appropriate for a travel television show. The only thing holding me back from a wholehearted recommendation is the presence of video artifacting in the transfer, and I hope something is done about the problem on future Blu-ray offerings of the series. As it stands, I'm still quite satisfied with the idea of adding this disc to my collection and I'd imagine any fan of the series will welcome the opportunity to travel through Italy from the comfort of their home.
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