Little House on the Prairie: Season 7
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(Dec 22, 2015)
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In season seven of this timeless series, change is in the air! It's wedding bells and a baby on the way for Laura and Almanzo. Adam's sight returns, and he and Mary open a law practice. Laura begins teaching in Walnut Grove; Nellie's pregnancy ignites a family disagreement; and Albert's love for Sylvia stirs rumors. The townswomen fight for equal property rights, and the Ingalls consider adoption.
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Picture quality: In general, it is "in line with" what we've come to expect on Blu-ray. It is incredibly detailed and clear and overall looks alright. It is noticeably better than DVD. However, after having now watched most of the season, I can say that the entire look of the season does have a "paler" look as compared to previous seasons. But that seems to largely be the way the season was done. For the color choices and sets, the production crew seem to have purposefully gone with a more "bland" look - there's a lot more bland colors (browns/greys/blacks) in this season. I remember thinking that S7 looked "different" from previous seasons on the old DVD's too.
There also is sometimes noticeable fading which further contributes to that look, but this is not consistent. Some episodes look really good and vibrant (such as the last 2) and some like "The Nephews" clearly have more of that "faded 70's look" and look more muted. It is clear that some of the original film for some episodes suffered damage over time that others did not. I don't think the color is absolutely right on this remastered release (which is the same on the new DVD and the streaming) but it is definitely overall better and "more natural" as compared to the old DVD's.
There are also a few minor issues (the 1st episode in particular has some errant scan lines/flecks) and like previous releases, the quality can be somewhat variable from shot-to-shot. However, all things considered, the picture quality is decent. It is amusing to see, in beautiful HD, that Mary actually has a "beard" in the beginning of "To See the Light"! :)
To clear up some confusion/wrong information out there, the bitrates for the S7 blu-ray are on par with previous seasons. I took 2 random episodes from previous seasons (1 from S5 and 1 from S6) and looked at their quality and bitrates. They both had an overall bitrate (video+audio) of about 22mbps. On Season 7, basically the way it works out is the first 10 episodes on S7 have an overall bitrate of 18-20mbps and the remaining 12 episodes are about 25mbps - in other words some S7 episodes have a little lower bitrate than previous season episodes and some a bit higher. They all are a much higher bitrate than streaming (Digital HD) which seems to top out at about 10mbps.
Audio quality: The audio is NOT lossless as was previously the case, however it is encoded as a 448k DD track, which is over twice the bitrate of most DVD stereo tracks (including the S7 DVD). I can promise you after listening through my studio headphones that the bitrate itself is a complete non-issue! 448k for this mono audio track is perfectly fine. In tests using my studio headphones (as a relative audiophile) with the previous season's lossless tracks, I couldn't tell hardly any difference between the lossless and a 384k track (let alone 448k), so the bitrate is fine! As for the audio quality itself: It is overall fine, but a little different from previous releases. It was mastered differently and generally has a flatter EQ, the effect of which is it doesn't sound as "full-bodied" but dialogue in particular generally sounds even clearer than previous remastered seasons (if you can believe it). However, another side effect is that the audio seems to experience more "clipping" where the levels get pushed a bit too high - which distorts the sound a tad when it happens. So it's a bit of a mixed bag, but overall the audio is just fine and nothing to really complain about - it is lightyears better than the old DVD.
The bottom line on the audio/video quality is that while it is a tad lower, it is still generally "in line" with what we've been used to on Blu-ray and is still obviously better/clearer than the DVD counterpart. For me, actually owning the episodes themselves in good HD quality on solid Blu-ray discs is all that I really care about and that's what this release delivers, so I am satisfied. However, there are some "other issues" (some of which may be very important to you):
- There are subtitle issues - with them being a bit out-of-sync. It's not generally terrible, but it is noticeable. For some episodes, it's not a big deal, whereas on others it's more noticeable and a problem. This IS frustrating and I do consider this a more significant issue. When you recall that some of the original old DVD releases didn't even have subtitles, it helps to put it in a bit of perspective, but it's still frustrating. I don't know if the DVD has these same issues or not. I don't consider this problem worthy of boycotting or returning or refusing to purchase future releases, but it is still a significant issue that I'm hoping Lionsgate will address. When they do S8/9, this is one issue that I do definitely expect them to do a better job of!
- There are apparently issues with the Spanish & French audio tracks being out-of-sync. Like the subtitle issue, I consider this a significant problem. If they are going to include foreign language tracks then they need to ensure that they are "in sync" with the video.
- The menu is simple and static. It doesn't match the look/feel of previous seasons, but it still looks fine and uses the HD cover picture as its background so it's not terrible looking. Basically it just allows you to choose the episode you want or change audio/subtitle options. There is no scene selection from the menu nor bookmarks as was the case on previous seasons. Overall, while a slight letdown/inconvenience, the menu is "fine" in my book.
- If you choose to skip the opening theme song using the next chapter button on your remote, you'll find it does NOT start you right after the theme song as was the case with previous seasons but rather a bit later in the episode. It is frustrating, especially since previous seasons did do this correctly, however this release certainly isn't the only one in the "TV on DVD/Blu-ray" realm with this problem. It is slightly annoying though because it means you basically have to fast-forward through the theme song rather than use the next chapter button if you want to skip it.
- There is no slipcover. I didn't expect one, either. I knew this was a barebones release that Lionsgate put out for the fans as an exclusive Amazon Manufacture-on-Demand Title and thus I knew a slipcover wasn't likely to be there. And honestly, if the lack of a slipcover makes this a little more profitable for Lionsgate so we might see S8&9 on blu, I don't care at all. I know it can be a little letdown to some since without it, it doesn't "match" the other seasons if you put them next to each other on your shelf, but it is at the end of the day a very minor issue.
- There are no extras. I also didn't expect any. Even the previous 6 seasons only had one 15-minute clip of a special as their one and only extra (except for S1 which also had one quick additional extra). Since the last part of that special documentary ended with the 6th season, I didn't really expect any extras on S7. The S7 DVD also does NOT have any extras so the Blu-ray users aren't getting shafted here any more than the DVD users. Now, I will just say that overall the lack of extras on all these new releases has baffled me since the old (terrible quality) DVD's did have some other extras (mostly a few interviews per season) and I believe Lionsgate owns the rights to those so I've never understood why they didn't use them on these new releases. But regardless, the lack of extras on this release matches the DVD release and was not a surprise.
- There are no UV/streaming codes (like the DVD has). The previous seasons of the new Blu-ray releases had them, but this one does not. I assume that this has to do with some legality/license issue with the fact that this is an Amazon exclusive MOD title. In any event, it's not a big deal. If you REALLY want the streaming and care about that, the entire series has been available for super cheap (and I do mean SUPER cheap) from other popular online video services at numerous points including very recently.
- One final note: All the episodes appear uncut EXCEPT for "Divorce, Walnut Grove Style" which is missing a few scenes - however this isn't a Blu-ray only issue but also is the same on the DVD's and Digital Copy.
So there you have it - that's the skinny. The bottom line is this Blu-ray release is definitely a barebones release where Lionsgate obviously cut numerous corners (presumably to keep costs down). Some of that "corner cutting" is okay by me (i.e. simple menu/no slipcover), but some of it I consider a problem (subtitle & Spanish sync issues). While a letdown compared to the previous releases and I can understand some frustration, the core episodes themselves are in tact and in similar quality, which at the end of the day is the most important thing. I understand that some could be frustrated that they've paid a few dollars more for basically less than what they've gotten in the past. But I also recognize that this release almost didn't even happen - the old retail model was obviously not financially feasible for Lionsgate to continue releasing these blu's - and they, while cutting several corners, did at least release the season under a different model (Amazon MOD) so fans could continue to complete their set and where it could also be financially profitable for them. If we want to see the remaining two seasons and movies on Blu, then we need to be careful about how much we gripe since it is very unlikely that S8/9 will be released any other way - it's going to be similar (though I do expect without the subtitle/Spanish problems). You'll need to decide if it's enough for you to just get the episodes themselves in HD quality on blu, or whether you aren't satisfied only with that but are going to expect all the other goodies/touches too that you've been used to. If the latter, you're going to be sorely disappointed. For me, I've decided I am ok with just having the episodes and owning them (unlike the streaming that I don't really own) and have no problem paying a few more dollars to have them (if the alternative is to not get them at all, which IS what the alternative is).
PREVIOUS UPDATE 12/4/2015: Lionsgate have officially announced S7 to be released on Blu-ray as an exclusive Amazon Manufacture-on-Demand title and you'll see the option to order it now at the top of the product page. This is good news that it is at least now being released at all, however, there is still much uncertainty regarding Seasons 8 & 9 & final movies on blu-ray. This is likely a trial-run by Lionsgate to see how profitable it will be to release the rest, so let's not disappoint. **It is important that everyone that complained about the stopping of the blu-ray's purchase this S7 blu-ray set!** Don't try to hold out for a non-exclusive set (not likely to happen) or until you can get confirmation for the rest of the seasons (which won't likely happen unless S7 blu-ray sells!). Lionsgate is in some sense throwing us a bone to prove to them that they can still make money on the later season blu's. We need to show them that they can. For those of you (like me) that used a low-star review for the DVD to make a statement: Those reviews are lumped together with the Blu-ray and are now hurting your cause rather than helping it (because the total star rating is lowered for both products, not just the DVD). We have a very limited window of time here before Lionsgate makes decisions for what it's going to do regarding S8/9 blu and it's going to likely come down to S7 sales. If you posted a negative review, please consider changing it to a higher rating or delete the review entirely. We want to up the overall star rating quickly. To the DVD-only people (that don't care about Blu-ray), I know the posting of negative reviews here seemed frustrating, but it was one of the few options available to those of us that got burned by Lionsgate to let them know of our frustration. For my part, I had no desire to hurt the DVD or bring it down unfairly and thus have modified my review now.
I know there are plenty of people that don't care about the difference between DVD and Blu-ray, but it's very simple: DVD is standard definition picture with compressed audio, while Blu-ray is high definition picture with uncompressed audio, and there IS a difference on both fronts. This series has looked absolutely beautiful and sounded incredible in high definition on Blu-ray and has gotten great praise for its blu-ray releases (I haven't read one even remotely negative review of them on Amazon). Yet Lionsgate is inexplicably stopping them for Season 7. They have made the silly, and angering, decision to release S7 and the full collection only on DVD.
If they're going to release the full series on DVD, then they should at least do the same for Blu-ray! If they had demand for S1-6 on Blu-ray, then they ought to be able to justify the complete set on blu! Actually, they SHOULD have ALREADY released the complete collection up-front, ESPECIALLY with a show that had 9 seasons if they thought they might not commit to releasing all 9 seasons. They already had all the remastering done before they even released S1 so it's not like they couldn't have done that. It's REALLY AWKWARD to watch this show partway in HD and then switch to SD. Lionsgate has been really awesome to this point, but they are royally uncool in my book at the moment. This is the kind of stuff that just really makes people mad. There ought to be some way that they can make the numbers work with a show that's as popular as this one - especially one where people have specifically been praising the excellent blu-ray releases and where they've ALREADY got all the remastering work done for the rest of the episodes. From a purely monetary perspective, I just don't understand why they would purposefully cut out a segment of their profits! The shows have already been out on DVD before (granted in much worse quality, but still...). They've NOT been out on Blu-ray before. And it seems silly to stop when they are so close to finishing the series out.
Lionsgate should know and expect that sales are going to drop for each season - especially with a series that has 9 seasons. You are not going to sell as many S7 sets as S1 or S2 sets. This is WHY they either need to adopt the "long view" approach upfront where they understand this and are playing the "long game" in considering total sales of all combined over time, or if they weren't going to do that, then they should have (or should still now) release the entire series at one time. They are doing that complete release for DVD now. But they should also be doing that for Blu-ray - especially if they don't want to and don't have any intention of releasing any more individual blu seasons. To just stop all the Blu-ray releases altogether just strikes me as incredibly short-sighted. LHOP is a property that you have to consider the long-view approach on over time, not the individual sales on S6 versus S5 that you just released a few months prior etc.
The Blu-ray's provide the highest quality viewing experience of this timeless classic show. While the show has already been released to Digital HD, the streaming quality, while decent, is NOT as good as blu-ray and with streaming you also don't own a physical product but are dependent on the streaming service. They've released six seasons of this show on Blu-ray and it just plain isn't cool of them to stop now.
If I were Lionsgate, I'd think "why don't we release the last 3 seasons+movies in one Blu-ray pack" (i.e. a S7-9+movies pack for those that have been collecting the individual ones) and charge like $70 or $75 for it. I can't see why that wouldn't be profitable for them if they don't overproduce too many of them. And then once they've done that, then they can also easily just release the entire series on blu-ray too if they wanted since all they'd have to do is package up the discs they've already produced for the individual seasons. I mean, pretty much all they'd have to do is stick the Blu-ray discs in their DVD complete collection packaging and change the words DVD on the packaging to "Blu-ray".
It seems like such little work for Lionsgate to still be able to make a profit AND please the fans and not come across as uncaring idiots that are shafting the fans! Lionsgate, I hope you are listening...Many fans are not happy with you right now...
Disclaimer note: To be fair, I need to be clear that my star rating is NOT rating this specific DVD set, which like the previous re-releases, I'm sure will be lightyears better than the old Season 7 DVD release that had edited episodes and terrible picture and audio quality. However, a statement has to be made to Lionsgate. This DVD release might be good, but the Blu-ray releases have been great/excellent and their stopping of those is very frustrating.
UPDATE: Lionsgate has my appreciation. Now available on Blu Ray--and, as per my request, costing me more than the other Blu Ray remasters so far. Guess I should have demanded it be as cheap as before, too. But, I have pre-ordered this on Blu Ray, and that is something I was unable to do several months ago. I guess someone at Lionsgate actually reads these reviews and gives a crap about customers. I am dumb-founded, but pleasantly so. And, now a Lionsgate lover instead of a hater!!
By the way, can anyone confirm for sure--and it appears this is the case--that neither the DVD nor Blu Ray release of Season 7 has no extras at all. That they're both just the episodes and that's it? I have my S7 Blu in hand (no extras), but I don't have a DVD version in hand to compare it to (can't seem to find a shot of the back of the S7 DVD online anywhere, either).
The Static menus didn't bother me, but not being able to skip the intro and start with the show (but rather a few frames/scenes into it) was a detractor (although a minor one). Overall, I can say this is worth buying, in hopes that Lionsgate will continue to release the remaining seasons on Blu-ray.
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Problems I have found:
1) English subtitles.Read more