Live Aid: 20 Years Ago Today appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the source material, I expected some problems to occur. Those issues did pop up, but I felt pleased with the results anyway.
Since Live Aid took place on two continents under a mix of lighting conditions, a great deal of variety was observed in this set. If I were to account for every change that I saw, it’d take a tremendous amount of space, much more than it’d deserve. Instead, I’ll cover my general impressions of the image and relate a few notable exceptions/specifics.
Sharpness was quite erratic but mostly good. Not surprisingly, the wider the shots went, the softer they became. Most close-ups appeared pretty concise and distinctive. However, quite a lot of the show came across as fuzzy and ill-defined. These concerns crept into the picture with moderate frequency, but they didn’t dominate, and I felt generally pleased with the clarity of the performances. Note that some of the softness resulted from the program’s “on the fly” production; many unclear shots stemmed from iffy focus.
To my surprise, no real issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred. Those problems often mar concert presentations, but they were very minor here. Haloes seemed pretty prominent much of the time, though. They were apparent during much of the program.
Source flaws weren’t much of an issue, with one major exception: rolling bars. These showed up during a lot of the Wembley shots but didn’t pop up for the JFK elements. The rolling bars were apparent through much of Wembley, and they became more prominent as the day progressed. I’m sure these were an unavoidable artifact of the source material, so I don’t think anything could be done about them. Nonetheless, they do create some definite distractions.
As with everything else, colors varied. Usually the daylight shots presented the brightest, most vibrant tones, though those weren’t perfect rules. The nighttime elements from JFK often looked quite dynamic, while a few of that show’s day shots were somewhat flat. The nighttime bits from Wembley consistently looked runny, though, with hues that were too heavy.
For both shows, blacks came across as pretty solid. The dark tones remained nicely deep and dense throughout the day, and the occasional low-light elements offered good delineation. Not a lot of those elements occurred, and most of them connected to colored lighting, which meant the quality of the hues was the most important factor. In any case, no significant issues marred either blacks or shadows. Today offered an erratic picture with a number of notable flaws, but it seemed satisfactory for a nearly-20-year videotaped program.
As with all music DVDs that don’t star Britney Spears, I care more about the audio than the visuals. Live Aid: 20 Years Ago Today came decked out with two separate multi-channel mixes. We got a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack along with a DTS 5.1 mix. The pair seemed identical, as I noticed no reliable elements to distinguish one from the other.
That didn’t mean that the two provided totally consistent audio, as they varied somewhat from act to act. The soundfield mostly remained the same throughout the day, though. The front spectrum definitely dominated the presentation. The surrounds offered crowd noise and general reinforcement of the music, but no distinctive unique elements popped up in the rear.
In the front, stereo separation usually worked well. As I noted, matters became erratic, and a few songs veered toward glorified mono status. Nonetheless, the music normally spread out the instruments smoothly and put them in the appropriate places. Some illogical delineation occasionally created slight distractions, such as when we’d see singers on the left and hear them from the right, but those instances popped up infrequently. Usually the elements spread neatly and landed in the right spots.
Audio quality was inconsistent, but most of the music sounded pretty good. The worst parts came from some Wembley songs, which displayed noticeable distortion. This crept into the presentation during Dire Straits’ set and became particularly rough as Queen played. The distortion wasn’t overwhelming, and it didn’t interfere with most of the show, but the problems occasionally distracted.
Except for these infrequent flaws, the quality was usually solid. Vocals mostly sounded warm and natural. Other than the already-mentioned distortion, no flaws crept in, and I heard no edginess for the singing. The tracks occasionally became a bit reedy and thin, as bass response wasn’t as good as I would have liked. Low-end usually seemed satisfying, and at times the music showed very nice bass. Still, it could have been a bit warmer, and the highs sometimes were a little lackluster.
Given the nature of the shows, however, I can’t feel too upset with the mix of minor problems. Live Aid was a massive production and the various technical issues clearly caused some concerns. Mostly the music sounded more than acceptably clear and distinctive, so I felt satisfied with the audio.
No supplements appear in this set. Actually, we get a listing of the DVD’s contents and documentation of what the four-disc set includes, but the 52-minute program is really the only attraction.
Too bad it’s not much of an attraction. As a diversion, Live Aid: 20 Years Ago Today offers mild entertainment and wouldn’t be a bad way to pass the time if you found it flipping channels. However, it’s an unsatisfying way to experience the music of Live Aid since we hear so little of it. 52 minutes of mostly snippets from a 16-hour event doesn’t do much more than frustrate. If you want Live Aid entertainment, stick with the four-DVD set and avoid this pointless compilation.