Gareth Stringer's 2009 blogGAR Entries

DEC 18 2009
Planes TV 2009 airshow DVDs – great winter viewing

A few weeks ago I dropped Iain Campbell at Planes TV a line asking if they could send me a few review copies of their 2009 products as I would like to talk about them here on GAR.

It was partly out of fascination, I’ll admit. As a youngster I craved aviation videos (VHS cassettes as they were back in those days obviously!) and couldn’t get enough of watching aircraft on television at any given opportunity. But many airshow videos from this time, most of which I’ve still got gathering dust somewhere, were frequently of poor overall quality. With embarrassing narration, terrible music and factual errors; they somehow managed to leave me feeling disappointed, far from evoking happy memories of shows I had attended or delight at seeing aircraft from those shows I had missed.

I’m pleased to say that in the main, Planes TV has managed to avoid most of the aforementioned pitfalls and overall I would recommend these wholeheartedly. Expecting maybe two or three copies to take a look at I was surprised and delighted when a box with no fewer than ten different show DVDs arrived, allowing me to get a real feel for what the company is trying to achieve; not always easy when just viewing one or two different products.

Having ploughed through everything this week the first thing to mention is that the quality of filming is much improved over anything I have ever seen before. It goes without saying that camera technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years but not only that, the highlights are well edited and a great deal of care and attention has obviously gone in to ensuring that they are representative of the performances and actually include the best bits of each display. Like anyone attending an airshow, Planes TV can suffer with their camera position with regard to the sun but this is certainly not too noticeable to warrant complaint, and the displays sound great too – especially cranked up on a surround system if you have one.

I remain unconvinced by the narration however. It needs to be there, I can understand that completely as these DVDs should be informative as well as simply entertaining, but for me, the option to turn it off was most welcome as it can be a little pedestrian. That’s just my personal preference obviously and Planes TV should be applauded for utilising the experienced services of people like Andy Pawsey for example, on the RAF Leuchars DVD, as they can really add some quality in this area – it’s just not something I enjoy, preferring the unadulterated sound of the displays!

Where they really come to life however is with the interviews and cockpit footage which are hugely entertaining and interesting to watch. For me there aren’t really enough interviews as such and I would urge Planes TV to go for more of these whenever possible next season, while continuing to utilise their in-cockpit cameras. Airshows are obviously about much more than aircraft and the human element is all important, helping viewers to relate to what they’ve just seen and maybe learn a little more about what it actually feels like to display in front of thousands at an airshow. Having been fortunate enough to work with a number of airshow performers throughout the 2009 season it was superb to watch the likes of Lt Cdr Matt Whitfield in the Sea Vixen, Neil McCarthy in the Jet Provost T.3 and the Swift Aerobatic Display Team from this perspective.

The views of Guy Westgate in his S-1 Swift glider are extraordinary and gave me a totally new impression of just how physically hard he works during their display. Likewise, the in-cockpit shots of the Chinook and Blades displays at RAF Cosford are fascinating and as for the helmet cam used for the RAF Falcons parachute team, well, that’s an extraordinary view that few of us will ever see in person! There is a good range of such footage spread across the airshow DVDs and they could probably warrant a stand-alone compilation in my opinion. Great stuff and hopefully we’ll see more of the same in 2010.

There are minor quibbles; the narration grates in places as I said and there are also some incorrect captions - notably the two Jet Provosts at Kemble both being listed as T.5s (one was Neil McCarthy's T.3) from Delta Jets, which neither of them were. The inclusion of elements from Sean Maffett’s “Into The Wild Blue Yonder” commentary package at Cosford is likely to divide opinion much as it did at the time (see my Cosford '09 review) but, as I already mentioned, you can always turn it off so this is a minor complaint.

All in all these DVDs are a great way to get a display ‘fix’ while you wait for May 2010 and the beginning of the UK airshow season – with the added benefit of some unique in-cockpit action to keep you entertained. For more information, take a look at the Planes TV website which is at www.planestv.com.

GAR wants to interact with its readers so if you have a question for the author or a comment to make on this feature, please click on the button below. The best comments will appear right here on GAR.

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2009-12-21 - Gareth Stringer
Hi Adrian

Thanks for the comment - it's always good for us to get this kind of interaction on the website and I'm happy to respond to your points.

Firstly - apologies for not mentioning just how "interactive" the cockpit footage is. It is great fun switching from view to view as it helps to piece the whole routine together and obviously you can match what you are seeing externally with what is happening in the cockpit. I did also enjoy watching each in-cockpit segment from that view alone so viewers get the freedom of choice and I am sure will select whichever they prefer or try all the different options. The audio is excellent too and I particularly enjoyed listening in to The Blades and also the Swift Aerobatic Display Team - fascinating stuff and again it helps to build a complete picture, one that we would not normally be privvy to!

I'm interested to note your comment on the interviews. Again, I guess it comes down to personal preference but I would have assumed that insight from those flying the displays would have been of interest to many viewers - but obviously I'm in a minority on that one! Perhaps an additional audio option would be for crews to 'commentate' on their own display as this might work well with the in-cockpit footage?

You mention my comment on the narration and well, this is one which I suspect will always divide opinion. What works for some doesn't work for others and there is always the option to turn it off! I noted that Andy's wasn't scripted but don't feel that this is necessarily a bad thing - it might be that some of the narration comes across as sounding too scripted almost, but that's just my opinion!

It would be great to hear any other readers opinions on the subject and I am quite sure Planes TV would value any additional thoughts and feedback.



2009-12-21 - Adrian Campbell
Hello Gareth, thanks for your comments.

I'm glad you like the 2 things we aim particularly at, accurate tight camerawork and good quality stereo sound.

I agree with you entirely about narration. You have to have it (given that you can turn it off) but how should it be delivered and who by? Interesting you liked Andy Pawsey on the Leuchars DVD. This was a bit of an experiment, not scripted, with a brief to 'comment on what he saw' so their are some umms and errs and fluffs but it sounds 'live' and natural.

You clearly delight in the cockpit footage but make no mention of the fact that it is interactive ie viewer can change to synchronised cockpit view at will but you do have to do this by selecting the "In-cockpit Interactive" section on the menu page. You can change the audio as well to on-board/rt on some displays.

Did you manage to work the interactive? Is it entertaining? It's a big effort for us to make the DVD's interactive; is it worth it or is it enough just to cut in some cockpit views to the ground views like others do?

Lastly your comments ref liking interviews are totally at variance with what our market repeatedly tells us ie keep interviews to a minimum in favour of flying action. This is a tightrope we walk very carefully.

I look forward to hearing other peoples comments.


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