Pro football is always at the top of our list of things that are great to watch in high definition, so it's no surprise we were all over the new Ultimate NFL Blu-ray disc that comes to stores this week. The league's video production unit, NFL Films has put together a collection of footage including some super slow motion shots at nearly 1,000fps that promises "an all-new, groundbreaking visual experience." Of course, with less than an hour to cover a grab bag of footage from last season that you've probably seen a few times before in its productions for NFL Network, ESPN and others can it really live up to that promise? Check our full review after the break to find out.
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Ultimate NFL

Warner Home Video

Ultimate NFL Blu-ray

Pros

  • Excellent audio and video production
  • Useful and interesting extras extend the value
  • PiP commentary

Cons

  • Main feature is only 45 minutes or so
  • Niche appeal, despite football's popularity
  • Did we mention it could be longer?
Summary





If you're a fan of football and HD, then getting a peek behind the scenes at NFL Films production process and some highlights of the footage is a long held dream and here that dream comes true. Under the direction of founder Ed Sabol, and now his son Steve Sabol, NFL Films has perfected its signature style of visuals and audio to bring the game to life and it's all here, with classic camera shots and audio production consisting of voiceovers from radio and TV broadcasts mixed with a selection of canned sound effects and original music compositions to create the sort of epic stage viewers have enjoyed for so many years. In 1080p and with a 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack they have space to shine effectively, if not spectacularly, they don't make a huge leap over what you've already seen and heard on TV but are clean and well authored.


The attention to detail is evident as it blends together well enough for the viewer to appreciate all the details. Of course, one of the places where the extra visual fidelity comes in handy is in the super slow motion shots, captured with a Phantom powered camera set at 960fps, highlights like Reggie Bush's leap over a defender in week 9 of last season or the NFC division playoff game winning sack/strip/fumble return by Arizona have never appeared so clearly. Just as we saw during the Olympics, or in shows like Time Warp, captured at a high frame rate details like the most minor of stutter steps stretch out over several seconds, player's muscles ripple as they change direction and a leap into the air for an interception appears as if it were occurring in zero gravity.


Segments included focus on the game in general, the effect one player can have, a look at events over a single day in the NFL, the physics of football and extend into highlights from the aforementioned Green Bay/Arizona highlight and last year's Super Bowl. They're great, but the one shortcoming here is that these highlights are already familiar to the exact kind of fans this release appeals to, and at 47 minutes, it's about the length of a single hour long show on NFL Network. This is where the extras come in, and it's evident NFL Films has taken the time to make sure they use the capabilities of Blu-ray to their fullest to extend the available content. A picture-in-picture commentary with Steve Sabol gives a deeper insight into the how's and why of the NFL Films production team and adds considerable replay value, while an interactive tour of the NFL Films facility is nearly worth the price of admission on its own.


The initial menu options are slightly confusing, but viewers can experience the same content in a couple of different ways, either in a guided tour where all the segments play one after the other, with interactive portions included, or you can jump to a particular department or interactive option directly. The best of them is probably the camera department, where four segments are viewable from four different angles, including the TV broadcast, a standard NFL films camera, a slow motion camera and the super slow motion camera, while the other two allow viewers to either mix the audio for a particular segment or assemble clips to try and make the best highlight reel.


Ultimately, we only have to major complaints about the release - we wish there were more to it, and we wish it had come out sooner. The run time problem is eased by the bevy of Blu-ray Java powered extras, but there's no doubt this would have eased the long summer months we suffered without football. As it stands, if you're a fan of NFL Films productions like Inside the NFL, Hard Knocks, Hey, Rookie! and the year end wrapups for each team every season, we'd say this is a must purchase. If you don't already know who Ed Sabol is and have dreams narrated "The Voice of God" John Facenda, then a somewhat niche production like this is slightly harder to recommend, but at the current retail price of $16 on Amazon there's enough highlights here to serve as a stocking stuffer for casual fans too.
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Ultimate NFL

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