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HTF DVD Review: Law & Order: The Sixth Year


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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Todd Erwin

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Posted November 30 2008 - 12:24 PM

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Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Year: 1995-1996
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 1080 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish



US DVD Release Date: December 2, 2008

Movie: 4 out of 5
Currently in its 19th season, “Law & Order” is tied with “Gunsmoke” as the longest running hour-long drama series on broadcast television. Created in 1990 by Dick Wolf, a veteran wrier from “Hill Street Blues” and “Miami Vice,” a typical episode begins just after a crime has been committed. The first half of the show is spent with the detectives investigating the crime, the last half with the district attorney’s office preparing for trial, and usually concluding with the verdict.

This sixth season’s cast consists of Jerry Orbach as Detective Lenny Briscoe, Sam Waterston as ADA Jack McCoy, S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Van Buren, and Steven Hill as DA Adam Schiff. This is also the first season for Benjamin Bratt as Detective Rey Curtis, and the final season for Jill Hennessy as ADA Claire Kincaid. This season also includes a “crossover” with Barry Levinson’s under-appreciated series “Homicide: Life On The Streets.”

What has made “Law & Order” such a successful and long-running drama series is the level of writing (some of the best on television), the ensemble cast, and viewers to “drop in” without having to know the backstory of prior episodes, something that shows like “24” and “ER” lack (hence the “Previously On” synopsis these series have to tag on).

Video: 2.5 out of 5
Although originally broadcast on NBC in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Universal has remastered and reframed “Law & Order” for HD broadcast in 1.78:1 (and thankfully so, otherwise reruns on TNT-HD would be subjected to the network’s dreaded Stretch-o-vision). The composition appears the episodes may have been filmed with a widescreen safety zone in mind. Although occasionally the headroom appears tight, the tops of heads are never annoyingly cut off.

Unfortunately, Universal has placed five episodes per disc on four of the five discs in this set. This has resulted in low video bitrates being used on these episodes. Although the series always had a gritty look with muted colors, the low bitrates provide additional noise and compression artifacts. The set should have been stretched out to six discs, rather than five, allowing more breathing room with four episodes per disc.

Audio: 3 out of 5
The original stereo soundtracks have been encoded at 192 kbps. Pro Logic processing places the dialogue nicely in the center channel, with music and ambient effects present in the left, right, and surrounds. This is a dialogue-heavy show, so the stereo mix works well.

Special Features: 0 out of 5
There are no special features provided on this DVD release, although Universal claims the included crossover episode from “Homicide: Life On The Street” as a bonus feature.

Overall: 3 out of 5 (not an average)
Top level writing, a great ensemble cast, recognizable but interesting stories have made “Law & Order” an extremely popular and long-running series and franchise. The sub-par video, plus the fact that series reruns can be seen on TNT, make this a set for die-hard fans only.


This DVD was reviewed on the following home theater gear:
Toshiba 56HM66 DLP HDTV
Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 1080i)
Yamaha HTR-5940 Home Theater Receiver (in 5.1 configuration)
Yamaha NS-AP2600 Home Cinema Speaker Package
Yamaha YST-SW010 subwoofer



#2 of 5 OFFLINE   WaveCrest

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Posted December 08 2008 - 10:29 AM

My advice to people who are wondering whether to get the R1 boxset of the sixth season or not, is to wait for the R2 release. On the Play.com page for Law and Order: Season 6 it says the boxset will contain 6 discs and not 5 (which the Region 1 boxset contains).

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   WaveCrest

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Posted January 11 2009 - 12:50 AM

All 23 sixth season episodes were passed by the BBFC this past week. Each episode is in widescreen. And they will be on six discs, not five like the Region 1 boxset. This is stated on Universal Playback's website.

Will it make a lot of difference there being six discs holding 23 episodes instead of 23 episodes on five discs in the Region 1 boxset?

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Todd Erwin

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Posted January 13 2009 - 08:50 AM

Six discs should give the episodes more breathing room, if they are recompressed to take advantage of the additional disc space.

Most studios limit their TV box sets to 4 one-hour episodes per disc, especially if it is an older season. For season 6, the average running time for an episode was 47 minutes. Most one-hour television shows in first-run today average 42 minutes.

The video bitrate on discs 1 thru 4 hover between 4 and 5 mbps, while disc 5 (which had only 4 eps) hovered between 5 and 6 mbps.

I then checked some of my other TV-DVD sets, all of which had only 4 eps per disc, and found the following:
  • 24, Season 6, Disc 5, hovered between 5 and 7 mbps, sometimes spiking as high as 8.8 mbps.
  • Firefly, Disc 3, hovered between 5 and 7 mbps.
  • Stargate Atlantis, Season 4, Disc 4, hovered between 5 and 6 mbps.
Now, granted, you cannot always judge the video quality based on bitrates (take a look at MacGyver), but it can have an impact.

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   WaveCrest

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Posted January 17 2009 - 05:07 AM

Thanks for your reply Todd. Much appreciated. Law and Order is one of my favourite shows. I just wish Universal would hurry up and release the seasons quicker like they're doing with SVU.