on 5 July 2002
This is a pretty comprehensive collection, that fact cannot be denied. However, it presents itself as a piece of software in DVD format so I think we can expect more than is delivered.
The interface is non-standard and is clearly buggy. Apart from video windows not being dragged around correctly, the application itself cannot be resized and even commonly used tasks are relegated to being within a menu, rather than having their own icons.
Without wanting to make too much of this, it is a shame that software vendors shy away from standard user interfaces. If every application had its own interface, there would be chaos and ease of use of ease of learning would be the poorer for it.
The quality of video clips and sound clips is mixed, and clearly comes from previous incarnations of the software, rather than taking account of the huge storage available within the DVD format. I know for sure that we are treated to wonderful video and sound from TV programs but I think we could expect the same from the clips within this DVD.
I was also disappointed with the sketches. They were obviously scanned some time ago and are quite low resolution. The biggest is about 600 by 500 pixels and you can clearly see the limitations of the picture at that size. Rescanning is essential for the next edition.
I also believe that the colour balance is off in many places. Take the Red Crested Pochard, for example. This bird (commonly seen in the South Cerney/Ashton Keynes area so you'd better update the distribution map, Birdguides!) looks little like the colour in either the sketch (which is day glow orange) or the video (which has strange halo effects, presumably due to video compression). There are also many video artefacts in the clips. Only 1.3 GB of the DVD is used and a less aggressive compression method would have yielded better results.
I also have to criticise the "What Bird is That?" feature. I have long thought that a good application of AI technology would lead to accurate identification of birds. However, this take is far from that. I accurately entered the details of a Tufted Duck and was presented with a Smew as the most likely, with the guide disagreeing that the tail, head and neck are black. Hmmm...
OK, there are positive things to say about the guide. The Dave Gosney commentary, the convenience of having it all in one collection, the quiz (although the scope could be broadened to include photos as well as sketches) and the Bird Log program.
However, this is not the definitive collection. Such a thing still isn't around yet. Perhaps Collins would like to put their terrific Bird Guide into DVD format with professionally presented video and song, using Geoff Sample's wonderfully recorded examples. That could well be the one I'm looking for. Meanwhile, Birdguides need to refresh their photos, sketches and videos to use rather more than they have of the capacity of the DVD.
Birdguides do have a reasonably priced upgrade policy and I commend them for that.
In summary, don't expect tremendous visual detail from the photos and videos. Also, if you are into vagrants and variants, look elsewhere. However, you are not likely to come across many birds on UK shores that are not covered here.