LaserDisc: Better Late Than Never

In December 1978, DiscoVision, later to be called LaserVision and then LaserDisc, was made available to the public. Superior to VHS and Beta, it failed to find a wide audience in the US, primarily because the players and discs were expensive. It was a niche format that had an air of elitism around it. The introduction of DVD essentially finished the LaserDisc off around 2001, when the last new discs were released in Japan. Pioneer stopped manufacturing LD players in January 2009. The format is now obsolete. So, naturally, when I saw a Pioner CLD-909 LaserDisc player for 20 dollars, at the local Goodwill, I had to pick it up.

When I did pick it up, I found it was heavy. Very heavy. About 25 pounds heavy, according to the bathroom scale. It clearly isn't 90% empty space like most DVD players. If sheer volume of internal components and shelf footprint was a measure of quality, the LaserDisc player would win hands down. For comparison, here is my VCR riding atop the LaserDisc player, symbolic of how this lesser format with a smaller resolution managed to win out over its hulking superior.

LaserDiscs are analog video recordings, usually with digital soundtracks. Each side of the disc will contain about an hour of programming, which means flipping the disc and/or changing discs for longer movies. LaserDisc introduced concepts like commentary tracks and special features like making-of documentaries and still galleries. It also allowed for chapter jumping, which has proven far superior to rewinding video tape. All those things aside, the real novelty is in the discs themselves. To give you an idea of what you're in for, take a look at the disc tray:

See that smaller indentation in the center? That's for CDs (Yep, it plays CDs, too!). See that 12" indentation surrounding it? That's for one of these:

One of the most appealing parts of this monster is that it comes in one of these:

Which folds out like this:

The presentation of the media is stylish and glossy, which is a definite plus. The album size covers leave room for beautiful movie poster artwork, and as a lover of movie posters I find that awesome. Here are a few of the other covers and fold outs I've acquired:

But what do the movies look like, you ask? Not as good as a DVD. A little darker, a little less sharp, but definitely better than a VHS or Beta tape. The movies do seem to have a fluidity that reminds me of film. Whether a difference can be seen between the digital format of DVD and the analog format of LaserDisc is subjective. Here are a few shots of the player in action:

Indy and Marion tied to a pole

The melting face scene

"Clever girl.", Jurassic Park

Keeping with my need to have multiple copies of Frankenstein in every format, it was the first movie I sought to buy and here it is:

I love this cover. I kind of wish it didn't have the giant "RESTORED VERSION" label on it. I'd take the disc out and just frame the album otherwise. In terms of the actual movie, I find the black and white films look the best on the LaserDisc player. Possibly because the lack of color masks a lot of the analog graininess. Here are a couple of shots from Frankenstein:

The Monster!

And His Maker!

Now, for the sake of comparison, I give you the Legacy Collection DVD version in relation to the LaserDisc. Sadly, my VHS copy is 300 miles away or I'd do a side by side shot of the actual movie on each format. Maybe later.

Should everyone rush out and buy a LaserDisc player? No, I don't think so. DVD and now Blu-Ray outstrip it in almost every way. Why did I spend around 40 dollars for the privilege of watching movies, that I already own on DVD, in lower quality? The novelty of it, the preservation of obsolete technology, the LaserDisc only special features, and, of course, getting to join the elite group of videophiles that adored the format. Better late than never.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Nice find. Now we only need to get a CED player and we're set.