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« 4K Video Test - Al Fresco Coffee & Vinyl | Main | LG PF1000U Minibeam Ultra Short Throw Projector - Home Demonstration »
Monday
Oct122015

It's finally time I take a good look at Laserdisc

I believe that I first became aware of the existence of laserdisc in the late 70s or early 80's. I probably saw it on Tomorrows World. It was a lot tricker to see in person. Living in the North West of the UK in the 1980s you didn't get to see the latest tech easily. In London I would imagine I'd have been able to pop into Harrods where someone would be showing it off to passing customers, but I can't recall ever seeing a Laserdisc in person until 1992. I was working in HMV in Manchester (briefly) in the video & games department. They had a small rack of laserdiscs in a corner, I can't recall anyone buying one. The smart buyer at the time used the much cheaper mail order companies advertising in the back of film magazines.

I saw Laserdisc again in 1998 when I bought my DVD player from a shop that sprung up overnight in a small unit in the Manchester Arndale shopping centre. The store was importing DVD players and DVD/LD combos alongside films from Japan and the US before any DVD machines were available in the UK. I paid a deposit of £100 for my DVD player and promised to return and pay the remaining £300 over the next three months. The next time I returned a notice on the shutter explained that the trading standards office had shut the business down for selling films that hadn't gone through the BBFC certification process. It was a win for me though as I ended up paying just £100 for my £400 DVD player. I also recall that even in 1999 when I had a DVD delivered to the office some people were amazed - D....V.....D? they said, in the most surprised way you could pronounce three letters. How could you get a film on a silver disc someone else asked, as if it was a magic trick. A trick first performed by Laserdisc in the late 1970s.

Back the present. Over the last few years I've enjoyed learning about and experiencing tech I never had the chance to own when it was first available. Although I've deliberately concentrated on HiFi. Age is kind to audio, my 1976 Elcaset sounds as good as anything I've ever heard. Video is a very different story, old video basically just looks worse than new video. I find I now that I only watch the HD channels on TV and I've long since abandoned DVD as a format to purchase films on. When it comes to video, the past is the past and rose tinted glasses will just make it look worse. 

However since I've coverered all the audio formats that I was interested in, it's time I dipped my toe into video and take a look at Laserdisc. Watch the video below to see if it's now totally unwatchable or a pleasant surprise.

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Reader Comments (28)

Very nice, I'm surprised you didn't mention full bitrate dts.

Strangely, this weekend my parents told me they are about to offload my/their laserdisc collection to the local skip. I would be happy to donate if you are interested (About 100 discs inc a definitive collection)

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteral

My collection of Laserdiscs number 103 pieces and is all from "back then". I had one more disc but I sold it off - it was the big Star Wars box and I got £100 for it. This was just before the Special editions were released on DVD.
I still have my player in the loft but I wonder if it even works after a decade of temperature changes.
I once estimated the value of my discs at about £5000, but today they're sadly only worth a fraction of that - and even though they take up a lot of room and I'd rather get rid of them - I can't bear to get rid of them for next to no money.
One disc I'd never get rid off though, is my Collectors Edition of "Jason and the Argonauts" that I had signed by Ray Harryhausen personally. That's one of my prize posessions. :-)

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSøren

Thanks, finally saw a great demonstration of Laserdisc :) Never owned one but it always interested me how it is compared to VHS and DVD, now I know :)

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFinnish_guy

Al,
Definitely don't throw them away. Unless you are in the North West the postage costs will be crazy. If you are local please send me an email using the form on the About Tab and we'll discuss this further.

October 13, 2015 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Well worth finding a copy of Dragons Lair, or Space Ace, if only just for curiosity value. There was another video disc format prior to Laser Disc, the CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc), these used A stylus, but suffered problems with wear and dust.

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCG

fascinating 20 minutes. Thank you. And your production values are really getting top-notch. How many hours to make this 20 mins of magic?

October 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBiddy

It was spread out across a few months, but I'd guess at perhaps 30 hours (and I still didn't mention DTS soundtracks).

October 14, 2015 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Nice and unexpected review of the LaserDisc system! ;)

Believe it or not, but I still have about >1000 LD's! All US imported, the Euro LD business was something of a joke....VHS transfers repacked etc...

(I'm in Sweden) Seldom watch them, but many are special editions and limited-edition boxes so I still have them around. As you concluded, there is something special with LD!

Also still have a working Japanese Pioneer CLD-959 (Elite CLD-97 in the US), modified by me for AC3 RF sound.
A real beast and cost-no-object player, only NSTC and 100V, weights a ton!

The best looking disc I have is the Star Wars The Phantom Menace, Japan import with seaweed! ;) (hard coded Japanese subs)
The AC3 sound is also very good, check out the Pod race!

Also the Criterion CAV edition of Goldfinger which was one of the hard-to-find-LD's since it got banned - is very good, picture wise.
But I do think you should try to get you player connected via the S-video Y/C connection, you get separate chominance/lumance with less blur and a somewhat crispier looking picture quality. More stable.

You could also connect a cheap US CC (Closed Caption) converter for english substitles for most discs, useful back then since english is not my first language.


CLD-959 info:
http://www.laserdiscarchive.co.uk/laserdisc_archive/pioneer/pioneer_cld-959/pioneer_cld-959.htm

Thanks for the view!

October 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatte

If you really what to get something rare and compare The Abyss to it dvd and blu Ray. If I remember right the LD was long that the tape ver and the DVDs and blu Ray are missing the one part of the making of where one of the actor swore at Cameron because he was almost killed. Worth checking out. Btw high point cover was the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, I should know since I live in the GTA

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Yes one of the things that made me want to see the film High Point again was because of the ludicrously dangerous stunt where Dar Robinson made his name, by jumping off the top of the CN Tower. With CG no stuntman will ever have a need to do something like this ever again.

October 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Thank you Matt,
I find your reviews so informative. Although I was in the Audio Visual trade from the late sixties though to the eighties the company I ran principally focus on high end Audio equipment and recorders.
I never knew much about he laser disc format, I would see them at trade shows and have a gimps, look at the price of the disks and walk on. As you can as you say look it up on Wikipedia watching I enjoy watching someone enthuse over a subject and do it so well. It's interesting when you put it into context with modern formats and seeing all the upscaling technology.
As you say there is something artistic about the old format and yes it cost a lot of money because of the costs involved I don't know know anything about the technology about making a disc and what was done on computers. I know real artists produced a lot of the art work as they did on vinyl.
Was Film converted frame by frame ? I know it was done a few years ago. It took a lot of time and technology of the day to produce a single disc.
Fortunately most of my customers were well known people with a lot of money. Some would come in and spend half the cost of a house on Audio equipment.

I have always had a similar bug with audio and vinyl. At least the format holds it's own against modern technology.
All I need a sound proof room for it. Or a brilliant pair of headphones I'm now told.

October 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Travis

Wow I bet there was some amazing vintage equipment passed through your shop that would be worth a pretty penny now if you'd managed to store one BNIB. Often it's the quirkier things that didn't sell well at the time that are worth the most now (and also worth making videos about).

October 25, 2015 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

My first introduction to laserdiscs was the BBC Doomsday Project back in the late 80s at school on BBC Micros.

Sometime in the 2000's I bought myself a laserdisc player specifically for acquiring films that only had VHS releases and weren't available on DVD, and several of those still aren't available on DVD.

Personally I'm not happy with the raw video signal coming out of the player, especially NTSC footage as it has dot-crawl & telecine issues, so I use a Canopus ADVC-100 to capture in the footage to DV, then spend time to squeeze it through various tweaked video filters (AviSynth & VirtualDub) to produce a nice clean picture that's free of 3:2 pulldown.

Oh and of course my collection includes the Definitive Star Wars collection containing the original theatrical versions, where Lucas hadn't gone back and ruined the films by making Greedo shoot first & changing music etc. Some of those definitive sets have a missing 7 seconds, but not mine. The extras on the discs are good but the picture quality isn't as good as the German and French laserdisc releases of the original trilogy, which I also own...

Someone once lent me the extremely rare Japanese widescreen release of Slipstream (1989) to capture in, which was nice, and I still have the original video capture file kicking about.

Someone really needs to take a laserdisc of a well known film, put on a hidden camera then go into various consumer electronics stores to try and buy something to play the film on, just to see the reaction of the staff as the younger ones will probably have never seen such a disc in their life.

October 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHaku

This was a very good review of the technology and I'm sorry I've only just come across it.

One thing that many don't realize is that back in the 1990s, some high end home theater setups were getting what were essentially HD resolution images from LaserDisc (LD) systems. Indeed, high end manufacturers were developing and marketing CRT based "HD" monitors before the official HDTV standards were even finalized in their respective countries.

The problem was that no HD source material existed at the time. LD was the highest resolution format available at 500 (525, maximum in the US) vertical lines. A neat gizmo for those who could afford it was a "line doubler," which essentially allowed LDs to put out progressive scan video. This effectively "doubled" the output resolution on a per frame basis since each frame of video was half of an interleaved picture. The framerate was high enough in standard NTSC/PAL/SECAM that the eye filled in the blanks and you really only noticed it in fast moving scenes or pans.

There was also a piece of equipment called a "line quadrupler" or "interpolator" which "doubled" and then further processed the scanlines and introduced new ones to up-res the LD video signal. There were excellent implementations of these machines but they were rather expensive - some in excess of $15K US.

So, if one had the money, one could get an almost film-like presentation in their home. One projector manufacturer's advertising actually quoted Martin Scorsese saying essentially that of their product.

The modern analog of the "line quadrupler" is a "scaler" which is a more appropriate name when dealing with digital content. I use a scaler in my setup since the scaler in my HDTV didn't satisfy my quality requirements for viewing my LD library. The scaled video from a well-mastered LD can rival a well mastered DVD. And, of course, since LD is analog, there's no digital compression noise such as one gets with DVD or Blu-ray (BD). I'm constantly amazed at just how noisy those digital formats are. From across the room they look OK but up close they're just a hot mess of seemingly random pixels flying around everywhere. Then again, until I ran LD through my HDTV, I never realized how high the black levels are on that format.

The exciting part is that now consumer level gear can yield a very good picture in excess of 50 inches. Back in the 1990s, it would have cost many thousands of units of your local currency to get a similar effect. I'm able to enjoy a large, bright LD picture now; one which rivals high end systems back in the day. I could never have afforded that when I bought my first LD player back in 1994.

Cheers

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

I've actually compared the quality of the PAL decoder on my early 2000s low res 50cm Sony and my 46" Grundig.
http://trashcan.clarke-3.de/tv-compare-composite.JPG

As you can see the frequency gratings of the (modified) FuBK test image (coming off my home brew generator) look fine on the Grundig, but are as messed up as you'd expect from any simple PAL decoder on the Sony.

Unfortunately it seems like most DVDs of TV series used really bad PAL/NTSC decoders to do the mastering... even if the original material was probably on a Component format like Betacam SP. In fact I have a 2011 film on DVD which was shot on 16mm so it could get US subsidies for being HD... which was converted to composite video, and then badly decoded for the DVD master. Hypothetically a Laserdisk would have been better on those. :)

BTW if you ever come to Munich, go to the "BWM Museum". I think they _still_ have lots of Laserdisk based displays. Ohh and German unemployment offices would have this multimedia "Berufs Informations Zentrum" (occupational information center) which had lots of LaserDiscs to inform you about different occupations. The Austrian television even experimented with interactive television and LaserDiscs, offering a show where you could decide what they would play:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiZ0HG0vBmI

One important part about Laserdisks and LPs is that you kinda celebrate playing the medium. You put your medium onto the altair of the player, then perform some ritual to make it play. It is almost a little spiritual experience.

March 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Berger

Hi Guys,
I've just come across this thread as yesterday I retrieved my old Pioneer CLD-925 from the loft, ready to be re-installed into my living room. I'm already well into the vinyl revival, having created myself a nice man cave and got my Hi-Fi back up and running. So I thought it was about time my old LD player was given some TLC too.

I was curious to see if I could connect my laserdisc player to a modern HDTV. So started to look for information about the best output signal. The player has Scart (RGB I think) and S video out, plus optical and coaxial (AC-3) for audio. My current AV amp is a cheap Pioneer with plenty of hdmi inputs, but no scart, component or S video. I have seen scart to HDMI converter boxes available pretty cheap. Are they any good? The reviews on Amazon seem reasonable.

Any advice would be most welcome.

September 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Leaning

The video stored on a Laserdisc is composite video...the same thing that comes out of the yellow RCA plug. Any extra outputs are just converting this composite video signal into a different format, whether s-video or RGB scart...you're just still watching composite video albeit a re-converted version. The best thing you can do is just to keep it composite...and put the yellow plug into a TV or HD scaler. The svhs comb filters that were used in mid-range laserdisc machines from the 90s won't have a patch on the scaling circuits built into a modern TV.

September 30, 2016 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

A friend of mine gave me his Pioneer CLD-D925. It's a very solid machine, certainly the best Laser disk machine I have ever owned! I was quite chuffed to see one feature in your excellent video!

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSebastian Sekinger

A very nice video report about one of the videoformats that I couldn't afford at the moment. Later, I could but I was not interested in it. Until now... Recently I saw a special offer on a second hand store: a laserdisc reader (Pioneer CLD 900S, not so top as yours, but interesting), and a job lot of 20 laserdisc documentaries. All this for 22 euros, so I thought it was worth to buy it. And now, with another CD player option in my equipment.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaume Martí

Yes and I still have some of it Mat. I remember being invited to the launch of the first walkman in a hotel in park lane hosted by the chairman of Sony. Most of the dealers gave it a luke warm reception. I waited to most of the dealers had spoken to the reps and asked how many they were importing and how many they had sold. I was told 500 so I asked for 250 and got them. When they were in stock and had been reviewed I had other dealers asking me if they could have some and I politely refused and sold the lot in a couple of weeks.
I gave a Technics RS1500 reel to reel recorder to a friend of mine recently. I was only slightly disappointed to see one sell on Ebay for £1600 ~ Opps
I also still have one ion the Sony TC5 Pro recorders and a Walkman pro.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

I was just rewatching this particular video on YouTube and noticed you made a particular point about having the jog wheel on the remote control, saying something like you wouldn't get this on DVD. Afraid to say, whilst modern DVD players are unlikely to have one, the remote for my old Sony DVD player (it was one of those carousel jobs, holds up to 200 discs) does in fact have a jog wheel on it!

Can't get HTML to work, not sure if it's me being crap or it's not allowed:

https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/21314357_1633789583306339_1802558988297780298_n.jpg?oh=0956b59481d3867918d95063c7034629&oe=5A1D7A25

September 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

A lot of people have pulled me up on this...but that's not what I inferred. As someone who has owned LD, VCD, DVD, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD across dozens of machines...I can say that the interaction of a jog shuttle dial with the analog video stored on a LaserDisc has not been replicated by any other technology. It's something that LaserDisc owners will understand...but if you've never used one then I can't describe it....it's something you need to experience. It's similar to a DJ scratching a vinyl record.

September 3, 2017 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

I just bought a vintage Pioneer CLD-1750 player. I used to have one in the 90's and I just wanted to have some good old memories back. I was quite surprised about the picture quality on my Samsung KS8090, all movies are grainy, washed out and no fun to watch.

It doesn't matter if I connect the player through an Onkyo 838 receiver or through a Composite to HDMI upscaler, the picture stays bad. I saw some videos of people on YouTube, having a really good output on their modern TVs. What do I wrong? Many thanks for all the great videos!!

February 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSebastian

The best results I got on my TV were via the Component inputs. If your TV has those and your AV Amp has component outputs then send your composite input into the AV receiver and the component up to the TV. Keeping it analog all the way to the TV seemed to help. Then you'll also need a different set of brightness/colour settings for the Laserdisc than everything else - especially to darken the picture down.

I did use a separate upscaler for a while - but that was too much stuff plugged in under the TV for me.

Better results will still be experienced with a CRT TV.

February 11, 2018 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Thank you so much for your quick reply. I tried before on a TV set with composite in with the same effect. Going through the composite in on my receiver also same outcome. Yes I have component in on my receiver. Do you think that would make a difference?

One thing I have recognized is that I see horizontal stripes before a picture appears. I can also try to change the cable. Thanks a lot for taking time for my issue. Greetings from a German living in the Netherlands. Loving your videos.

February 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSebastian

Well Laserdisks (appart from some recordable variation of it) are composite, so if your Laserdisk Player has a composite output it has an integrated colour decoder. For a while, Laserdisk players had better decoders than most TV-sets, however today any decent TV-set will have a much better decoder than most players. The decoders inside of AV-Receivers however, typically aren't very good.

However Laserdisk as a medium depends a lot on the quality of your players and disks. Players often were so bad, different players actually produced differently looking images. CLV disks suffer a lot from crosstalk between the tracks which is likely caused by the infrared laser used to read them. (the original specs called for a red laser)

Then film to video transfers weren't as good back then as they are now. Since different scenes in a film may have wildly different exposures (which you don't notice in a cinema) the transfer has to correct for that scene by scene. Often people didn't care about it, or they did it after the actual scanning, causing your "master copy" to be another generation down. All of that lead to noticeably worse quality of film to video transfers than direct video recordings. The Monty Pythons actually even made a sketch about that.

February 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Berger

Thanks Christian. So „Don‘t mention the video transfer quality“ (I know it‘s Fawlty Towers not MP). But seriously: All the good images you can watch on YouTube are from CAV LD‘s maybe Criterion discs? Thanks a lot.

February 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSebastian

In reply to Matt.
All this talk about vintage electronics has sent me off remising of my experiences in the trade.
My first one was regarding Nigeria Prince who lived in the famous Nash terrace in regents park and the living room was enormous. He wanted 2x Accuphase systems and 4x Bose 901 speakers connected in some from of quadraphony which require less doubtful decoders. He brought the lot and we installed it.
That was 4 x E type Jags money or a cheap house in London at that period.
Now the world has gone mad and I see record decks selling for £30,000 ? or more I din’t Google it.
Just did !!!! £460,000 !!!!
I had John Paul Getty Jn. (at the time one of the most richest me in the world) came into the shop.
He wanted a Michell Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference Turntable so we got him one and installed it .
John Entwistle walked in the shop one day and some nudged me and I din’t know him as I was not specifically a Who fan at the time.
He bought a complete rack of the Technics reference series which everything in it.
His Driver took me out to a place in Ealing which I think was called The Ranch and he put it in the bar.
Nice bar sounds :-)
Anyway I bought a copy of Tommy and became a Who fan.
Expensive stuff ? When I walked into Vangelis studio my eyes pooped.
He borrowed a Revox B77 to test out. I was just awe struck at a the Synths in his stdio.
Revox produced a complete Hi Fi system with liner tracking record deck. and amplifier and a tuner and a reel to reel all matching in a new textured paint finish.
With most of your customers coming from Mayfair you never knew who to expect walking through your door.
I think it was the people rather than the equipment I miss.

February 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

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