Laserdiscs: They Use Laser Beams!

January 19th, 2007

I was holed-up recently due to snow and a flat tire. During some rummaging in the basement, I came across a bunch of my old laserdiscs (LDs) from college. It was a hoot watching ’80s sci-fi classics like The Thing and Aliens on cutting edge ’80s technology. Yeah, LDs don’t have the fancy specs of current DVDs, but I was surprised at how good they still look. I was also stunned to find that LDs were manufactured all the way up to 2000, with Sleepy Hollow being released by Paramount that year. Another interesting fact is LDs are all analog — they playback using frequency modulation technology (although some audio tracks were digitally encoded). There are still folks out there who claim some LDs can deliver better a picture than DVDs because LDs are not digitally encoded and compressed. And I guess some people think LDs offer a more “film like” image. I find DVDs have better detail and richer color rendering, which is probably because luminance (black and white) and chrominance (color) information is transmitted on different signals on DVDs. A really big weakness of the LD format was that the best picture and audio usually came at a price, meaning if you wanted a great player, you needed to spend $$$. DVDs, one the other hand, generally playback the same regardless of player quality and price. Finally, the big advantage LDs have over DVDs is they are not copy protected, allowing you to make VHS copies of your LDs (of course who owns a VHS deck these days?)

Just as an aside, the best TV I’ve ever watched (better than any plasma, DLP, or LCD I’ve seen recently) was at the Wilsonville Incredible Universe circa 1995. It was your basic flat-tube CRT set around 36 inches (widescreen!), but it had an amazing picture and cost, like, $9,000. They were using the Criterion Collection version of 2001 on LD to demo the set and the picture almost made me pee my pants. The only time I’ve seen 2001 look better was the re-release of the 70mm print circa 1997 in Chicago at the Navy Pier IMAX. I still wonder who made this TV because I would love to find it secondhand. It must have had some pimp-ass comb filter technology working its mojo to produce such a great picture.

MCA Laserdisc - The Ultimate Consumer Analog Video Format?

Entry Filed under: Obsolete Technology

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