Success of the laser disc format

Success of the format

The format was not well-accepted outside of videophile circles in North America, but became more popular in Japan. Part of the reason was marketing. In North America, the cost of the players and discs were kept far higher than VHS decks and tapes. In Japan, the LD strategy was very similar to the strategy taken by DVD manufacturers early in its life: prices were kept low to ensure adoption, resulting in minimal price differences between VHS tapes and the higher quality Laserdiscs. LD also quickly became the dominant format of choice amongst Japanese collectors of anime, helping to drive its acceptance.

Nonetheless, the recordable Laserdisc format was kept off the market to prevent high quality copying, while the competing video cassette recorder devices were allowed to record using tape cassettes. Combined with the inconvenient disc size and high North American prices for both players and media, the format was doomed to obscurity by industry fiat. When they were first introduced, LaserDiscs were believed to be what would later be referred to as disruptive technology, a promise they failed to fulfill. DVDs were to be disruptive instead due to the film industry finally backing optical media, and the surprise introductions of DVR and recordable optical formats.

Although the Laserdisc format has been completely supplanted by DVD, and new players are no longer sold outside Japan, many LDs are still highly coveted by movie enthusiasts. This is largely because there are many films that are still only available on LD and many other LD releases contain supplemental material not available on subsequent DVD versions of those films. As well, there are various films which are available on DVD as well as LD, but the LD version is preferred for some reason.

One example is the Criterion Collection release of Blade Runner, as it is the highest quality release of BR to contain a widescreen transfer of the theatrical cut of the film, whereas other releases have been only in pan and scan or of the so-called Director's Cut of the movie. Other examples include the LD release of the anime Five Star Stories, which prior to it's long-awaited release on DVD fetched as much as $700 from enthusiasts. Likewise, the LD releases of the original Star Wars films are in high demand among fans and videophiles as they offer the highest quality widescreen presentations of the films in their original theatrical cuts, sans the digital characters and effects added by George Lucas for the "Special Edition" releases of those films. Due to a contract bind, the pilot episode of Twin Peaks as seen in the United States may never be released on DVD, and the LD release is the only way to see it outside of VHS.

LD players are also sometimes found in contemporary North American high school and college physics classrooms, in order to play a disc of the Physics: Cinema Classics series of mid-20th century Encyclopaedia Britannica films reproducing classic experiments in the field which are difficult or impossible to replicate in the laboratories in educational settings.[1] These films have yet to be released on DVD.

It should be noted that the popularity of the LD format in Japan is still great enough that Pioneer continues to manufacture and market two players. The first, the DVL-919, is a DVD/Laserdisc combination unit that was sold for a short while in the U.S. and was subsequently discontinued in 1999 when the format had lost the vast majority of its waning support. In any case, even the least expensive of newer DVD players have generally surpassed the quality and capability of the 919's DVD section and its LD section was never considered better than mediocre by comparison to many other units, even when new. The second of the units offered in Japan, a Laserdisc-only player, model designation CLD-R5, is sold at a lower cost. Although rumor has had it that select Pioneer dealers still have access to leftover, North American specification DVL-919s, and Pioneer has yet to remove the product from their North American website, Pioneer representatives say that the product is officially discontinued and that warranty coverage for 919s will be based on the date of manufacturing rather than on the date of sale.

Certain Japanese players, which are considered to be of higher quality or of greater capacity for quality playback than the North American units, are occasionally imported by enthusiasts. These include the LD-S9, HLD-X9 and HLD-X0. All three are manufactured by Pioneer and all three contain technology that was never officially available in North American Laserdisc players. The LD-S9 and HLD-X9 share a highly advanced comb filter, allowing them to offer a considerable advantage in picture quality over most other LD players when the s-video connection is used. The comb filter present in these players is unique and is purportedly the finest comb filter ever used in consumer A/V gear, it is still currently in use in Mitsubishi's top-spec CRT rear projection television sets (the Diamond and now defunct Platinum series sets) and Pioneer's Elite line of rear projection televisions. In addition to the advanced comb filter, the HLD-X9 contains a red laser pickup which significantly reduces crosstalk and picture-noise levels compared to players with the traditional infrared laser; it can also read through all but the worst cases of laser rot and surface wear. The HLD-X9 is, lastly, also a "MUSE" player, capable when properly equipped of playing back high definition laserdiscs, called Hi-Vision or MUSE discs in Japan. The HLD-X0 is Pioneer's original MUSE player, and is the player of choice for many enthusiasts despite the fact that it lacks the comb filter shared by the S9 and X9. It was entirely hand built from hand picked electronics and weighed a massive 36 kilograms. Many argue that the newer X9 was a more capable MUSE player but that the X0 had superior performance with standard NTSC discs. Nonetheless, the X9 remains the more popular of the two models, as it includes the newer comb filter and is a dual-side player, meaning that double sided discs don't need to be manually flipped over in order for both sides to be played.