What the Heck is a Laserdisk?

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Laserdisc was a disc-based audio/video format that preceded DVD. The discs, which you've probably seen on TV or in movies at some point, were larger than DVD (12 inches across, the same size as LP record albums). They were usually silver, and looked a lot like a giant DVD or CD.

Laserdisc was similar to DVD in that it offered CD-like non-linear navigation (the ability to skip around quickly), high quality video and digital sound.

We have Laserdisc to thank for many of the great features of DVD. Laserdisc was the first home video format to offer:
1) Digital Sound
- Regular 2-channel stereo audio on laserdisc was uncompressed digital, just like CD- providing excellent audio fidelity... many people prefer uncompressed LD audio to 2-channel DVDs.
- Laserdisc was the first home video format to offer dolby digital 5.1 audio.
- Laserdisc was also the first home video format to offer DTS 5.1 audio (and all DTS laserdiscs were full bitrate, where DTS DVDs are often a half bitrate DTS format).

2) Special Editions & Extras
- Laserdisc was the first format with alternate soundtracks, allowing running audio commentaries.
- The image gallery and promotional stills gallery was also first popularized on laserdisc.
- Deleted scenes were first widely incorporated into "special edition" laseridscs.
- Pretty much the whole idea of a special edition or a collectors edition came directly from the laserdisc world, as it was mostly an appealing format for film collectors.

3) Widescreen and OAR presentations
- Again, because Laser was a collectors format, the majority of laserdiscs were presented in their OAR (original aspect ratio) format.

So, Laserdisc really paved the way for DVD to exist in the first place. The original customer base for DVD was mostly made-up of previous laserdisc collectors. In the first few years when DVD really caught fire, it was film collectors making the jump from Laserdisc that really drove sales. Some of the most popular early DVD players were combination DVD/Laserdisc players!

Many serious HT buffs still have large LD collections, and still spend thousands of dollars on high-end laserdisc players.

In the end, the popularization of DVD essentially killed the laserdisc format. While Laser certainly had many advantages, the fact that discs held (at most) 60 minutes per side- meant that most films required a side flip, or worse- switching discs in the middle of the film. Couple that with the fact that DVD offered cheaper discs, cheaper players and better video quality (Laserdisc can look quite good, nearly as good as DVD- but often you can only get the best Laser picture out of super-high end players)... the Laserdisc market slowly died as DVD gained popularity.

Technically, LASERDISC releases of new films are no longer being produced for the US as of the late 1990's... however there are tons of discs available on Laser that are not (and may never be) available on DVD. One prime appeal for HT buffs is the availability of the ORIGINAL UNALTERED Star Wars trilogy on Laser (and rumor has it, Lucas will only be releasing the SE versions when they eventually come to DVD, so Laser might be the only opportunity to own a high quality, widescreen edition of the original films!).

So, that is a basic introduction to laserdisc. If you're interested in the format- check out the excellent post in this thread from one of the HTF's resident Laserdisc fanatics, Rachael B:
A complete guide to Laserdisc

or check the HTF unofficial Laserdisc FAQ:

or check Henrik Herranen's old 1998 Laserdisc Faq:


Article written by Vince Maskeeper of www.musicianassist.com . Thanks also to www.HomeTheaterForum.com .

© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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