Sunday, May 3, 2015

Did the Laser VideoDisc matter ?


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The Laserdisc may be a dead format today, but it was a major stepping stone for the industry to reach modern technologies such as the CD, DVD, HD-DVD and the current Blu-ray disc.
According to various sources on the web
it's estimated that in 1998, roughly a mere two million LaserDisc players were in U.S. households.
By contrast it's estimated that even to this day there may still yet be some 100 million VHS Vcr's out there and before the dawn of Blu-ray there were some 137 million DVD players. 
The top selling DVD of all time, Disney's Finding Nemo, sold almost - get this - 40 million copies at the peak of DVD's popularity.  Even today, 
in the decline of SD DVD video format,
 in the HD / Streaming era, a title can still sell well over 4 million copies in the US alone..and Yes Pinky– they count those disc packaged together with the Blu-ray's.

90's Billboard Sales Chart
A blockbuster Laserdisc by contrast might have “only” sold a mere a half-million copies.( US Sales figures)
Keep in mind that this is back when those titles were $34-$100 bucks each, and that's in 1990 dollars. This was during the height of VHS' dominate – not only for “sell through” but for rentals !
But sell they did . They were even more popular in Japan because prices were kept low to ensure adoption, resulting in minimal price differences between VHS. Their higher quality, helped to ensure that it quickly became the dominant consumer video format ! Anime collectors in every country also quickly became familiar with the Laserdisc, and sought the higher video and sound quality of that it offered and the availability of numerous titles not available on VHS. 
                 
                                     

       
                                           
Laserdisc's major contribution was during the days of the old analog big screen TV's when VHS resolution simply failed to go the distance. We are talking before the days of progressive scan or 60 or 120Hz. - when the monitor was only capable of interlaced picture at a mere 30 frames a second. These large boxes might have been capable of producing 800 plus lines of resolution but the only way that was going to happen was IF you had a Laserdisc player connected to a line doubler – which so few people – other than those video nuts with deep pockets ever saw. If all you had was broadcast resolution or a VCR however – that picture left a lot to be desired., which I believe was one of the major reasons why these thing didn't sell nearly as well as the old 35 -40 direct view crt's – that  ,along with their $2799+ price tags. 
                                                                 
               
Speaking of dollars, Laserdisc was always expensive, even in it's death throws when player's dropped to a mere $500 bucks – American. By contrast –
 VCR's were always cheaper -and allowed the consumer to do the one thing they really wanted to do – 
which was to record their own tapes. 
 Dvd players might have started out expensive
 ( and by expensive – I'm talking average price $350 – 800 )
 but they got cheap quick. Never the less –
 in 1997 Pioneer released the world's first Laser LVD/DVD combination player. 
To everyone's surprise, 
the DVL-700 outsold all other DVD & LD players 
that year, regardless of the brand or the price !
                                                       
The average retail price of this machine: $739 !



 That unit along with the last Laserdisc player Pioneer
 ever produced, the DVL-919- contained modern AC-3 digital outputs, component video, S-video & composite video outputs,  96Khz/24-Bit digital audio decoding, and even used an on-screen display graphical user interface. ( GUI ). 
All the features that would later be found on almost all
 DVD players were already there with these LD units. 




Joe Kane Productions produced and released “Video Essentials” on Laserdisc in June of 1996 as a tool to help measure & adjust  audio / video systems. The program was released at the height of the Laserdisc phenomenon. It was a source of signals for system calibration, including Dolby Digital
 ( more about this latter)‚
 test tones and conventional video patterns. 
By including anamorphic video test patterns
this disc was ahead of its time in anticipating the widescreen video revolution and contained highest possible quality composite video that could be put on laserdisc at the time. Reformatting it for DVD a year later proved to be difficult because they were attempting to reproduce many of the same features like - topic search, stop frame and step frame capabilities found in ON The Laserdisc. 
   Guess what? 
 Joe Kane still produces an HD Video Essentials program today.


The format's instant-access capability made it possible for a new breed of LaserDisc-based video arcade games and several companies saw potential in using LaserDiscs for video games in the 1980s and 1990s, beginning in 1983 with Sega's Astron Belt. American Laser Games and Cinematronics produced elaborate arcade consoles that used the random-access features to create interactive movies such as Dragon's Lair and Space Ace.
 Check THIS link out !
These games still exist in one format or another today.



Also of importance:
In the mid-1980s Lucasfilm pioneered the EditDroid non-linear editing system for film and television based on the LaserDisc jukebox players .




Instead of printing dailies out on film, the processed negatives would be sent to the mastering plant to be assembled from their 10-minute camera negative elements into 20-minute film segments which would then be  mastered onto single-sided blank LaserDiscs, just as a DVD would be burnt at home today with a recorder and allow for much easier selection and preparation of an Edit Decision List. In the days before video assist was available in cinematography, this was the only other way a film crew could see their work.The EDL then went to the negative cutter who then cut the camera negative accordingly and assembled the finished film. Only 24 EditDroid systems were ever built, even though the ideas and technology are still in use today.

Thanks to it – we now have the famous “Lost Editdroid” Star Wars footage that was just “discovered” in 2013 .

 Introducing Digital Sound
 Laserdiscs originally had only two analog hi-fi tracks, roughly equivalent in sound quality to hi-fi stereo in VHS. However-  In the 1980's, after the rise of the CD, Laserdiscs gained two 44.1 kHz 16-bit Red Book LPCM stereo digital tracks, the very same Digital sound as was found on the CD. Furthermore, today's Digital Sound formats, DTS - and Dolby, would make their debut on the  Laserdisc. 

 One of the DTS Inc.'s initial investors was film director Steven Spielberg, who felt that theatrical sound formats  were no longer state of the art. Spielberg debuted the format with his 1993 production of Jurassic Park Jurassic Park also became the first home video release to contain DTS sound when it was released on LaserDisc in January 1997,  a mere two years after the first Dolby Digital home video release of A Clear and Present Danger on Laserdisc,  in January 1995.  

 Laserdiscs with Dolby Digital Soundtracks replaced the right analog track with the compressed 5.1 AC-3 track. DTS, on the other hand,  replaced both digital tracks. The Dts tracks on Laserdisc were BETTER than their later DVD counterparts, thanks to the extra room on the larger disc. The DTS tracks were recorded @ the full Bit rate of 1500kps, compared to the DVD's reduced 750kps bitrate. As of matter of fact - it would take today's Blu-ray disc to finally match or exceed the sound quality that could once be found on the old Laserdisc. 

Quality Control Program.

Which brings us to : The "THX Digital Mastering Program",
  Lucasfilm's program of monitoring the transfer of film to home video, which began in the Laserdisc era, unofficially with "Apocalypse Now" and officially with "The Abyss" as
 "The THX Laserdisc" Program.



















Then there's that whole "Criterion Collection" thing er - company which specialized in licensing "important classic and contemporary films". They began in 1984 with the releases of Citizen Kane (1941) and King Kong (1933) on Laserdisc. Criterion pioneered the correct aspect ratio letterboxing presentation of movies, as well as commentary soundtracks, multi-disc sets, special editions, and definitive versions. These ideas and the special features have been highly influential, and have become de facto industry-wide standards for premium releases.  On March 16, 1999, Criterion issued its final Laserdisc release, Michael Bay's Armageddon, ( Disc #384) as the industry converted.
The company is still in business today, alive and well, thanks to Blu-ray. Many of the Laserdisc releases were later re-released on the DVD format 
(but NOT ALL of them were. )
 If you would like to know more about their LD's releases, then simply
 watch THIS Youtube video by Culturedog Sam Hatch.

 Furthermore, many DVD's "extra's" stem from their Laserdisc counterparts -  For Example:




DVD screen 


  


 "THE MAKING OF T2: JUDGMENT DAY"
 Documentary found on the DVD (also available as a download on the SkyNet Blu-Ray Edition ) was originally available as a Bonus disc in the T2: CAV LVD Box set.







       or for that matter " Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump" 
           which again was 1st Released on Side 4 of the THX laserdisc.

                                                       
 


















Did all that matter ? 
 You better bet your ass it did.