Tonight I’m watching a laserdisc.
Despite what many people think, even though it uses a laser to read the video information on the massive 12-inch disc, laserdisc isn’t digital. It’s analog, like a vinyl LP record. But, I’m afraid, not nearly as cool.
Laserdisc was the videogeek aficionado’s format of choice through the 1980s and 1990s, but quickly got usurped by DVD in the late 1990s.
Vinyl record lovers can legitimately make the case that LP records have significant fidelity differences compared to CD. Some would say they’re superior, as a vinyl-lover myself, I’d simply say they’re different and I appreciate the difference.
But laserdisc, it’s a format that’s more by wayside.
Analog video doesn’t equal crappy video. Even now, analog BetaCam is considered broadcast quality for standard definition television. And when the Japanese went to high-definition TV some ten+ years ago it was with an analog video standard.
But even in my day job as an educational media producer, digital video is my everyday life, not analog.
The battle to defend laserdisc never lasted long against the DVD. In 1998, director Kevin Smith started off the commentary track to the laserdisc of “Chasing Amy” with the non-prophetic words “Fuck DVD.” I think that was the high-water mark of the laserdisc die-hards.
From 1999 through about 2002 I cleaned up on the used laserdisc market. As former LD videophiles dumped their collections to upgrade to DVD I got scores of great movies for next to nothing in this supposedly obsolete format. I did the same thing with vinyl records around 1989-1993 until vinyl went from nearly forgotten to being cool again.
Now I haven’t bought a laserdisc in a year or two, and lot of the movies I have on LD that were out of print have finally been released on DVD.
Most DVD collectors probably don’t realize that directors’ commentary tracks and extras like deleted scenes got their start on laserdisc. That’s where the Criterion Collection got it’s start a good decade before the debut of DVD. Laserdisc debuted digital sound for movies, when analog VHS was dominant. And in the mid-1990s LD brought Dolby Digital surround sound to the home before the DVD spec was even finalized.
But being first doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best or the winner.
I have over a hundred laserdiscs and a working player. There are NO new movies on laserdisc, though I do still find them at garage sales and record sales.
I don’t know if the format is or ever was better than DVD. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of my laserdiscs and player. If it breaks, I’ll probably eBay a few more.
The video and audio quality is great. It’s the height of analog home video delivery. In a high-def world, who knows what will happen. I just wish 150-some laserdiscs weighed a hell of a lot less.