In a world of tape-based home video formats in the 1980s, LaserDisc was the odd one out.
It is a double-sided disc made of reflective vinyl. Just imagine it as a CD the size of a vinyl record.
Each side can hold a maximum playback time of 60 minutes. There aren’t single-sided LaserDiscs. If video content is less than 60 minutes, then the other side is intentionally left blank.
The LaserDisc is a playback format only. You can’t record on it. The first optical laser-based analog video format for the home video market, it is often regarded as the forerunner to later digital optical formats like CD, DVD, and Blu-ray.
The LaserDisc was first introduced at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 1974.
But then, it was not until 1978 it saw the light of the day in the consumer market. It was introduced in the USA as MCA DiscoVision. It was introduced in Japan in 1981 and in 1982 across Europe.
By then VHS had stolen a march upon it and seized the imagination of the home video market. By then JVC had introduced the first VHS player in Japan towards the end of 1976 and in 1977 in the United States.
It was in the Asian markets, particularly in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore that LaserDisc thrived, especially in Karaoke joints.
They did find favor in educational and corporate circles, however, during the period. LaserDiscs were capable of storing a large amount of video useful for presentations and learning demos.
LaserDisc’s high-quality video (60% better than VHS) and CD-quality audio were the preferred home video format of AV connoisseurs until the arrival of DVD (1997) which sounded its death knell.
Special Movie Editions on LaserDisc
LaserDisc had its drawbacks. Its size was unwieldy. You can’t record on it. It was expensive and so on.
But then when it came to special editions of movies, which was later to become DVD’s standout benefit, it excelled.
Some of these LaserDisc movies have become collector’s items.
Cinephiles embraced LaserDisc because of special editions of classic films under the Criterion Collection.
There were some special movie editions available only on LaserDisc.
For instance, the LaserDisc version of The Alama, starring John Wayne, contained extended scenes lasting an hour.
This feature was not made available in the DVD version.
The Laserdisc version of King Kong (1933), the first movie to come with audio commentary, was never made available on DVD.
The extended (deleted bloopers) scenes, audio commentary, or actor/director interviews could not have been possible on a VHS tape.
That could be the reason why a good number of folks embraced LaserDisc despite the disadvantages attached to it
LaserDisc vs DVD
It is often said that DVD is the natural progression of LaserDisc. As explained above one reason for DVD’s popularity is its adoption of LaserDisc’s pstandout features like extended scenes, audio commentary, and multilingual audio tracks.
But then there are differences between the two formats.
LaserDiscs measure 30.5 centimeters (12 inches). DVD are 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) in diameter.
LaserDisc players are larger in size compared to DVD players.
LaserDisc can store an hour of video on one side. You can’t store audio only on it. You can store a limited number of still images though.
On a DVD you can store more than 2 hours of video on a single side with still frames. You can store more than 20 hours of audio in the DVD audio format.
You can’t play a DVD on a LaserDisc player. And of course, you can’t play a LaserDisc on a DVD player.
LaserDisc comes with a horizontal resolution of 425 lines (NTSC) and 440 lines (PAL)
DVDs have 480 lines of resolution for the NTSC and 576 lines for PAL
You can record content on a LaserDisc. LaserDiscs come prerecorded. You can record on a DVD, however, with a DVD+/-RW drive using a DVD-ROM or DVD=/-RW disc.
LaserDiscs cost more than DVDs. This is one reason why the home video market shied away from it.
End of the Road
During LaserDisc’s run of fewer than three decades, only an estimated 2% of USA households owned LaserDisc players.