An Introduction to LaserDisc, Was it Ever Popular?

Pioneer LaserDisc CLD-V2800 player

The LaserDisc (LD) is a home video format and the first commercial optical disc storage medium, initially licensed, sold and marketed as DiscoVision in the US in 1978.

Although the video format was capable of offering higher-quality video and audio than its consumer rivals VHS and Betamax videotapes format, it never gained popularity because of its high cost and the inability to record. Another disadvantage of LaserDisc was that each disc is bulky and could only hold maximum of one hour of content, which means you’d have to switch discs in the middle of a movie in order to finish watching it.

LaserDisc was much more popular in Japan and in the more affluent regions of Southeast Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. By the 1990s, LaserDisc did gain some traction in North America but the arrival of DVD video format with smaller disc size and cheaper cost easily killed off LaserDisc.

Something that many people probably did not realize is that LaserDisc is actually an analog format. A standard home video LaserDisc is 12 inches in diameter and made up of two single-sided aluminum discs layered in plastic. Although similar in appearance to compact discs or DVDs, LaserDiscs used analog video stored in the composite domain with analog FM stereo sound and PCM digital audio. Later discs used D-2 instead of Type C videotape for mastering. The LaserDisc at its most fundamental level was still recorded as a series of pits and lands much like CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs are today. But instead of a true digital media where the pits, or their edges, directly represent 1s and 0s of a binary digital information stream, a LaserDisc’s information is encoded as analog frequency modulation and is contained in the lengths and spacing of the pits.

Much like vinyl records and cassettes, LaserDisc will become a collector’s dream as a working LaserDisc player and movies in the format are going to be hard to find. Check out a working Pioneer LaserDisc CLD-V2800 player playing the original Star Wars movie A New Hope. The original unedited Star Wars trilogy was released on LaserDisc. Bodacious!