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The laser disc format is a media format that has been around for a long time. it reached its height in the USA during the VHS era and was seen as a superior but very expensive alternative. These days you can come across them for a few bucks at flea markets and Craigslist (usually). I’ve been collecting laserdiscs as well as players for several years now and just wanted to briefly go over the basics and tips on how/where to look for them.

this is the latest model I’ve picked up. it’s a Pioneer CLD-D502 LD and CD player. a reliable mid level player that has a few nice features. I picked it up for $5 at a swap meet. most players you’ll likely come across are Pioneer since they championed the format though several other companies like Sony also produced players. The best models usually are the ones  from Pioneer. Generally a player will go anywhere from $5 to $20 when you find them “in the wild” meaning not online at a site such as Ebay or a retail shop. They do tend to break down due to laser wear and the fact that the LD’s themselves are quiet heavy putting a lot of strain on the motors used to spin the disc so I like to pick up players as backup units whenever I see them for a reasonable price.

Most players will have composite connections on the back (red white yellow RCA connections) but a few of the high-end players do sport S-video. since the comb filters built into modern TV’s are usually very good at what they do you probably wont see to much of difference in quality between the two connections. unlike DVD, the quality of the Laserdisc player has a high impact on the image quality produced when watching a movie. the highest end players were only available in Japan where the format was much more successful and sometimes go for hundreds if not over a thousand dollars at online auctions. The quality of your average LD’s are usually noticeably superior to the VHS and sometimes even DVD depending on the player and production value of the DVD release.

as you can see the size of the discs are pretty huge. so anyways your probably asking “so why would anyone even want to bother with an outdated clumsy  piece of tech”. Well as I have found with many obsolete technologies it still has its use beyond pure nostalgia.

REASONS TO HAVE AND ADVANTAGES OF LASERDISCS.

1) Art, not usually the first thing that comes to mind but some of the art on the covers of the LD’s are amazing in themselves and worth having for that alone.

2) No region protection, this isn’t a big deal to a lot of people but if you’re a fan of Asian cinema the LD format opens up a whole world of Japanese animation and movies as well as special editions not released outside of Japan.

3) Special editions. a lot of special edition LD’s of movies were made that included a lot of extra content, behind the scenes, interviews and pictures. Sometimes even if a movie was released as a special edition on DVD or Blu-ray these extras were either not included or forgotten.

4) The single best reason is simply there are so many movies and not every one has been released on DVD or Blu-ray for whatever reason but were released on VHS and LD with the LD being the format of higher quality. this goes with widescreen formatted movies as well as a number that were released on LD as widescreen but were only released as full screen on the DVD release. Granted a lot of these forgotten movies werent blockbusters or were animated collections this still represents a solid reason to keep a LD player around if you’re a fan of movies. one notable movie that comes to mind is The Keep, a great 80’s horror action movie that was only ever released on LD and VHS and never on DVD or blue ray as of 7/16/12.

5) Although there is some debate on the subject many people often find the audio from a LD to be superior to the same movie on a DVD due to the uncompressed nature of LD audio. It is also said LD has a more “film like” picture quality that some may prefer over DVD. Some players and discs also allow you to view a movie frame by frame if desired depending on the quality of the player and disc type.

TIPS FOR SPOTING A LASERDISC PLAYER

if you’re not searching online the best places to find a LD player are in my experience flea markets and Goodwill. despite the tendency of these players to die from wear I’ve only encountered one which wouldn’t play LD’s for me. ironically this was a very high-end DVD/LD combo player. It played DVD’s just fine but all I got was blue screen when I attempted to play a LD movie. The first thing you will need to look for is size. Due to the large size of these players they usually stand out a little from the vast mountain of DVD and VHS players you will come across. They are about the same bulk as a stereo system or multi disc CD/DVD player and I’ve had a few instances where it took a moment to realize I was not looking at an LD player. They are almost always black in case color as well aside from a few exceptions though so are many VHS players of the time.

(click to enlarge picture)

1) take the time to examine any player you come across if you glance the Pioneer badge as they were the primary backers of the format and produced many LD player models.

2) obviously if it’s an LD player if will usually tell you by having Laserdisc printed across the front of the tray.

3) LD had a little symbol that will be printed on any LD player

FEATURES TO LOOK FOR

4) both sides label or two buttons to allow you to switch disc sides. Most LD movies required both sides of the disc to hold the entire movie and some longer films even had to be made on more than one disc. on lower end players the viewer had to get up and manually flip the disc over to continue the movie. A nice feature on some better players is an auto flip feature which will automatically switch sides when required although there is still a short pause in the movie while the laser rotates inside the machine. Keep in mind that while this is really convenient it’s also one more mechanical part that can break down on your player. There is exactly one model produced that I know about that the user can actually insert two LD discs at once for multi disc films. I have never seen one in person though and believe they are quite rare and most likely expensive.

5) the frame knob. I’m not sure what this is actually referred to as but it’s basically your device for fast forwarding and rewinding. I’ve come across a few players where these are broken off.

6) CAV and CLV. this is something to look for more on the LD movies themselves. these are two types of LD movies. if a movie is CAV that means its capable of some extra features like frame by frame viewing. some higher end players can perform this even on the much more common CLV discs.

so in conclusions there’s still reason to pick one of these machines up if you come across it for a low price and enjoy some classic cinema.

UPDATE 7/3/13

I finally came across a higher end LD player and I have to say the picture quality is a lot better then the CLD-D502 I’ve been using

ldn (1)

It is a Pioneer DVL-909. this is a DVD/Laserdisc combo player and although most LD enthusiasts will tell you to avoid the combo player and go for a straight LD player I still think this player has some nice features and gives noticeably superior quality to my previous player.

ldn (2)

obviously the first advantage you can see is the superior selection of A/V connection on the rear of this machine. Unfortunately the highest quality connection, the component only works when playing DVD’s. I’m not sure the reason for this but I suspect the price of a internal converter at the time. This machine does offer S-video as well as several audio outputs such as optical and digital coaxel that my previous player did not.

When I first picked this player up and brought it home I discovered that it would not play LD’s. it would get very loud and I could hear it attempting to spin the disc but then it would give up. On opening the machine I discovered a DVD that had slid back beyond the tray and was preventing the LD portion from operating. I would recommend opening your player and checking if your have a combo player with no LD functionality. I suspect this may be a common occurrence with the original owners forgetting a DVD in the tray and having it slide back into the inner working by movers or goodwill/thrift employees transporting the unit vertically.

The DVD function of this machine is virtually useless. as a first to second generation DVD player DVD operation is slow and any $20 DVD player you can currently pick up at Walmart will easily best this players DVD capabilities.

The really neat thing about this player that isn’t a very common feature is that it can play CD-R’s as well as PAL region LD’s and DVD’s. apparently this is a region free player and the region can be chosen via a menu in the machine. This machine also actually freezes the scene it happens to be on as opposed to lower end players that just go to a blue screen. It seems to have less features at a glance since the front oLd the machine is mush sparser then my previous CLD-D502 but i suspect most of those can be accessed via the remote….which I do not possess.

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5 Comments

  1. This is great to know that I’m not alone as the LD enthusiast but still there are some who is still appreciate LD and its era. But it is sad that I still have the same model machine of which I have bought it in the late eighties. The trouble is, I haven’t use it for quite sometimes since the DVD, BlueRay & 3D were introduced into the world market. Now when I wanted to watch some of my old collection of movies from my LD, my machine stays on the standby mode and I couldn’t get the power anymore. Please give me some advise how to get some parts for the machine.Thank you.

  2. I’ve honestly never bothered to have any of my LD players repaired since parts/finding someone that can repair them is more expensive then simply finding a “new” one. that’s why I usually pick them up when i see one at at goodwill or yard sales for $5 – $10. when the one I’m using dies I just grab another from

  3. Just came across laserdisc pioneer LD-660 with about 40 standard size and then about the same in a smaller version all in very nice book type holders with the original sleeve and it works perfect, surprised at the artists all big time 80’s any interested in it please contact at rgmitchell28@gmail.com. Thanks Ron

  4. One thing you may not be aware of – the DVL-909 and DVL-919 are able to switch DVD regions by simply using the remote. It’s not an advertised feature (as the mpaa etc would be up in arms) but very useful for people with a collection of foreign films.

    • That’s awesome. Thanks for the info, I’ll need to track down a remote now.


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