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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 so anyways your probably asking “so why would anyone even want to bother with an outdated clumsy  piece of tech”.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.


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.


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


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.

A brief look at sound and surround sound options on a Laserdisc player

Getting good audio out of a laserdisc is a little less straight forward then a DVD or Blu-ray and there are several types of audio encoding methods when dealing with LD players so I wanted to briefly go over them.


Here is an image from the back of my DVL-909 a late model player that has all the outputs we want for the full range of audio options.

1 ) RCA analog audio – The first option and the option we are most familiar with is are the red and white RCA stereo analog connectors. These connectors are basically on every piece of audio equipment out there and are still very common on newer electronics even in an age of HDMI mostly for the huge amount of legacy equipment that use these. Most of the earliest Laserdiscs only support analog stereo that is provided by these jacks but also some have Dolby Surround sound as well.

2 ) Digital out – Many mid and high end players will also have a digital audio out, either in the form of an optical (also known as TOSlink) jack or a digital coaxel jack. These jacks deliver roughly the same quality signal and allow for a better CD quality digital sound then the white and red RCA analog jacks though depending on the quality of your setup the difference may be minimal.

Many Laserdisc from the 80’s and especially 90’s will have support for both analog and digital sound and many also support Dolby Digital Surround sound via these ports.

Lastly if you plan to listen to any DTS Laserdiscs you must have a digital output on your player. DTS stands for Digital Theater Sound and is regarded as the best quality surround sound from a laserdisc offering the best separation of sound channels. To utilize this you must have a player with a digital out as well as either a receiver that can decode DTS or a separate DTS decoder module such as a Techniques SH-AC500D. Keep in mind you also need a Laserdisc title that has the DTS track on it and only about one hundred titles were released as DTS titles give or take. These are very easy to spot as then generally have “DTS SOUND” very predominantly printed on the sleeve. DTS titles do tend to go for quite a bit more then none DTS laserdiscs. DTS will output the same over either an optical or a digital coaxel cable.

3 ) AC-3 RF – Lastly we have AC-3 RF which is solely used by laserdiscs. AC-3 RF is a form of true surround sound that is encoded onto the laserdisc as a RF signal and needs to be demodulated to be used. It offers a very good surround sound experience only slightly lesser then DTS can provide. AC-3 RF laserdiscs are also far more common and cheaper then DTS titles. usually this is printed on the back of the Laserdisc sleeve where it lists the audio options and will usually clearly state “AC-3 RF sound”. Playing tracks that use AC-3 RF is largely the same as DTS as you need a player with a AC-3 RF output jack as well as either a receiver or a separate demodulator specifically for demodulating AC-3 RF tracks. a nicely shielded RCA cable or digital coaxel cable will work fine for connecting players to either a receiver or a demodulator box.


“Industrial” Players


You may in your search for an Laserdisc player come across a player that resembles the one in the image above. These players are usually referred to a “industrial” Laserdisc players and were primarily intended for use in factory settings or places like schools. They usually lack the fancier features found in high-end consumer players like both sides play and digital audio out connectors but they do tend to be more reliable overall as they were build for day to day use. These players usually also have some sort of computer style serial port interface on the back as well as function switches.

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 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 of this machine is much 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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