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The following is an abridged version of a complete article that can be found in our
LaserDisc Museum.  To read the complete text, which is supplemented with
a LaserDisc time-line and many high-quality images...
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(above right)

LaserDisc...
The optical videodisc was invented by David Paul Gregg in 1958.
The patents for his transparent disc system were eventually sold to Philips in 1969.
Their plan being to begin selling feature-films on laser videodisc.
In order to achieve this goal, Philips joined forces with MCA, and
they decided on a
reflective, rather than transparent disc system.

The very first demonstration of MCA/Philips LaserDisc
took place in 1972.  
During which, the company
officially announced their plans to begin selling movies
on what should have been the very first home-video format.

LaserDisc...
The most advanced consumer-electronics product that had ever been conceived.
Unfortunately, the next several years would be filled with many scientific,
production and public-relations challenges, ultimately robbing LaserDisc
of the title...
'first home-video format'.

Laserdisc...  we hardly knew ya.
Why would I say that about a format that remained in production for more than 23yrs?
Well, suffice it to say that although it lasted from 1978-2002...
Very few people were ever aware of LaserDisc's existence.
How many friends did you astound during the 1990's when you showed them your
big shiny discs?
Although MCA/Philips, (and later Pioneer) had hoped that Laser would eventually become a
popular/successful product... It never really happened.  

Now, we can debate the reasons why...
Inability to record in a VCR world,  high cost of hardware ($350-$8,500),
high cost of discs (single features were $30-$300ea... boxed sets ranged from $80-$550),
large physical size, the fact you had to flip them over (if you didn't own a double-sided player),
the lack of support/advertising, or...  All of the above.

Struggling to survive in a world of brand-names, focus-groups, and demographics...
You know,,,  easy-to-find... easy-to-use... and... easy-to-pay-for.
LaserDisc was an enigma...  The Unknowable... Unobtainable... Unproduct.

Being a LaserDisc collector requires a rather significant commitment, and...
I'm not talking about money.  Even during Laser's heyday... (1991-1996)...
Collectors usually had to travel some distance, or be willing to buy their films mail-order.
I was lucky...  There were 3 major retailers within a 45 minute drive.
I could rent discs at a local video-store, or buy them at a shopping-mall, and...
If I was looking for big Hollywood flicks... They probably even had them in stock,  
but...
Being a somewhat eccentric film collector, and usually looking for eclectic fare...
I was generally contemplating that 30-45 minute drive.

Why did I do it?
That's a no-brainer...  
Picture-quality, sound-quality, proper aspect-ratios, director's cuts,
special features, autographed limited-editions, etc.
Remember... At that time, the only choice for film collectors was VHS vs. Laser.
As I said... It was a no-brainer, and no amount of travel-time, or aggravation
would make a 240-line resolution, pan & scan VHS tape look good to me.
Comparing VHS to LD was like comparing a Ford Pinto to a Porsche 911.

I'll be honest... Initially, I disliked DVD. The very idea of a 5-inch
Criterion Special Edition
made me want to laugh, then scream.  However in time, I began to see things differently.  
First, that DVD, with it's compressed digital video and audio was a mixed bag...
Doing some things better than uncompressed LaserDisc and other things worse.
Second, that Pioneer in all likelihood, would move forward... with or without me.

It's my theory that people who are prone to obsessive film viewing,
and I mean that as a compliment, but consider the source... tend to have very visual imaginations.
It then follows that the
obsessive film viewing gene also results in a predisposition to all things visual.
For example, in addition to being a film-viewing fanatic, I collect original movie-posters.
What's all this got to do with Laser?  
I've got just two words for you...  Jacket art!
Although I've seen some beautiful framed album/LD art in people's homes...
Can you imagine anyone framing one of those little CD, DVD or Blu-ray covers?
Perhaps this obvious drawback to little discs is contributing to the renaissance of vinyl LPs?

Don't misinterpret what I'm saying...  I'm not a DVD and Blu-ray hater.
In fact, I bought my first DVD player during the format's initial roll-out (March 1997).
So I wasn't exactly dragged-in kicking & screaming.
The truth is, I buy a lot of the little "basterds"...  Hey they are little, and
the best things about them came from their 12-inch Daddy...
Anamorphic video,  chapter search,  digital audio,  director-approved transfers,
documentaries,  Dolby-Digital,  dts,  laser optics,  letterboxing,  photo galleries,
running-commentaries,  special-editions,  theatrical trailers,  THX...
The trouble is... They didn't inherit their Daddy's...
uncompressed video,  and uncompressed jacket-art!

Did Pioneer pull-the-plug on the LD format prematurely/frivolously, and
If so... Was this fair to collectors?
After all, Pioneer didn't keep the format alive for 20+ years all by themselves.
Collectors, although smaller in number than the company would have liked...
proved to be fiercely loyal to the format, demonstrating a willingness to shoulder any hardship
Including high list prices, poor distribution, production problems... You name it.

In fairness, you have to consider the position Pioneer found themselves in.
Although there were 47,000 LD releases during it's 23yr life (17,000 in the U.S. and 30,000 in Japan)
Even during LaserDisc's peak... USA discs were often pressed in the hundreds...
In fact, a press run of one thousand pieces was often thought to be quite successful.
Compare these numbers to DVD which is mass-produced in the millions, and...
one can see why Pioneer decided to focus their lasers on the latter.
I mean they never really made any money on LD, at least not here in the United States...
where the format peaked at well under 1% of the home-video market.  In fact,
I have always believed the oft-referenced 1% number to be absurdly optimistic.
Why?  Because it's based on player population/sales data.  How many LD players have you owned?
I don't know about you, but I'm being counted as seven LD households.
What's my estimate of the total number of actual U.S. LD collectors during the format's heyday?
Somewhere between 250,000 and 350,000.

All that being said, Laser was far more successful in Japan,
where it achieved a remarkable 10% share of a very active video market.
Frankly, if it weren't for the success of LD in Japan, the U.S.
Laser-Parade
would have ended a lot sooner.  Yet in spite of the large Japanese market...
Pioneer ceased production of the last U.S. player in December of 1999.
(Japanese hardware remained in production until March of 2002).

As far as the discs themselves are concerned...
Although there are lots of LDs available on-line, most turn out to be either
multiple listings for the same-old titles, or the right film/wrong version.
You know... The NON-remastered,  NON-Criterion,  NON-digital-sound,  NON-AC-3,
NON-special,  and NON-letterboxed edition.
I don't know about you,  but I try to be up-to-speed on all the import, or...
remastered versions of
key titles, and always know which edition I'm looking for.

An interesting aspect of the current situation is the...
gloom factor.
Buying LDs in online auctions is like to going to an estate sale...
90% of the time you won't find what you're looking for.
10% of the time you will find what you're looking for,  but...
100% of the time you go home feeling empty, and cheated out of the fun
you previously experienced, every time you bought a disc.
My theory being, that the positive emotions derived from successfully adding to one's collection
are undermined by the gloomy atmosphere/venue that our hobby currently resides in.
It can't possibly have escaped your attention that almost all online LD auctions
are the result of former/fellow Jedi Knights giving in to the
dark side... ie...
The cheap,  easy-to-use,  mass-produced... but decidedly less rare/special... DVD.
Perhaps they feel DVD is good enough? I've even heard rumors that some
LaserDisc collectors prefer DVD's...  Although I attribute these reports to
either poor hardware or mass-hysteria.

I can understand why people that never collected LDs in the first place
became enthusiastic about  DVD.  It's certainly a big improvement over VHS tape, but
How can anyone that's experienced the thrill of owning these rare discs,
holding the (often) striking jacket-art in their hands, and
watching that big drawer close... possibly be satisfied with anything else?
Of course, If the films you seek were never released on LD... What choice do you have?
I buy lots of new movies and previously unavailable TV shows on DVD,  but...
The idea of selling a rare LaserDisc they may have produced less than five-hundred of,
and
replacing it with a DVD they produced ten or twenty-million of?
You must admit... My mass-hysteria theory does have merit.

Why would I spend over a year building an
interociter (aka) LaserDisc Planet?
Well, the truth is...  
I'm kind of fond of these big shiny discs and I'm just trying
to have some fun while keeping the dream alive.

At this point new laserdisc pressings only exist in collector's dreams, but...
MCA/Philips proved long ago, that even the most impossible dreams can become reality.
Will there ever be another LaserDisc pressing?  Anything is possible. However, in the meantime...
Why not focus your laser on one of the 47,000 discs that have already been pressed?

In closing, I'd like to offer my special thanks to Rachel Bellomy,  Douglas Pratt,  Blaine Young, and
Joshua Zyber. Their excellent articles were an invaluable source of information and inspiration,
during the long voyage to LaserDisc Planet, which confirmed what Ridley Scott said...
(that) "In space no one can hear you scream"

-Klaatu
This e-publication is intended for private home use only. No rights are implied or given. This e-publication may not be reprinted, reproduced, downloaded, or retransmitted,
in whole or in part without expressed written permission. All rights are reserved. The opinions expressed in this e-publication are not necessarily those of LaserDisc Planet.
Many of the characters described and/or featured in this e-publication are fictitious and similarity to any real person or entity whether living or dead is entirely coincidental.
2011
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