Larger than Life:
The Demise of the Laserdisc

    A DVD is downright puny in comparison.
A sense of joy courses through me as I place the unwieldy, shiny 12-inch disc into the player. The machine buzzes and whirs with excitement, and a few moments later, a crystal clear image appears on my TV, matched by the thunderous accompaniment of digital sound. Yes, it's the laserdisc. It's a remnant of the 80's that never managed to catch on with the public, and now faces fierce competition from its younger sibling, the DVD.

Unlike DVDs, laserdiscs are not convenient in the least. They're as large as vinyl records, and they weigh even more. Add that to the fact that each side of a laserdisc holds a maximum of one hour of content before requiring a "flip" and you've got yourself one annoying video format! Of course, some of the fancier players will flip the disc for you, but that still means a break in the action.

    Laserdisc, you light up my life.
Back in their heyday (let's say the late 80's to mid 90's), laserdiscs were far superior to their distant cousin, the VHS videotape. If you were careful not to scratch the surface of the disc, the image quality was unsurpassed, and never suffered from tracking problems. Even better, you never had to rewind because the laserdisc was all about instant access. Laserdiscs offered the public their first taste of the widescreen format. And did they like it? The answer is a resounding "YES!"

It was also fairly common for laserdiscs to include bonus features, such as the original theatrical trailer of the film, outtakes or previously cut footage, interviews, and running commentary from the filmmakers on a separate audio track. That way, if you were a complete fanatic about a film, you could hear anecdotes about what the director was feeling and thinking during all of your favorite scenes. The cool thing about laserdiscs was that these bonus features were usually only found on "good" movies, like Aliens, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Nowadays, almost every DVD has director's commentary or outtakes, so you know exactly what was cut from the theatrical version of Final Destination.

Ready to Start a Collection?
Here are some of Dan's favorite places to buy laserdiscs online:
  • Ken Crane's
  • Laserific
  • Laser's Edge
  • The sad truth is that today's DVDs offer all the advantages of laserdiscs, and much more, on a smaller, more manageable disc. Even though the laserdisc can't compete with newer technology, there's still a thrill I get when removing one of the reflective platters from its protective sleeve that a DVD will never achieve. It's the same retro appeal that records have over CDs. Times have changed, but laserdiscs will always make this reviewer nostalgic for a time when technology was weird and inconvenient. --Dan Coonley

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