Previously on our blog we looked at the tragic demise of Betamax – tragic to those who actually owned Betamax players, at least. This time we’re going to look at the history of the laserdisc, why it didn’t take off, and where it is today. Hint: Garages, car boot sales and eBay feature heavily.
Give a kid a laserdisc today and they might be forgiven for thinking you’d transported back to the Land of the Giants and offered them up an outsized DVD. The technology for laserdisc was first patented way back in 1958, but it’d be another twenty years before they hit the mainstream. Befitting its 1970’s inception, the laserdisc was first known as the MCA DiscoVision. Say what you will about the name, it’d certainly make video formats a lot more interesting if they were named after genres of music. FunkVideo or DVDrum’n’Bass anyone?
Pub quiz question – what was the first laserdisc ever produced and sold in America? Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. That’s a pretty strong start, and it certainly had tons of benefits over VHS. The picture was of superior quality, and much sharper. And they were even cheaper to make given they have fewer moving parts, with a far greater longevity than the now classic video. The trouble was partly due to the extraordinary cost of laserdisc players.
And there was another problem. And that problem was DVD. Yep, as soon as the ol’ Digital Versatile Disc hit the market it was game over for laserdisc. Sure, laserdisc might have allowed a greater amount of control when playback movies, and the fact is that, unlike DVD, it wouldn’t become unplayable when the disc was scratched – it would simply skip the damaged area – but the real issue was the image. The format might have had a better quality of analogue video, but it was no match for the mighty digital.
Storage was a problem for laserdisc too. Its size was comparable to an LP vinyl, and having your entire film collection on such a bulky format meant that not only was storing them at home no good. Then there’s the cold, hard fact that stores didn’t want to give up shelf space to so few products, preferring to cram shelves with the tinier DVD.
Videophiles still debate the relative merits of laserdisc – some reckon the quality of the audio is much better than anything else on offer. And the picture quality, it has been argued, is a lot more true to the cinematic feel of the big screen. But none of that could prevent the laserdisc going the way of the Betamax.
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