Chapter 14: Ask The Laser GuruTM

Given the volume of mail that I have received for this site, I decided that it would be a good idea to create a Question & Answer section. If you need help determining the existence or availability of a particular title on laserdisc, or if you would like my opinion on a title that is not currently reviewed on this site, you can ask me and I will do my best to get you an answer. Or at the very least I will try to point you in the right direction.

This page used to be known simply as Ask Josh, but someone sent an email referring to me as the "laser guru", and I was amused (and conceited) enough to change the page to reflect this nickname.

If you've got a question,
Ask Josh at email: jzyber @ mind spring . com (remove spaces).
Please use subject line "Laser Guru".

[Note: Please do not send me any questions regarding transferring LD content to DVD. I have little experience in that area, and these matters usually involve complex copyright ownership issues that I am not qualified to answer. Thank you for your understanding.]

General Questions Hardware Questions Disc Questions


Q: Are any laserdiscs still being manufactured anywhere in the world?

A: Laserdisc production for movies in America ended in 2000 with Sleepy Hollow and Bringing Out the Dead, both from Paramount, neither with Dolby Digital audio (Paramount got cheap towards the end). Pioneer Entertainment continued to manufacture discs in Japan through most of 2001, but there have been no new releases since September of that year. The last discs were:

The Cell - Unrated International Cut, two minutes longer than American video editions.
Les Rivières Pourpres (The Crimson Rivers) - in French with Japanese subtitles, no English.
The 6th Day - with a number of supplements, making it the final "special edition" laserdisc.
Tokyo Raiders - in Chinese with Japanese subtitles, no English.

Earlier that year we saw Mission: Impossible - 2, U-571, The World Is Not Enough, X-Men and a few others. All of these Japanese discs have Dolby Digital audio.

To purchase any of these titles from Japan, I recommend contacting Nicolas Santini.

Addendum: I've been notified that the Imation plant in Wisconsin re-ran a batch of laserdiscs for the Dragon's Lair arcade game in March of 2002. The plant was dismantled soon afterwards. These were likely the very last laserdiscs ever pressed in the U.S.

Q: My company is operating in Finland and we started to produce Finnish karaoke songs in DVD format. Our clients are both consumers and karaoke professionals & karaoke bars. For consumers DVD format is OK but for professional use laser disc is clearly much more suitable. The problem is: is there any manufacturer who could print our Finnish karaoke material into laser disc format? The amounts will be small about 1000-1500 copies per release. Or are there any printing equipment which we can buy? 

A: To the best of my knowledge there are no laserdisc manufacturing plants still in operation. All of those facilities were either switched over to DVD production or have been shut down.

Due to the complexity of making a laserdisc, and the clean-room standards required, they are not the type of item that hobbyists would be able to press on their own, as happens with some small LP music releases.

I wish I had better news for you.

Q: What are "elephant condoms" and what do they have to do with laserdiscs?

A: This phrase is a euphemism for the cheap plastic sleeves that many laserdiscs come packaged in. These are generally despised by laserdisc collectors because they offer little protection and cause many discs that have been packed tightly on a shelf to punch through the jacket, leaving tears along the spine or outer edges. It is highly recommended to replace any "elephant condoms" with paper-supported sleeves if possible. In general, sleeves designed for LP records will work for laserdiscs, so long as they have a plastic lining inside the paper. These may be obtained from a variety of record collectible retailers or online from Bags Unlimited.

Q: I'm updating my laserdisc collection and want to better protect and organize them. I wanted to know if you have specific recommendations for protecting the discs themselves, as well as the covers. I went to Bags Unlimited as you suggested but I was not clear which were optimal for each purpose.

A: As noted in the question, the best place to go online for LD storage options is Bags Unlimited. Search in the Audio section under Vinyl Record Storage. 33 1/3 LP records are the same size as laserdiscs, so most of the same storage supplies can be used.

The outer bags that I use are: 

12-3/4" x 12-3/4" 3mil Poly with 1-1/2" Flap (Prod. code SLP3F) -- For regular discs. 

14" x 14-1/4" 2mil Poly Box Album Sleeves with Flap (Prod. code SBLP2) -- For box sets. 

These work well enough for my purposes. I do have a few box sets which are too large to fit into even the larger size bag. I haven't figured out what to do with those yet. 

The discs themselves should be stored inside their jackets in 12" White Paper Polylined Sleeves (Prod code S12P). Do not forget the polylining and accidentally order the plain paper sleeves, which will scratch a laserdisc. 

Q: Do you have recommendations for displaying LDs and organizing them? 

A: Assuming you don't want to go to the expense of having shelving custom built, what works for me are a selection of wooden storage cubes that I purchased at a local Economy Hardware store. They have 13" x 13" interior clearance, and each will fit approximately 50 regular size disc jackets, and the majority of box sets will also fit inside. My own collection of ~270 discs (a significant number of box sets) resides in 8 boxes. They are sturdy, they are stackable, and if I decide to move they are portable. If you check local hardware stores in your area you might find something similar, perhaps even something with more interior clearance. Some of my taller box sets don't fit into the cubes, and for those I found a separate little shelf that I bought at a department store. 

A friend of mine tells me that he found a good shelf for LD storage at Ikea that holds about 200 discs and costs around $100. Unfortunately, I don't have the name or model number of the specific unit. 

Q: I recently ordered an LD , but the seller e-mailed me that they were refunding my cost because the LD had laser rot.  So, would you please define it for me?

A: Laser rot is a manufacturing defect whereby the two halves of a laserdisc are improperly glued together, allowing air and other impurities to get in between. This causes a visible degradation of the image in the form of multi-colored speckles on screen. It usually starts from the edge and works its way inwards, meaning the beginning or ending of a side first. In extreme cases, it can make the disc unwatchable and may even affect the audio with pops and distortion. It is a condition without a cure, and it gets worse over time. A disc you last watched several years ago may have rotted to the point of unplayability in the meantime. Conversely, there have been cases (I had one) where a disc might be fully rotted as soon as you pull it out of the shrinkwrap.

A rule of thumb is that signs of laser rot will manifest themselves within two years of a disc's manufacture. Since all laserdiscs were manufactured at least that long ago, any disc you watch now without seeing signs of rot will probably not develop them.

It is estimated that the average laserdisc collection will experience 1 - 2% rot. My own collection of about 250 discs only has two verifiable cases of rot, one extreme and one mild, and one disc with some suspicious dropouts that I'm keeping my eye on. Some collectors have experienced higher percentages depending on the type of material that they collect and the manufacturing plant that a number of their discs come from.

The Sony DADC USA pressing plant had a terrible reputation for unclean working conditions which lead to many cases of rot. Sony DADC was the pressing plant of choice for the Columbia Tri-Star studio for many years (Columbia Tri-Star is owned by Sony). Therefore, if a collection has a high number of Columbia Tri-Star titles, it is more likely to experience a higher percentage of rotted discs. You can identify a DADC pressing from its mint marks. I recommend that you see the BLAM Entertainment Group web site for instructions on how to do this. Over the years, most pressing plants had problems with rot at one time or another, but most of them managed to clean themselves up. DADC never did. (Note that only the American DADC plant had the rot problems. Another Sony DADC plant in Europe had a better track record.)

There are also several discs that have a reputation for being "rotters". Among them are the THX letterboxed edition of Willow, Heavy Metal, and the Aliens - Special Edition CAV box set (the latter is one of my two rotted discs, and I have never heard of a rot-free copy of Willow actually existing). If you were going to purchase any of these titles, you would be advised to ask the seller to verify the condition beforehand.

That the seller of your recent disc checked the condition without prompting speaks well toward their reputability.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all video defects are laser rot. Rot has very specific symptoms. It starts as colored speckles that get worse over time and in a worst case scenario spread all over the screen like TV reception static. Many people tend to mistake video dropouts (individual white speckles in fixed locations that are present from the first time you play the disc and never spread or get worse) for rot, when in fact they are not. Nor are rolling dropouts (on CLV discs, a speckle or often pair of speckles that start at the top of the screen and rapidly scroll down until they disappear). Dropouts are caused by inclusions or contaminants that get sealed in the disc when they are pressed. The laser cannot read through them, so you get an artifact on screen in place of that part of the video signal they are blocking. Because this is not a degenerative problem, it is not nearly as serious as rot. Laserdisc is an analog format, so a viewer has to develop a tolerance for certain minor playback anamolies. You learn to accept that some laserdiscs may have dropouts just as you accept that some DVDs have compression artifacts. After a while you learn to ignore them. So long as the problem is not something that will worsen, it is not worth getting concerned about.

Q: What is LD+G? I have seen this logo on some import laserdiscs and I was wondering what it refers to.

A: LD+G (sometimes LD-G) stands for LaserDisc + Graphics. This is a feature found on some Japanese laserdiscs as a form of optional subtitling that can be overlayed onto the video image. The end result is similar to the American Closed Captioning system, but LD+G offers the potential for many more subtitle or caption options. It also allows the viewer to move the captions upward or downward on the screen to their liking. To access the LD+G tracks, you must have an LD+G decoder. These were available in Japan either as stand-alone units, or sometimes built into a laserdisc player (such as the LD-S9. See below).

LD+G was never available on American laserdisc releases, and the decoder was not built into many American laserdisc players (I only know of one Denon model that has it).

It has been a common misconception that LD+G will enable a user to remove the Japanese subtitles from import laserdisc releases. This is, unfortunately, a myth. The subtitles found on Japanese laserdiscs are burned into the video image, much as English subtitles are typically a permanent part of foreign-language film releases in the U.S. They cannot be removed. The most one can hope to do is cover them up. LD+G can indeed do this, but only by laying a new set of subtitles on top. In theory, it would be possible for one of the LD+G tracks to be encoded with an empty black bar that could cover up the subtitled part of the picture (useful only if the subs appear entirely in the black letterbox bar), but this is not a function for which LD+G was designed, and to my knowledge no discs are encoded that way.

The most concise and informative explanation of the workings of LD+G that I have received is this one from Blaine Young:

On the LD+G discs that I have checked, there are 16 tracks possible. The decoder lists the tracks as 00 through 15, with 00 and 01 on by default.  I've only ever found data on 01.  It does seem a waste of potential - you could effectively have the same subtitle capabilities as DVD with LaserDisc.  The one exception is that LD+G puts everything in a box [ed.: like Closed Captioning] where DVD actually lays the text over the screen without a blocking background.

As for CC and LD+G, there are several discs I've come across that are Closed Captioned in English, but do not have LD+G.  I've also found some that are LD+G, but not CC.  There are others that have both (like the yellow band 007 titles).  A good example of CC but no LD+G would be "M:I-2".  Some have neither CC nor LD+G, like "The 6th Day" and "X-Men".

CC and LD+G differ in how they are stored.  LD+G is actually a subcarrier embedded in the PCM audio data - exactly the same process as CD+G.  For LD, the data is extracted from the PCM track and laid overtop of the video (all done within players equipped in Japan or through an external decoder). CC is strictly in the video signal and is text that is stored on line 21 of vertical blanking area - the blank video portion between frames which is above the viewable picture area.

In either case with CC or LD+G, the program can be whatever the content provider elects, but I've yet to see anything other than English on any of the titles I've got.

Q: Are you familiar with Schwann's DVD Advance? They publish a directory of DVDs that have been produced. Do you know of any source for a similar index for laserdiscs?

A: Unfortunately, there isn't anything that is truly comprehensive. Image Entertainment used to publish a yearly lasedisc catalog, but they stopped doing that around 1997, and it was of course heavily focused only on titles that they put out themselves.

The Laserdisc Newsletter (now archived at published a huge book called The 1995 Laser Video Disc Companion stacked with all of their laserdisc reviews up to that time. At the back of the book was an index listing with every laserdisc release in both the US and Japan. This is extremely helpful, but of course is now outdated. They never published a follow-up book.

If you are looking for a specific title, your best bets are to look first at IMDb (not 100% accurate), check to see if it was reviewed at DVDLaser, or ask me and I'll see if I can find something. 

Q: What is an "obi-strip"?

A: An obi is the thin strip of paper often wrapped around the jackets of Japanese laserdisc releases. They were used to provide technical details not found on the disc jacket itself. These were typically thrown away by most consumers, but many collectors prefer to have them for completist purposes. For more information or pictures, see this useful FAQ by Nicolas Santini.


Q: When I attempt to play some older laserdiscs I get no audio at all. Why is that? My player is connected to my surround receiver by a digital coaxial connection. Also, some discs are advertised to have an audio commentary but I can't get it to play.

A: It sounds like you have some discs with only analog audio tracks. Digital sound was introduced to the laserdisc format in the mid-80's, and many discs before that time have only analog sound. Audio commentaries are also always carried on the analog tracks, so you will run into the same problem there. The analog signal cannot be transmitted by a digital connection. In order to hear the audio content on an analog track, you must connect your LD player's analog L/R outputs to your receiver. 

Ideally, laserdisc players should be hooked up by three different audio connections:

  1. The analog L/R cables for discs that do not have digital soundtracks or for audio commentaries and other supplemental audio content. You can listen to the disc's digital channels via this connection if you want the LD player to perform the audio D/A conversion (see next point).
  2. A digital cable (optical or coax) for DTS, or to listen to the PCM digital tracks if you want your receiver to do the D/A.
  3. An coax cable connected to the RF-output for Dolby Digital. This must be connected to an RF-demodulator before it gets to your receiver (see question below).
You can skip step #3 if you don't want to mess with the hassle of Dolby Digital, and you can skip step #2 if you don't need DTS and don't mind letting the LD player do the D/A. At a bare minimum, the only audio connection you absolutely need are the analog L/R cables, but you won't get 5.1 that way.

This may sound like a big hassle, but to be perfectly honest it can be even worse on DVD. My DVD player is connected to my receiver by:

  1. Optical digital cable for movies
  2. Analog L/R - I prefer the DACs in my DVD player for 2-channel music sources, but like to continue using the ProLogic II Music processing in the receiver
  3. 6-channel analog outs for DVD-Audio
That's a total of 9 audio cables running from my DVD player to my receiver, versus only 4 from my LD player! Talk about progress!

Q:  I bought some Dario Argento Laserdiscs which for some reason will not play back the audio correctly. When I select the 1/L audio channel the director's commentary sounds fine but no film audio can be heard. If I select the 2/R channel all I hear is static (like white noise or impedance mismatch). If I select the STEREO setting, then I hear all the static with the commentary faintly blended in. Is there something wrong with my player? Or do I have to hook up my audio cables differently to hear these discs? 

A: The discs you are watching have a stereo surround mix on the digital audio channels, while the two analog audio channels contained an audio commentary on 1/L and a Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream on 2/R. If you do not have the proper Dolby Digital equipment, the DD 5.1 track will come out sounding like static.

If you are unable to hear the disc's stereo soundtrack, your LD player must be an older model that does not have digital sound capabilities. Unfortunately, the only way to resolve this is to buy a newer LD player.

Q: I recently purchased a laserdisc player (Sony MDP-600) from a friend when my old player died. Unlike my old one, this one has an optical output. I was excited because I thought I could finally listen to the AC-3/Dolby Digital soundtracks on my old discs. My question is, how do I get it to work? I tried turning on the right analog channel, but I just hear the normal audio (mono in this case.) Is there something else I need to do? I have my receiver configured right (to the best of my knowledge). It is also a Sony (STR-DE835) and my DVDs work fine. Please help! Thanks.

A: I'm sorry to say it, but you are out of luck. Dolby Digital on laserdisc does not work the same way that it works on DVD. The Dolby Digital signal is actually contained on one of the analog audio channels in RF-modulated form. To play back this channel, you will need a laserdisc player with a dedicated RF-output, which the MDP-600 does not have. Once you have an LD player with an RF-output, you will also need an RF-demodulator to convert this signal into a standard digital form that your receiver can process. See the following question for more information on how this works.

Sorry for the bad news. If it is any consolation to you, the optical output on your player should pass a DTS signal without any trouble.

Q: I have a Pioneer CLD-1450. How do I activate the analog audio channels?

A: Under normal circumstances, you would access the analog audio tracks by using a button on the remote labelled either "Audio" or "D/A/CX". However, according to the listing on this page it looks like Pioneer removed that functionality from the CLD-1450's remote, effectively preventing you from accessing those tracks.

At this point, I would think that your best hope is to find another Pioneer LD remote control from a different model player. They all work on the same frequency and should be compatible with one another. However, be aware that over the years Pioneer made a switch on their remotes from having separate buttons for "Digital/Analog" and "Left/Right/Stereo" to consolidating those functions into one button that lets you toggle through all the possibilities. You will have to be on the lookout for a remote that matches how your player works (I'm guessing two separate buttons).

If this is a European player you own, you might want to also take a look at this link for more information on modifications that can be made to the CLD-1450.

Q: What's an RF-demodulator and why should I need one?

A: Laserdiscs are capable of providing four audio tracks, two for analog sound and two for digital sound. When Dolby Digital AC-3 technology was developed around 1995, it was decided that the best way to implement it on laserdiscs would be to reserve the two PCM digital tracks for a standard stereo/Pro-Logic sound mix that would remain backwards compatible with older equipment. The AC-3 track, therefore, is output in RF-modulated form through one of the analog channels. The other analog channel usually contains either a mono sound mix or an audio commentary. In order to convert the Dolby Digital signal back to a standard form that an audio receiver can process, it must first be run through an RF-demodulator. 

The DVD format does not require RF modulation for the Dolby Digital signal because DVDs have room for more soundtracks than laserdiscs and do not contain analog audio channels at all. 

For a couple of years audio equipment manufacturers were releasing Dolby Digital receivers with RF-demodulators built in, but as the laserdisc market wound down soon this feature became much less common. The majority of audio receivers available today require an external demodulator for laserdisc sources. Unfortunately, these demodulators are in short supply and can reach ridiculous prices at auction. 

A rundown of the various demodulator models can be found on the Thad Labs site. This information is found under the "Misc." heading. I find the ability of certain models to auto-switch between the RF signal and a standard digital signal very useful due to the limited number of digital inputs on my own receiver.

Q: Are there any Laserdisc players out there (used or new), including DVD/LD combo players, that have a built in RF-demodulator for the AC-3 audio? I recently purchased a used player with an RF-out jack, but I can't find any demodulators so that I can decode the audio. If there are some with this feature built in, I might consider buying another used (or new) player to get this feature.

A: There were no laserdisc players with RF-demodulators built in. Pioneer made a decision that the cost of adding this hardware would increase the price of the players too much to justify, given that at the time the majority of LD owners did not have 5.1-capable receivers that could take advantage of it. Instead, what they opted to do was build the demodulators into the 5.1 receivers themselves. For a couple of years after 1995 a good number of surround receivers were released that did have RF-inputs. But then, as the laserdisc format started dying out and DVD took over, audio equipment manufacturers stopped including this feature in the receivers as well, and these days your only option is to find an external demodulator (unless you wanted to buy a used receiver of 1995-1997 vintage).

Demodulators are in scarce supply, but they do show up on eBay periodically. They are usually expensive.

If you do not own a lot of laserdiscs with DD 5.1 tracks, it might be in your best interest to just forego AC-3 and listen to the PCM digital tracks instead (see next question.)

Q: I recently bought a CLD-95 and I have buyers remorse. I wish I had investigated the purchase more because I now know it is not really a good for today's 6.1 soundtracks.

A: I don't think you should have too much buyer's remorse. Short of an AC-3 output for Dolby Digital 5.1, the CLD-95 is reported to be a very good player. It was a top-of-the-line model in its day (1992). As I recall, the CLD-95 does have a Toslink digital output, so you should be all set for DTS 5.1 laserdiscs.

You can always have an AC-3 output added to the player if you really want one. It is a simple modification that can usually be done for around $100 or less. There are even instructions on the web for doing it yourself if you are electronically inclined. Of course, you would still then be required to purchase an external RF-demodulator if your receiver does not have one built in.

Honestly, I don't think the lack of DD 5.1 should be a deal-breaker. Remember that DD was introduced in 1995, so only laserdiscs from the last 6 years of the format would have it, and the last two years of the format saw very few releases. That's essentially only 4 years worth of discs to be worried about, in a format whose catalog has a wealth of discs going back to 1978.

Also, laserdisc is renowned for the quality of its PCM digital audio, which may lack discrete rear channels but often has a full-bodied sound that is richer and more involving than many Dolby Digital tracks.

Q: I need help with my Pioneer CLD-59.  I am trying to play DTS discs and they only come through as PCM.  From everything I am reading, all I have to do is plug the Digital Coaxial out to my Harman/Kardon Coaxial input.  The reciever should automatically detect the DTS on the Digital track.  So far, all I get is PCM.  Are there any settings that need to be adjusted for DTS play?  Do you know where I can get a manual for a CLD-59?

A: I have owned a CLD-59 and I still have its original manual. The manual will not be of much help to you in this matter because the machine was marketed before the introduction of DTS audio. In fact, this was one of the first players to add an AC-3 output for the impending introduction of Dolby Digital and has a disclaimer that says, "This terminal is intended for use with Dolby AC-3 components planned for future release... You cannot playback currently available laser discs, laser disc players, AV amplifiers, etc., with this terminal."!

However, the CLD-59 will still pass a DTS signal. Any laserdisc player with a coax or optical digital output can. I have successfully listened to DTS laserdiscs with a CLD-59. As far as connections go, what you have described is the proper procedure.

Now, we should clarify something here. Even if there is something wrong with your connections, you cannot be listening to PCM audio from a DTS laserdisc. Such a disc does not contain a PCM signal at all. The two digital audio tracks contain the DTS signal, and the two analog tracks have an analog Dolby Surround mix (or supplemental audio content such as a commentary). If all your receiver decodes is a Pro-Logic mix, something is wrong with the settings on your receiver and it is only accepting the analog signal. To verify this, you should disconnect the analog outputs from your LD player and try the disc again. The coax output will only transmit the digitally-encoded signal. Either you will get DTS or you will get nothing at all.

There is one other possibility. It may be that you are not playing true DTS-encoded laserdiscs. You should be aware that prior to the development of DTS 5.1 audio there was a previous sound format known as DTS Stereo. This was a matrixed surround sound format similar to and compatible with Dolby Pro-Logic. Some laserdiscs jackets may claim that the disc has "DTS Stereo Surround" or some similar description, but this is not the same as DTS 5.1 audio. A disc with the correct encoding should have the "DTS Digital Surround" white-on-red logo somewhere on the jacket. Many discs go so far as to display a DTS banner across the front cover.

Q: Why is it that an LD will play differently in different players? For example my copy of Cliffhanger: Pioneer Special Edition CAV plays fine on my Pioneer DVL-919, but when I try it on older players like my Pioneer CLD-3080, Panasonic LX600 and Sony MDP-333 it's problematic. The end of the first and second side plays back faster and distorted. Why is that? Is that the same reason that on some LD sidebreaks where they have "end of side #" is displayed on some players but not on others?

A: It sounds to me like the laser mechanisms of those players have fallen out of alignment. This is a common problem with older machines and lower-end models, though it is just as likely to happen on any LD player. The fact you are noticing the problem on a CAV disc, especially at the end of a disc side, is a symptom of misalignment. I'm betting that the player starts with horizontal lines of video distortion, then begins skipping during playback, and in a worst case will stop playing the disc and power itself down?

Laser alignment can be recalibrated by a repair technician with LD player experience (I can recommend a good one), but depending on the age of the machine and its performance abilities prior to the problem, it is sometimes just easier to replace the player with a newer model.

The side-change markers you bring up are a completely separate issue, related to the design of the turn mechanisms in different players. The markers you see are encoded onto the disc itself, but appear after the flags for the program content on the disc side. Laserdisc players with faster turn mechanisms are usually designed to stop reading at those flags and display only a black screen, but players with slower mechanisms (or single-side play only) will usually read all the way to the end of the disc, including the "End of Disc Side" placard. I find this to be something of a nuisance (especially since two of the highest-end players, the CLD-97 and HLD-X9, have slow side changes), but it is not a mechanical problem.

Q: I have a Sony MDP 605 which has played well for many years. Recently, after a few months idle time, I put on a disc, and the video quality was terrible.  There was horizontal distortion, vertical hold slips, and the picture was dim, as if the brightness control had been turned down. There are brief periods of stability (with the dim picture) but they don't last.  This was not a slow deterioration, but quite sudden.  The problem occurs on any disc.  Audio is fine, and CDs still play with no problem. Could this be dirt on the lens? How do I find out? I'd appreciate any help I can get.

A: I'm sorry to report that Sony LD players are notorious for problems like this. To explore repair options, I suggest you post a message to the USENET newsgroup. There are frequent posters who have tremendous expertise in this area. They could better explain what the problem is, and whether it is fixable.

Im afraid that depending on the age of the machine and its current value, it may be cheaper and easier to simply buy a new machine. I recommend sticking with Pioneer brand machines.

Q: I've been digitizing images for a local Challenger Space Center from an LD. I use the analog out from the player, which I run through my digitizer to convert into a digital format.  I would so much prefer to find a way to get the digital data directly from the disc, versus having the degradation involved with capturing the data after the laserdisc player has recoded the binary to analog.

Our LD player has an interface connection; can that be used to access the binary data?  Is there any software out there (or even hardware) that can decode the the laserdisc information directly to a more common digital video format (like Quicktime)?

If the above is not possible, were there ever any laserdisc players sold with component outs?  I know the consumer Pioneer LD/DVD players with component out do not output component on LaserDisc, only DVDs.

A: It is a common misconception that laserdisc was a digital storage medium. In fact, laserdisc video is stored as an analog signal. Although the disc is pressed with pits and lands, both the size and spacing of the pits will vary, and thus are not binary in nature. Only the audio portion of a laserdisc is digital, using either PCM red book, Dolby Digital, or DTS formats depending on the type of disc purchased (most discs also contain an analog soundtrack on the alternate audio channels, and some older discs are only analog since digital sound was not introduced until the mid-80's).

The video signal is stored in composite video format. There are no laserdisc players that are capable of outputting laserdisc video through component outputs. As you say, the LD/DVD combi players only output DVD video through the component outputs, not laserdisc. Your options with laserdisc are going to be either composite or S-video. Your choice of which to use will depend on the quality of the comb filter in the laserdisc player. Most laserdisc players were equipped with older comb filters that will be inferior to that found in a modern television (or DVD recorder), and so you are usually better off using the composite video connection. 

Q: There are so many different laserdisc players out there. How do I know which are the best?

A: Unlike DVD players, which so far have a fairly standard quality of playback across brands and models, laserdisc playback can be highly dependent on having a good LD player to deliver it. Since the technology has been around for such a long time, there's obviously a considerable range of performance ability among models. My first suggestion is to go to the Laserdisc Archive to look up the features of any player you might see for sale. 

By no means a complete list, below I will provide a rundown of the players considered by collectors to be the cream of the crop. The list will run in ascending order (best last):

  • Pioneer Elite CLD-59. The entry model in Pioneer's Elite class of players, the CLD-59 has all of the convenience features you could want in a laserdisc player (dual-side play, digital field memory, RF-output for Dolby Digital audio). It is a bulked-up version of one of Pioneer's mid-level players, so the picture is not as sharp as many of the higher models, but it still produces a nice-looking image and has excellent video noise reduction processing. Unfortunately, the noise reduction is not adjustable; it is simply turned on all the time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I've had one of these players for several years now, and it has served me well without incident. 
  • Pioneer CLD-D703. At one time this was the top of Pioneer's non-Elite line. It has all of the convenience features of the CLD-59 except for the RF-output (This machine predates the introduction of Dolby Digital audio by a couple of years). It has a very sharp and detailed picture, and features adjustable noise reduction settings. 
  • Pioneer CLD-D704 / Mitsubishi M-V7057. The CLD-D704 was the best non-Elite player from Pioneer. It is essentially a D703 with the addition of an RF-output. The Mitsubishi M-V7057 is the exact same player with a different nameplate. Pioneer was in the habit of selling off many of their electronics to other manufacturers, who would then rebadge them and send them to market. The Mitsubishi may be found cheaper these days, since the brand name is less renowned than Pioneer when it comes to laserdisc players. One important thing to note about both of these players, as well as the D703, is that the build quality is not as sturdy as the Elite class. I had to endure much grief with an M-V7057 since the simple act of shipping it from one location to another caused the disc drawer to get knocked out of whack and the laser assembly to fall seriously out of alignment (Federal Express later trashed the machine beyond repair in their effort to "inspect" the damage, but that's another story). All precautions should be taken before buying a used model or having one shipped to you.
  • Pioneer Elite CLD-79. This is an Elite-ized version of the CLD-D704, with sturdier construction and the addition of Legato Link Conversion for the audio. A very nice player.
  • Pioneer Elite CLD-97. This was at one time the top of the line player from Pioneer. Many will still argue that it was the very best domestic player that Pioneer ever produced. Its only disadvantages are that it has a slow side change and does not have an RF output.
  • Pioneer Elite CLD-99. Pioneer's last top of the line player for the U.S., meant as a replacement for the 97. An excellent machine also, but some people have expressed qualms that the electronics inside are not as capable as those in the 97. Basically, it's a CLD-79 with a sophisticated 3D comb filter. It has a fast side change and an RF ouput.
  • Pioneer LD-S9. This unit is available only from Japan. It is built off the basics of the CLD-99 but with the addition of an even more advanced High Resolution 3D Comb Filter not available in the U.S. It also has the LD+G function. Plus, it's got a spiffy gold finish that will inspire awe in your friends. An excellent machine.

LD-S9 and HLD-X9
  • Pioneer HLD-X9. Also available only from Japan, the HLD-X9 is often regarded as the very best laserdisc player ever built. It was designed for double duty playing both standard laserdiscs and the Japanese MUSE high-definition laserdiscs (which require a MUSE decoder and high-definition television). For this purpose, it has the advanced comb filter from the LD-S9 and a special narrow-bandwidth laser. I have seen this player in action. It is a massive piece of equipment, dwarfing most other LD players. I'm not sure exactly what kind of electronic magic is built into it, but the HLD-X9 produces an amazingly sharp and noiseless image that cannot be matched by any other laserdisc player I've ever seen. I was fortunate enough to see this unit in an A/B comparison with both the CLD-97 and the CLD-99, and the Japanese machine won easily. The LD-S9 was closer in quality during direct comparison, but even so the X9 has a sharper and more stable picture. The only drawbacks that I found were that the side change is slow (like that of the CLD-97) and it does not have the ability to display a plain black frame during the changeover; it freezes on a still image from the movie instead, which can be irritating. Its strengths vastly outweigh its weaknesses, but it should be noted that this player is exhorbitantly expensive and difficult to obtain for all but the most serious of enthusiasts. 
  • Pioneer HLD-X0. Less useful in home theater applications since it is only a single-side playback machine, the HLD-X0 is nonetheless another interesting player worth mentioning. This machine is older than the HLD-X9 and does not contain the advanced 3D comb filter, but does use the same narrow bandwidth red laser. I have not seen an X0 in action for myself, but there are some proponents who claim that it has the best Composite video output, and that when run through a quality outboard comb filter can produce a picture superior to even the X9. I cannot verify these claims but will mention them. If you can believe it, the X0 is even larger and heavier than the X9, so large in fact that it will not fit in most standard equipment shelves. It is also even more rare and expensive (original MSRP was $5,000 and it hasn't come down in value much since then). Its single-sided nature precludes it from practical application watching movie discs (especially CAV format discs), but this player has found popularity in special applications that require the best possible video quality such as transferring laserdisc content to DVD.

I also received the following email regarding this list:

Hello. You have a very informative and well done site. Two LD players you might want to mention as reference and/or good players: Runco LJR I and II are incredible players; they are also as good, maybe even a little better, than an LD-S9. The LJR II was the only THX-certified LD player ever made: 54 db video S/N. LJR I is the same except no THX certification and no RF AC-3 output. The Panasonic LX 900 is also an excellent player: 51 db video S/N with an optical out, 2 S-Video outs, and even DNR for the video to enhance the picture or lessen it. I have a Runco LJR II and two 900s, as well as a CLD-79. The LJR is a BEAST.....over 50 lbs with an incredible picture. The II and the 900s have the exact same remote, though I think the LJR is based on the Panny MUSE player. I have compared the 79 to both 900s. The 900 has a better picture and better color (not huge, but noticeable). The Panny 1000 is good (51 db as well), but not as good as the 79. Just wanted to drop info on you that I thought you could use. Great site and keep it going!

My thanks to Corbin S. for this information, though it must be noted that I have no personal experience with the machines he references. If anyone with one of these players cares to confirm their performance abilities, I would be very appreciative.

* A new email from Randall K. adds the following information:

You asked if anyone cares to confirm the players' performances you'd like to hear.  So i'll give you a run down of my personal experience of all the players I've owned or at least seen in action.

#1 - Obviously the HLD-X9 (and the HLD-X0) take the cake being they are MUSE players and have a shorter laser beam wavelength.  The only knock I have on it is the very slow turn time with the picture frozen on the last scene while flip is taking place (and no turn time on the HLD-X0 - only one s-video out - must manually flip). Year released:  1995/1996. Current going price: $2200 - 3500 depending on year. 2002 was last year for them.

#2 - The Pioneer LD-S9.  The LD-S9 has LD+G and theatre mode for a quicker side change, also has a second generation High Resolution 3D Y-C separation filter. Year: 1995. Current price: $1000 - 1700.

#3 - (A very close third) The Runco LJRII.  Named laserdisc player of the year in 1994 by Stereophile's Guide to Home Theatre - beating out the Pioneer Elite CLD-97.  By far it is the best American laserdisc player I have ever seen or heard.  Came in 2 options, Basic and Studio, with the Studio transport  having 2 additional digital outputs.  Big plus was it is the only THX Certified laserdisc player to ever be manufactured. It should be noted that a friend of mine has complained that the right-most part of the picture was missing. The part that was missing is usually cut off by your TV's overscan, but when he was feeding through a front projector you kinda could notice it.  The freind of mine who complained about this owned the Basic transport.  I own the Studio transport and do not have this problem, but it may have occurred in it as well. Year: 1993. Current price: $1100 Basic, $1500 Studio.

#4 - Which I think is the all time sleeper when it comes to laserdisc players - is the McIntosh MLD-7020.  The MLD-7020's internal composition is the exact same as the Pioneer Elite CLD-97, with the addition of AC-3 RF and digital outs. Year: 1995. Current price: $1000.

#5 - Pioneer Elite CLD-97, personally I think it has a better picture then the CLD-99 and it is cheap to add
on AC-3 output to it. Year: 1993. Current price: $450. [I must add that this is a generous price estimate. I usually see them go for around twice that. -Josh]

#6 - Pioneer Elite CLD-99 bonus is it offerred AC-3 and digital outs, but I didn't like the picture as much.  Also some friends have had problems with the player reading CAV discs. Current price: $750.

There are many many more players I could go on about like the Theta Data 3 transport (probably would be 7 on my list) but I felt it necessary to tell you about the Runco and the McIntosh.  They should always be listed as top 5 players when it comes to laserdisc.

The current prices I obtained from recent pricing trends from online auctions and for sale adds and should be noted that these players at the current price would all be considered in used condition.  Hope this was helpful.

* Claus L. has this to say:

Regarding the Runco LJR II laserdisc player - I own the basic transport model and can add to the article that there is a third model under the LJR II series, the LJR II DA. This one has built-in Digital to Analog converter. The two other versions do not have this high speed DA converter. I belive the price was another 1000 Dollars for this version. 

Other than that it is a really great LD player, very rich in colour, especialy the red colour that holds steady nicely.

Q: Just wondering have you looked into which is the best combo player ever made and how does those compare to the standalone LD player? Or should I ask is a DVL-91 has the equivalent video quality of a CLD-99?

A: The LD/DVD combi players are not recommended. They sacrifice performance on both formats for the sake of convenience. The DVL-91 has a very poor first-generation DVD player and its LD section is based on the mid-level CLD-D606. You can get much better quality for much less money by purchasing separate LD and DVD units. The CLD-D704 can be bought for about half the price of a DVL-91 and is a significantly better LD player.

Q: I have The Martian Chronicles on laserdisc, manufactured by 3M.  The discs play fine, but there is a "stickiness" along the edge of the disks - almost like glue residue.  What's up with that?  Can the residue be safely removed? 

A: The residue you describe is the glue that holds the two halves of the disc together. Sometimes when the discs were pressed, some glue oozed out the edges and was not fully cleaned up by the factory. Usually this is not a problem unless you're seeing large gobs of glue that might fly off while the disc is spinning inside the player. If that's the case, just carefully scrape them off as best you can. A general stickiness is not something to be concerned about. 

Do not try to clean up the glue using any sort of liquid solvent or cleaning solution. That may affect the glue that is actually holding the disc together, and can introduce impurities between the layers that will contribute to laser rot.

Q: I recently received a "like new" Pioneer Elite CLD-79 player in its box free from a brother. The picture quality and sound is very nice but I do have one question that maybe you can answer. When I press stop it takes 2-3 seconds for the machine to stop its spinning sound, a long 20 second pause and the some kind of mechanical sound before the "STOP" disappears from the TV screen. All in all it takes about 25-30 seconds before I can open the tray. I don't remember my cheap Pioneer player taking this long before I can open the tray to remove the disc. Is it normal to have this 20 second pause? My brother was no help as he never used it. I was wondering if you knew as I would like to take it in for servicing if it is an unusual issue. I know the player is new but it has been sitting for quite a few years. Thanks for any help you can give me..

A: What you describe is a common symptom of a dirty spindle. This usually happens due to frequent use. The oil and grease from people's fingers rubs off on the inner ring of laserdiscs, and is then transferred to the spindle that picks up the disc. This causes the spindle to lose its grip on the disc and prevents the machine from braking properly during stops and side-changes. That's why it takes an extra long time for the disc to stop.

You say this machine was not used very often. It is also possible that the rubber on the spindle has started to decay, which would cause the same symptoms.

Cleaning the spindle should solve your problem. You can find instructions for how to do that at this link.

Q: One thing I’ve wondered, will regular CD lens cleaning discs work on Laserdisc players? I have an old Audio-Technica ATV-251 Cleaning LD that I picked up in Japan years ago, but the brushes are worn. Plus, it doesn’t quite play on my LD players anymore (gets stuck at the “cleaning chapters”). I only ask because I’ve never been sure if a player uses the same optics for LD playing as it does for CD playing. 

Or should I just bite the bullet and get my players cleaned at a shop?

A: I generally don't find cleaning discs to be a good solution, as they use abrasive methods to "clean" the player's optics. Unless you leave your player outdoors in the middle of a dust storm, it is unlikely that the laser optics would get dirty enough to effect playback. If you are having playback problems, more likely the cause is a laser alignment issue, which will require professional servicing.

Q: Based on your suggestion, I purchased an LD-S9. Since there is no manual with the unit and was told the manual is in Japanese, how do I turn on the NR, etc.? I hit all the buttons on the remote and discovered the NR for Y and C. But there is no button that can switch on the NR. I can set the NR with the wheel and that is about it. What other setup I can do to this machine? Is more NR better? Should I just set them to max? If you can provide some insight on this machine, that will be great.

A: That's actually an excellent question. There should be two buttons side-by-side on the remote, MEMO and SELECT (I'm looking at the HLD-X9 remote at the moment, so it may be named something different on the S9's). As you discovered, you hit the SELECT button to bring up the NR menu. There are 3 options: 3D Y/C, YNR, and CNR. Hitting SELECT again will cycle through them. On each option, use the Jog dial to adjust the setting. At the bottom, there is another row with the options OFF, 1, 2, 3. This is where you can save your memory presets. When you have 3D Y/C, YNR, and CNR where you want them, move the dial over to the 1 position and hit SELECT again to save those settings as your Memory 1 preset. Obviously, it works the same way with #s 2 and 3. The next time you use the player, if you want to load your memory settings use the MEMO button and cycle down to MEMORY 1 then hit SELECT again. This will bring up the NR menu with your settings pre-filled. At that point, just keep hitting SELECT until the menu goes away. Be aware that if you change something as a test but don't necessarily want to save over your MEMORY preset, you have to adjust the last option to OFF or else it will overwrite your saved settings.

The other options in the MEMO menu (SPORTS, ART, etc.) are just factory presets with the settings in various positions. I don't find them much more useful than the similar modes your TV may have for its picture controls.

The comb filter and NR settings will interact differently with every display, so you'll really have to play around with them to find the right combination for yours. In general, it's best to keep YNR very low, because it can introduce smearing and color banding. You have more flexibility with CNR, which has less visible side effects but will filter out picture detail if set too high. Usually, around the mid-point or just above is a good setting for CNR on most TVs, but again this may vary when you try it yourself.

The 3D comb filter is tricky. Turning it up gives you more pop to your colors and helps to clean up noise, but if set too high will introduce a "checkerboard" artifact when colors are in motion. This is very obvious with the red laser blasts in Star Wars, for example. Turning the 3D setting down reduces the filter's sensitivity and causes it to revert to 2D processing mode, which is better for motion but loses some of that vibrancy. Finding the right balance is something you'll have to experiment with on your own, but I'd start at the mid-point and fiddle around with it until you're satisfied.

The HLD-X9 has an additional set of options called NORMAL, C-WIDE, and HR. In my experience, it's best to leave this in NORMAL mode. I'm not sure what C-WIDE is exactly, but it doesn't seem to help anything. HR mode maxes out the 3D comb filter and makes the checkerboard artifact unbearable during even the slightest motion; whatever it's intended purpose may be, it's only good for completely static images such as slide shows.



Q: I am looking for an LD called "Deadtime Stories" (also known as "Freaky Fairy Tales" overseas).  It was released on disc in the late 1980's. This is something more than a casual interest, as I directed the film and never received a laser copy.   I have had no luck contacting used video stores, or with online auctions.  Do you have any suggestions where I might look?  Are there any private collectors who might have a copy you are aware of? I'd appreciate any thoughts or pointers you might have. 
Jeff Delman

A: This is indeed an interesting situation. I show that there was an older laserdisc release of questionable quality, but I have not seen it for sale. My advice is to go to Jeff's Used LD Finder and do a search there. I didn't find any listings when I searched, but you can put yourself on a notification list to receive an email if the title ever shows up. I find this to be a very handy feature. You can also set yourself up for email notification when you do a search on eBay. For best results, I recommend that you enter the eBay search criteria as follows:

(deadtime,dead time,dead-time) +(stories) +(ld,laserdisc,laserdisk,laser disc,laser disk)

Good luck, and thanks for writing.

Q: It looks like the "Star Wars" movies have been released on laserdisc a hundred times each. Which releases are the best, and which are worth buying?

A: Since the laserdisc format has been around for such a long time, this is a common source of confusion regarding popular titles with multiple reissues and remasters. For the record, the best laserdisc editions of the Star Wars trilogy are:

1) Star Wars Trilogy Definitive Collection box set. All three movies in CAV format, with terrific THX mastered picture and sound. The box set contains a number of supplements (though far from "definitive") and a hard cover book about George Lucas' career. The original price was a whopping $250, but a used copy may run approximately $100-$150, depending on the condition. Before you buy, be sure to check out the Definitive Collection Flaw List, since early pressings are known to be missing a few unimportant seconds of footage. You should also be warned that some copies of the set are known to suffer from the dreaded laser-rot syndrome (I had to mix and match the discs from two separate copies to get one clean set). Ask plenty of questions from a seller before purchase.

2) For the budget conscious, those same THX picture and sound transfers were released separately, each in CLV format with no supplements other than a brief interview with George Lucas. Originally priced at $60 a piece, these are commonly sold for $20 each these days. The CLV releases obviously have fewer side breaks, and do not have a history of missing footage or laser-rot to my knowledge. These discs are commonly referred to as the "Faces" editions, since the cover art for each movie featured a close-up of one character's face.

3) Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition box set. These are the 1997 versions of the movies with George Lucas' misguided attempt to add lousy new scenes and cheesy CGI special effects. They have new and somehow even better picture and sound transfers, and are the only way to get Star Wars in Dolby Digital surround sound. Previous releases are only in basic Dolby Surround, as their soundtracks were originally mixed and released to theaters prior to the 1997 re-releases. There is also an extensive production featurette on how the movies were reworked to meet George Lucas' revisionist ideas for the series. The American release had a short printing run and has been known to fetch a pretty penny at auction, but the set was later re-released in Japan. 

There are many previous editions of the films: CAV, CLV, pan & scan, letterboxed, analog sound, digital sound, imports, etc.  From a collectible standpoint, some of these may be interesting to buy for their cover art or packaging, but as a whole they are not worth spending much money on and should not be expected to deliver as high quality a presentation as the releases listed above.

Q: What about "Goldfinger"?

A: Another popular title with a dozen or more releases, there are at least two 'must have' laserdisc editions of Goldfinger that a true fan will want:

1) Criterion Collection CAV release. In the early 1990's, Criterion issued CAV editions of the first three James Bond movies with audio commentary tracks incorporating interviews from numerous members of the production staff (several of whom are now deceased) and a few brief supplements. One of the producers of the film series apparently objected to some of the remarks said in the commentaries, and demanded that all three discs be withdrawn from the market after only a brief pressing run. Criterion later issued feature-less CLV editions using the same transfers. The picture transfer on the Goldfinger disc is dated by current standards, but still quite nice and holds up well. The commentary on that disc, in addition to its inherent rarity, is particularly interesting and informative.

2) MGM Collector's Edition CAV box set. Released several years later, the MGM box set has given the movie a new THX remaster that leaves it looking fresher and more vibrant that it has in decades. There are also two new interview-laden commentary tracks and numerous other supplements about the making and marketing of the film, all packaged up in an attractive box with nice artwork. The supplements duplicate some of the material in the Criterion CAV release, but the two editions compliment each other more than conflict. The box set originally retailed for over $100, but can now be gotten at a considerable discount since the same material was later released on DVD in less attractive packaging but without the side-breaks.

Q: "Back to the Future"?

A: The Back to the Future films were issued in both pan & scan and letterboxed format on laserdisc. They are all in CLV, and were only released individually with no supplements other than trailers. The pan & scan edition of the first film has only analog sound, while the letterboxed edition has digital sound.

The films were released together in a Back to the Future Trilogy box set in Japan, and came with a supplemental program called The Secrets of the Back of the Future Trilogy. It's a handsomely packaged set, but be warned that all three films will have Japanese subtitles in the letterboxed pictures. 

Photos courtesy Nicolas Santini.

Photos courtesy Nicolas Santini.

Q: I have a large collection of discs that I'd like to sell. Where can I find out how much they are worth?

A: Unfortunately, there isn't any sort of price guide for laserdiscs. These things change regularly. As a general rule, if a movie is available on DVD the laserdisc value plummets substantially unless the disc contains some exclusive content (audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, etc.) not found on the DVD, or the movie is presented in a different version (such as the original theatrical versions of the Star Wars Trilogy, as opposed to the re-worked 1997 Special Editions that George Lucas plans to release on DVD). 

In order to guage approximate value, the best thing to do is to monitor recently completed auctions on eBay to see how much the titles in question went for.

If you are looking for the easiest way to unload the entire set of discs, there are a few of businesses that will still buy large collections in one shot. Try these web sites:

Big Emma
Playback Trading
Ross Exchange

If you go this route, though, you are not likely to make as high a return as you would if you sold the discs individually.

I also recommend posting your list of titles to the USENET newsgroup to see what type of response that brings.

Q: I was hoping you could educate me a bit on PAL laserdiscs.

Was there a THX widescreen release of the original SW Trilogy in PAL, similar to the "faces" set here in the US? Or alternately the CAV Definitive Collection?

If so, what LD players can handle PAL format discs? Only those built for the UK/etc market, or is this latent capability present in US players (assuming you have a display that could handle the PAL output)? I have seen models like the D515, or CLD-959 that claim to do both NTSC and PAL. If US players can't do it, what UK model would be equivalent in PQ to at least a D703/704?

A: There were some PAL laserdisc releases for the Star Wars movies , including a Special Edition box set. Sadly, no Definitive Collection or "Faces" editions. You can do a search for "Star Wars" at The Laserdisc Database to see what was out there.

To play a PAL laserdisc, you need a European-model laserdisc player. Such a player will only output the signal as raw PAL, and will not convert to NTSC. US-model LD players will not recognize or play a PAL disc at all.

Unfortunately, the PAL laserdisc market was miniscule, even in comparison to the tiny US market for LDs. Even the best PAL laserdisc players only approach the quality of our mid-level models such as the CLD-D606. The discs themselves tended to be poorly mastered, often converted from NTSC video transfers. Even with the few extra lines of resolution that PAL affords, it is rare to find a PAL laserdisc that looks as good as its NTSC counterpart. As a rule, it's not worth the effort for someone in the US to acquire PAL laserdisc equipment.

Q: Why are the end credits to Apocalypse Now all by themselves on a separate side from the rest of the movie? The movie is less than 3 hours and could have easily fit onto 3 CLV disc sides.

A: The last side break to Apocalypse Now was deliberately chosen because the original 70mm theatrical prints had no opening or end credits at all. That was Coppola's original vision for the movie, but the studio pressured him into adding credits to the end of the film for its 35mm release prints. When it came time for the remastered laserdisc release, he asked for the credits to be isolated on their own side so that the movie could be allowed to come to a natural end without them.

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