By Joshua Zyber
November 11, 2004
|Longtime laserdisc collectors may be familiar with the
the term "Squeeze LD", or if they are lucky may even own a disc or two.
Those not as thoroughly versed in the subject may have wondered what all
the fuss is about, and why the phrase shows up in many "Most Wanted" laserdisc
wish lists. In short, there was once a time when Squeeze LD was meant to
be the future of the laserdisc format. Unfortunately, things didn't work
out as planned, and soon laserdisc itself gave way to the DVD revolution.
Only a small handful of Squeeze titles were produced, most of them in Japan,
all of them rare and highly collectible.
So what was it? In the mid-1990s, widescreen televisions were still something of a rarity but were finally beginning to make inroads with home theater consumers. Trying to capitalize on this, Pioneer and Toshiba put into development a new breed of laserdisc that that would take better advantage of these displays. What Squeeze LDs amounted to were anamorphically enhanced widescreen laserdiscs with 33% greater vertical resolution. It worked basically the same way that anamorphic enhancement works now on DVD, as demonstrated by the graphic below that was included with the Japanese Terminator 2: Judgment Day Squeeze disc.
|Using the same technology as regular laserdisc mastering
and manufacturing, during the video transfer the movie was encoded to be
stored in a squeezed format whereby the widescreen movie image fills the
entire video frame with less of the video resolution wasted to create black
letterbox bars. If viewed on a traditional non-widescreen set, the picture
will look tall and stretched out. However, on a widescreen display the
picture can be unsqueezed and will appear in its normal proportions, with
more resolution in the movie portion of the image.
The major difference between Squeeze LDs and anamorphic DVDs, and also the former's downfall, is that laserdisc players are not capable of performing non-anamorphic downconversion for those viewers still watching on traditional 4:3 televisions. This means that Squeeze discs can only be watched without distortion by viewers who own widescreen or anamorphic-capable displays. At the time the discs were released, that was a miniscule niche inside the already tiny niche of the laserdisc market. The experiment did not catch on, and the Squeeze format died off rather quickly.
To the best of my knowledge, the below list comprises the entire catalog of movie titles produced as Squeeze LDs.
|Free Willy||Dolby Surround||USA||16903|
|The Fugitive||Dolby Surround||USA||16904|
|Grumpy Old Men||Dolby Surround||USA||16905|
|Basic Instinct||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2192|
|Cliffhanger||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2188|
|Cutthroat Island||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2348|
|Showgirls||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-7352|
|Stargate||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2193|
|Terminator 2||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2187|
|Terminator 2 (THX remaster)||Dolby Digital 5.1||Japan||PILF-2555|
|I seem to be missing a Catalog # 16902, so it is very
possible that there is another title out there that has not been brought
to my attention. I have heard a rumor that Wag the Dog also exists
as a Squeeze LD, however I have never received confirmation and frankly
it does not match the pattern of the American discs, all of which were
released in 1997 by Warner Home Video. Wag the Dog was distributed
on laserdisc by Image Entertainment, not Warner, and was not released on
home video until 1998, after the Squeeze LD experiment had ended in the
U.S. Likewise, I doubt it was a Japanese release either, because all of
those came from Pioneer, who seemed to be focusing their Squeeze experiment
on action and science fiction movies.
None of the American Squeeze LDs were ever sold at retail. They were given away as free promotional items with the purchase of a Toshiba widescreen television. The disc jackets looked identical to their normal non-Squeeze counterparts except for a small blurb of text on the back cover that stated: "This disc is manufactured in a special 'anamorphically squeezed' format to be compatible with your new Toshiba 16:9 TV. This disc is promotional and not intended for resale."
On the other hand, the Squeeze discs in Japan were sold at retail and featured exclusive cover art with a "Squeeze LD" banner, as seen below.
Beyond this list of movies, a small selection of special
interest discs were also released in Japan either in the Squeeze format
or with selected scenes that are Squeezed. The below list was compiled
by Nicolas Santini, who offers
many of them for sale:
Squeeze LDs definitely had the potential to be a major step forward for the laserdisc format. The THX Terminator 2 Squeeze disc is often regarded as one of the best-looking laserdiscs ever produced. Unfortunately, the concept was ahead of its time. Widespread support for anamorphic enhancement on DVD both confirms the merit in the idea, and at the same time makes these particular discs largely irrelevant except as curiosity items. Regardless, they retain excellent collectible value for laserdisc aficionados who are fortunate enough to obtain them.
Email: jzyber @ mind spring . com (remove spaces)
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