"Squeeze LD"
The Once Future of Laserdisc


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.

TITLE AUDIO COUNTRY CATALOG #
Free Willy Dolby Surround USA 16903
The Fugitive Dolby Surround USA 16904
Grumpy Old Men Dolby Surround USA 16905
Unforgiven Dolby Surround USA 16901
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.

All of the Japanese releases are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Unfortunately, they are encoded with non-removable Japanese subtitles within the movie image. This is especially frustrating given that the subtitles could have easily been fit in the lower black letterbox bar beneath the movie image and still been visible on a 16:9 television for Japanese consumers. Basic Instinct, Stargate, and Terminator 2 (both editions) contain the original theatrical cuts of each film, not the longer director's cut versions that were also released on the laserdisc and DVD formats. Additionally, the Squeeze LD for Showgirls is optically censored in 5 instances where digital blur spots cover up selected pieces of nudity (I am not sure whether Basic Instinct has the same problem).

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:
 

Test/Demo discs
07/95 SRLW-1726 
Sony: Test disc for wide TV (CAV, 29 min., Dolby Surround). Is Squeezed most of the time, and also has testing for zoom mode and other signals.

12/98 PILW-1258 
DTS Experience (CLV, 55 min., DTS). Has demo clips running twice, once Squeezed and once in standard letterbox format.

Scenery Discs
01/96 PILW-1221 Tahiti (CAV, 45 min.)
01/96 PILW-1222 Ordinary Europe (CAV, 60 min.)
01/96 PILW-1223 Alaska - The Last Frontier (CAV, 40 min.)
These three discs are letterboxed on side A and Squeezed on side B. Same material on both sides.

PILW-1202 (Lost Animals) was previously reported as being Squeezed, but was later confirmed not to be. Same goes with some other material released on NTSC from a MUSE master that could be misleading into thinking they are Squeezed, but they are not: the SRLW series from Sony (Okinawa Underwater, Sea of Okhotsk, Ursa Minor Blue) and the COLE series from Denon (Sakura). I believe it is also the case for the F-1 Grand Prix  It's Real discs (PILW-1064, 1102 and 1197), but could not confirm.

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.

Questions?
Email: jzyber @ mind spring . com (remove spaces)


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