Back in its time, laserdiscs were competing with other video playing formats, including VHS cassette tapes. The laserdisc had its advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the VHS tape.
LaserDisc Vs. VHS
There was simply no comparison when it came to the picture quality of the laserdisc back in its prime in the early 80’s. LD pictures were far sharper than that produced by VHS, and featured 425 TVL lines in horizontal resolution for NTSC, and 440 TVL lines for PAL discs. Compare that to the mere 240 TVL lines with NTSC for the VHS.
VHS only utilized analog, whereas laserdiscs used both analog and digital, in addition to being able to store a number of audio tracks with its NTSC discs. This meant that laserdiscs were able to feature additional tracks on the disc, such as director commentary or a blooper section, which VHS simply could not do. Special Edition versions of films would never have been a possibility with VHS.
Skipping to a specific part of the film on a laserdisc was easy, as the discs were chapter-based. Users could simply skip to a specific part of the disc quickly and easily. VHS, on the other hand, forced users to rewind and forward through the entire cassette, making the entire process tedious and time-consuming.
Laserdiscs were much less vulnerable to wear and tear, in comparison to VHS tapes. Discs were read optically, which meant that no physical contact was necessary within the player to display the picture. VHS tapes, on the other hand, held all its information on the tape within the device, which constantly made contact with the head drum, inevitably causing wear and tear each time the tape was played.
At first, laserdiscs were cheaper than VHS tapes. The amount of plastic required for VHS tapes was more expensive, and the duplication of such tapes was much more difficult in comparison to the laserdisc. Such a price difference changed by the late 80’s. The average price to press discs increased to $5 each as a result of the expensive glass-mastering process required for the metal stamper mechanisms. In addition, the demand for VHS outshines that of laserdiscs, which inevitably led to a decrease in price to duplicate such tapes to only $1 by the early 90’s.
LaserDisc Vs. DVD
It can argued that the DVD is the successor to the laserdisc, considering the fact that both were offered as optical formats of video and audio. There are certain advantages and disadvantages of the laserdisc compared to the DVD.
As far as benefits of laserdiscs go, one of the more notable ones is the fact that the playback process with LDs was much more easily controlled as compared to that of DVDs. Commands such as fast-forward and pause are always accepted with LDs. DVDs, on the other hand, generally come with “User Prohibited Options”, such as skipping through copyright warnings. CAV laserdiscs allow users to easily jump right to a specific part of the disc without such prohibitions.
The playability of laserdiscs was not as sensitive to damaged areas as DVDs. Whereas DVDs become unplayable when a certain degree of scuffs and scratches appear, laserdiscs actually skip such damaged spots, allowing the video to play on. Many newer DVD players have a feature that skips such sections, and fills in unreadable areas on the disc with blank space until the next readable space. However, laserdisc players were able to recover from such errors quicker than DVD players. It is, though, almost impossible to make a direct comparison between the two in this realm due to their completely different sizes.
There are obvious disadvantages of the laserdisc over the DVD.
Size and Weight
The sheer size and weight of laserdiscs are one of the more obvious drawbacks, weighing an average of 0.5 pound each, and measuring about 12 inches in diameter. Compare that to the much smaller size and weight of the DVD, which is much easier to handle, and is less prone to damage.
Flipping Discs During Play
DVDs are capable of handling a much greater amount of video and audio, without having to “flip” the disc part way through a movie like laserdiscs. With LDs, playback duration is extremely limited, with CAVs holding 30 minutes of video, and CLVs holding 60 minutes. Once a film reaches this duration, it’s necessary to flip the disc over to the other side to continue play, which is quite annoying and cumbersome for users. Instead, DVDs play through hours of video without the user having to manually flip the disc. Even though later laserdisc player models featured an automatic disc flipping capability, the movie still has to pause for the player to perform such a function.
Laserdiscs lacked any form of built-in error correction. Any dust, scratches or smudges on the disc would cause read-errors, and show up as static, streaks or other glitches on the picture. The digital MPEG-2 format information on DVDs, on the other hand, feature this built-in error correction, which allows the picture to remain clear up until the area of damage, which prevents the laser on the disc from being able to identify the usable data.
Different laserdisc players display the picture from the laserdisc differently among each other. Such a discrepancy does not exist with DVD players, where the image quality is virtually indistinguishable among each other, unless the film is viewed on a large screen, or the disc is played by an extremely high end DVD player. In contrast, the picture quality can vary greatly between laserdisc players on either end of the price spectrum.
The issue of “crosstalk” was also a factor with laserdiscs, whether or not they were damaged or in proper working order. If the disc was warped in some way, or the laser optical pickup assembly in the player was out of alignment, such crosstalk would occur. In the case of properly functioning discs, crosstalk would also occur when the device would respond to even the slightest change in rotating speed during playback. When a change of speed occurred, the optical pickup of the player would actually pick up signals from an adjacent track, therefore causing the crossing of data from each track.
The DVD is far superior to the laserdisc when it comes to consumer use, which is why DVDs have become the more popular choice among the general public.