And now I’ll post randomly about my latest, ridiculously dorky, hobby. Complete with shakycam videos!
While most of the masses were watching movies on VHS tapes, that you had to rewind and fast-forward around, the well-off and the technically inclined were quietly enjoying something far, far superior…
LaserDiscs could do 400 lines of resolution (in NTSC) while VHS could do only 250. It offered multiple audio tracks, including the capability for digital surround sound (5.1 channel DTS or AC-3, if you have a decoder — which, of course, I do), while VHS was analog stereo only. Most of the later discs were Widescreen, while most VHS were Pan-and-Scan.
DVD, by comparison, can do 500 lines of resolution, although it uses digital compression on the video which creates some artifacts, most DVDs still look sharper than analog LaserDiscs subject to noise over the composite (or s-video connection) particularly if you’re using component cable with your DVD player. DVDs support up to 8 tracks of audio at up to 96khz (typically 48kh), while LaserDiscs have 3 tracks (but accomplish up to 4 by using seperating the two analog stereo channels for different purposes, like a director’s commentary) with the digital audio track at 44khz.
LaserDiscs were the first to offer advanced features like chapters, freeze frame, frame-by-frame and special features, although many of these features were only available on CAV discs (or some on CLV on a newer player) which provided only about a half-hour of video on each side of the disc. CLV discs were an hour per side. Most recent LaserDisc players had two-side play, which meant you only had to change discs for longer movies. DVDs of course, hold up to 2 hours per side — and yes, they did make some two-sided DVDs.
In my experience, when run through an up-converter and audio decoder to a modern home theater, LaserDiscs sound incredible, look good compared to DVD (although obviously not compared to BluRay — or HD-DVD) and are fun to watch and collect. They offer one distinct advantage: they defy revisionist history. You get to see the movie as it was originally made, not the horrific after-thought editing that’s been applied to some of the classics.
Here are three crudely shot videos (moved to still pictures for long-term archiving) that illustrate the difference. Unfortunately shot on two different TVs, one a plasma with a pretty high gloss, the comparison isn’t entirely fair: the DVD is a remastered version, and the VHS is a 4:3 pan-and-scan. The LaserDisc is an ultimate collectors edition, unaltered from the original release. Guess which format my son will see Star Wars on first? The one where Han shot first…