Big shiny round things that have films stored on them.

They are 12 inches in diameter, store 1 hour of analog video per side in CLV mode, or 30 minutes (36 mins for PAL) in CAV mode. They a stereo PCM digital audio track (or occasionally DTS), and in the case of NTSC discs, also two mono analog audio tracks. (Used for commentary, or for skaffy people who don't have a digital LD player, or for a Dolby Digital track.)

Better than VHS and VCD but not as good as DVD.

Pros and Cons of Laserdiscs, especially vs. DVD:

Laserdiscs, especially the criterion collection, contained "extras," which is why we have such things on DVD now. But if you were into laserdiscs, you got to enjoy this stuff fifteen years before the rest of the consumer marketplace. Now, onto the pros and cons in a world moving rapidly to DVD:

PROS: Laserdiscs are bigger, often seen as a bad thing, but since they are bigger their covers are decorated in large, high-res, beautiful cover art, which you just can't get on DVD. Since the discs are bigger, and the video is analog, it doesn't have to be hyper-compressed like DVD data, thereby eliminating compression artifacts in the video signal. A good laserdisc transfer often looks more "filmlike" than its DVD counterpart, as DVD video tends to look oversharpened and highly processed (which it is, to get it on that little disc). Also, the way DVD compression works, only about 2 to 5 out of 30 frames per second are actually complete on the disc. A laserdisc can access every frame in full quality, usually digitally. And these frames can be captured to a computer via video input and used for homemade movie posters; laserdiscs are not encrypted.

CONS: Laserdiscs are bigger than DVDs, so cover art aside, you gotta be more careful with them and they're not very portable. Definitely not for watching on your laptop on a plane. The analog video on laserdiscs can sometimes yield slight noise in extreme color situations (though this is rare with a good transfer). DVDs are more versatile in terms of the different digital content that can be put on them than are laserdiscs. And most DVDs don't need to be changed out or even switched sides to complete a movie. Laserdiscs can come on up to six or seven sides, depending on the length of the movie and the play mode.

So what does it all mean? Laserdiscs are printed less and less as DVD catches on, but for many movies, it's a tossup as to which format is better. If you have a laserdisc player, get the cheaper format.

Laserdisc is a video disk format from days long gone. Just like with Beta and 8-Track it has gone to format graveyard. It was a mildly successful consumer format since it was the only high quality read-only video format for most of the last quarter of the 20th Century. Surpassed by DVD but borrows many of the same features and improves on them.

Laserdisc technology has been around since the 1970s. In fact the modern CD(the ISO 9660 format) and CD Player are direct descendants of this format created by Philips and such the technology is very similar. A laser pickup is used to read pits (which are smaller than the wavelength of visible light and causes the nice rainbow effect when inspected) and reproduce a very precise and strong reproduction of the video and audio signal.

Laserdiscs came in various sizes the most popular was the 12 inch disk. Both sides on a Laserdisc could be and often were used to store information. Early players could not read both sides without user assistance(ie. go to the player, eject the disk, turn it over, press play) but later models had "automatic flipping mechanisms" which were often just another laser pickup.

The "modern" Laserdisc is made of a sandwich of acrylic or polycarbonate and glue and something to protect the data layer. This "protective layer" seemed to be a highly guarded competitive secret since this was the thing that protected the disk from "laser rot". Like creeping crud "laser rot" consumes and destroys the disk by oxidizing the material. Once oxidation sets in the laser no longer reflects and the signal is lost. There are known Laserdiscs made of glass and aluminum but these were never consider "consumer grade".

The two encoding formats were known as CAV and CLV. CAV in simple terms are encoded like CD-ROM with circular tracks while CLV is encoded like audio CDs and LP where the information is read from the inside out(like a record needle following the groove of a record).

CAV gave many improvements over CLV. The signal-to-noise ratio is better because as a feature of all disk formats the linear space where you can store information increases from the inside of the disk to the outside. It was not unheard of to get 2db better signal on the outter edge of the disk side. CAV also gave simpler time base correction and offered true "frame encoding". The big draw back to CAV stores less video and audio signal. CAV disk side could only hold 30 minutes of video while a CLV disk could hold 60. Another drawback is that your Laserdisc player had to spin the disk at a constant 1800 RPMs while CLV does not. This unfortunately generates a lot of background noise because 12" disks aren't light.

One important limitation of Laserdiscs is that it is not a true digital video format. In simple terms video is still a pulse of FM signal encoded in the pit-to-pit spacing and the audio is encoded in the difference between the pit-nonpit parts. Not to mention the resolution was absolutely fixed as was the signal encoding. A PAL Laserdiscs can only reproduce a PAL video signal.

Regardless Laserdiscs offered a clear advantage for videophiles at the time. For NTSC you can often get LDs with 400x482(luminance lines x visible scan lines) where with VHS you would often only see 250x482. Like other disk media there is no wear by just playing and handling properly(unlike tape formats). There is no Macrovision or region locking(ignoring PAL vs NTSC) on LD that you find on DVDs today.

Laserdisc based arcade games were tried off and on by various arcade manufacturers from the early 80s to the early 90s. Using laserdiscs allowed the manufacturers to create games that had graphics light years beyond what anything else was capable of. But those wonderful graphics came at a cost, and that cost was the limited amount of video a single laserdisc could hold.

The laserdisc format itself was not defective. But unfortunately most implementations of it were. Games like Dragon's Lair, Super Don Quixote, and Cliff Hanger were all extremely repetitive games where the only real object was to press the right direction at the right time to keep watching the video. Other games used the laserdisc video as a background for a space shooter, which was a much better implementation, but didn't help much if the original shooter wasn't any fun. The laserdisc technology had real potential, but unfortunately it was mostly wasted. Some modern games like Pump It Up and the newer versions of Dance Dance Revolution could have been done on laserdisc based hardware twenty years ago.

Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were the only real hit games to use laserdiscs, and even those were quickly pulled from arcade floors after players memorized them. Other laserdisc games tended to have very small production runs, and most people probably never saw them at all.

Laserdisc based games are very popular with certain collectors, despite the fact that they really aren't very fun. The people who collect laserdisc games have a peculiar tendency to sell the games soon after restoration, because they get tired of them quickly. Although a few hardcore collectors have basements with twenty different laserdisc titles in them. My personal suggestion is to stay away from laserdisc games, due to cost, and the fact that the discs and players self destruct over time. If you simply must have one, then I suggest getting a Dragon's Lair, along with a new disc, and new disc player (both of which can still be found if you wave enough cash around).

  • Albegas - This was another adventure game that had a puny production run. No copies of this game exist today.

  • Astron Belt - The was the first laserdisc game ever made. It is a space battle game that used the laserdisc video mostly as background for a sprite based shooter.

  • Badlands - Konami simplified the laserdisc experience down to a single button. Press that button at the right time to keep the game playing (not kidding)!

  • Bounty Hunter - This is a bad light gun game with bad live acting. This game came out in 1994, so there is a small chance that you may encounter one of these out on location.

  • Bega's Battle - Used video from the Harmagedon cartoon.

  • Casino Strip - Twin monitor game. Play cards in the bottom monitor, and watch boys and girls undress in the top one. There were like nine or ten different discs available for this game.

  • Cliff Hanger - Adventure game, used animation from the Lupin III anime.

  • Cobra Command - Cartoon pilot game, not to be confused with the other game by the same name.

  • COPS - Another bad gun game with bad live actors. Not even the Atari name could save this one.

  • Crime Patrol - See Crime Patrol 2

  • Crime Patrol 2 - Sucky light gun game.

  • Cube Quest - Freaky space game with a vibrating seat. The laserdisc provided backgrounds for this sprite based game.

  • Dragon's Lair - Help Dirk the Daring rescue Daphne. There were several scenes on the disc that never got played. A modern ROM upgrade is now available that adds those scenes.

  • Dragon's Lair II - See Dragon's Lair.

  • Esh's Aurunmilla - A whole lot like Dragon's Lair.

  • Fast Draw - Bad live acting helps you feel like a real wild west gunslinger.

  • Fire Fox - Semi realistic flight sim, based on a movie of the same name. I actually remember playing this one.

  • Freedom Fighter - Adventure game that used footage from the Galaxy Express cartoons.

  • Galaxy Ranger - Sega Space game.

  • Gallagher's Gallery - Gallagher tells you to shoot things, and you obey!

  • Goal To Go - Football game, where you select plays from a menu, and then you get to see how they work out. I remember seeing this one at "The Tilt" back in the mid 80s.

  • Gold Medal Track and field style game, only two copies were made. Only one laserdisc survives for this title, and it has laser rot. So this game is pretty much just a memory.

  • GP World - Racing game that used the laserdisc to generate the road and background.

  • Interstellar Laser Fantasy - Another freaky space pilot game.

  • Laser Grand Prix - Racing game that used the laserdisc to generate the road and background.

  • M.A.C.H. 3 - Very realistic flight sim, one of the better laserdisc games.

  • Mad Dog McCree - Light gun game with live actors. I remember seeing this one several times.

  • Mad Dog II - See Mad Dog McCree

  • Ninja Hayate - Teenage Ninja's have all the fun!

  • NFL Football - Not a true laserdisc game, as it used a CED videodisc. Same basic idea as Goal to Go, except that all the video came from the same game (which was either Raiders vs. Chargers or Dallas vs. Redskins, depending on which disc was installed).

  • Quarter Horse - Horse racing gambling game.

  • Road Blaster - Data East adventure game that is unrelated to Road Blasters.

  • Space Ace - Like Dragon's Lair, but in space.

  • Space Pirates - This game was based around the idea of fighting "spcae pirates" and collecting some sort of crystals. It used (terrible) live actors, instead of cartoon characters. Controls consisted of a light gun.

  • Star Rider - Very cool racing game by Williams that came in a cool motorcycle sit on cabinet.

  • Street Viper - Drive a Dodge Viper and listen to ZZ Top.

  • Super Don Quixote - Adventure game that came in a cabinet that looked a lot like a fridge.

  • Time Gal - Like Dragon's Lair, except that you are a girl, and you travel in time.

  • Time Traveler - One of the worst games ever to make a big profit. Time Traveler was the world's first (and only), laserdisc/hologram game. It came in Sega's white holodome cabinet, and was basically one hundred percent gimmick. I remember this one costing a dollar to play back in the early 90s.

  • Thayer's Quest - Used a keyboard, and couldn't be completed because they never finished programming the game.

  • Us vs. Them - Sprite game about alien invaders with funny video backgrounds.

  • Who Shot Johnny Rock? - Bad live action game that got ported to the 3DO.

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