After VHS video had conquered the home video marker, electronics manufacturers were already eyeing the next wave in home consumer electronics for viewing prerecorded movies. Like videotape, electronics companies went looking in broadcast studios for the next home video format and the companies found it. The next generation of movies to watch at home would not come on a tape or be picked up by an antennaeâ€¦they would be on a shiny silver disc which closely resembled a vinyl record album.
Even before the companies decided on how the disc would play and what the videodisc (or Laservision for those players utilizing a laser) player would look like, movie companies saw a unique opportunity to correct errors made in the introduction of precorded movies onto VHS. Although, at the time, VHS was considered a revolutionary format, the years had not been kind to the format. As precorded movies became duplicated by studios on a mass scale, the defect rate on tapes had climbed considerably. Many heavily rented VHS tapes suffered from breakage, crinkle, or reel locking. Many heavily used VHS decks broke down from jamming or blown circuit boards. Most consumers did not want to take the time or the money to properly clean and maintenance the deck. As the years went one, the decks had dropped so steeply in price that it became cheaper to discard a non-working VHS deck and purchase a new one.
So came into the mix was Laservision. The idea behind the concept eliminated any moving parts inside the deck. Laservision players had no rollers and wheels like VHS decks had and the disc were virtually indestructible. The discs only needed to be wiped with a cloth much like maintaining a vinyl LP. Another new concept for Laser vision was that the movie companies would add special features, chapter search, and a second audio channel to the Laservision precorded movie discs. These special add-ons were unheard of in VHS at the time. Movie companies were preoccupied with releasing movies faster onto VHS and offering them to sale to the public at as low a price as was feasible.
Laservision would include the movie after it was painstakingly digital restored and enhanced as well as bonus features such as making-of featurettes, behind the scenes information and trivia, scene (or chapter) selection which would allow a viewer to jump to any scene in the movie without having to search through the whole tape of keep track of counter numbers, and also second audio channel commentary. By utilizing the second audio track on the laserdisc, movie companies could have filmmakers talk over their films as they played providing the home viewer with an added dimension to their film viewing experience. Laservision players also allowed for true 5.1 Surround Sound while VHS decks were just starting to play tapes in Hi-Fi. The deck also allowed completely clear and “jitter-free” special effects such as freeze-frame and slow motion.
Laservision players had actually been invented in 1972 (under the name MCA Disco- O-Vision) and was intended to be an economical way to sell movies to the consumer market. It would be a few years before the players would hit electronics store shelves and even when the players had arrived, most consumers opted for the much lower priced VHS deck than the Laservision decks some of which were $2,000. Not only were the players more expensive, but so were the individual movies. Each movie was priced at between $30-$40 while VHS movies were steadily declining in price. Price was not the only issue which caused Laservision to lose market share in the highly competitive home video market. The deck although technically superior in most regards to videotape decks, was not without its share of problems. The laser assembly which read the discs was very complex for its time and proved to be problematic. Even the slightest of changes made to the way the movie was encoded on the disk could spell a problem for the laser reader. Many early Laservision consumers complained of defects or problems playing certain discs on certain players. This reviewer found this strangely ironic because many consumers complained of similar problems occurring with DVD players. Some discs features have been known not to work on DVD players produced only a few months apart.
Getting wind of these dilemma, RCA introduced CED. The CED player was similar to the Laservision players except that the player used a needle rather than a laser just like a phonograph. Players were lower priced as were the movies, but CED was short lived. Laservision movies were still available in stores until the late 1990’s, however, the rockbottom prices on DVD movies and the almost exhaustive extra features which were being packed onto those tiny discs were enough to convince the toughest videophile to make the switch.
By the late 1990’s, DVD had conquered the home video market. Laservision decks and movie production were discontinued although many decks are still available for sale on EBay. Although Laservison is gone, the format has left an indelible mark on the home video market. The format was the precursor to the DVD format which has become the number one home video format with new movie releases in VHS also discontinued. The use of special features and second channel audio commentary has become commonplace and Laservision also spearheaded the release of more alternative programming onto home video such as rare concerts, music video collections, animated films, foreign films, and documentaries.
Next Classic Home Toys Installment: Run, Don’t Walk to Buy a Sony Walkman