This guide was written by Rachael Bellomy who was nice enough to allow me to post it here on my site. She has a pretty wacky web site check it out here.
If you’re reading this I’m assuming that you don’t know much or enough about the Laserdisc format. Here, I’ll fill you in with a history of the format, advice about players, advice about discs, general terms, and how to hook up players.
HISTORY OF THE LASERDISC FORMAT
The format first appeared in Atlanta and a few other test markets in 1978. At that point it was being pushed by Phillips / Magnavox and MCA. The discs were marketed under the name DiscoVision. The early Magnavox players were called MagnaVision. The players were all single-side, top-loaders. The video output was an RF (radio frequency) cable to go to a TV’s antenna input and also carried a mono audio track. Until about 1990 most players gave you the option of using RF output or composite video output. Most of the early players also featured a pair of jacks to export high quality analog stereo sound to an amplifier or home stereo system.
The early DiscoVision discs were generally defective. They were all CAV (discs that only fit 30 minutes per side, more info about CAV is explained below). They all suffered from manufacturing defects. If they were playable they had some degree of spots in the picture caused by air inside the disc. Air inside a Laserdisc will cause it to rot (rot means the oxygen in the air breaks down the aluminum substrate that contains the pits that contain the program information that the players read.) The picture gets more and more spots that appear over time and the audio gets pops and other abnormalities.
Eventually, they figured out how to vacuum out the air during the disc manufacturing process, but it took a few more years to figure out that the glue they were using to seal the two plastic halves that covered the aluminum substrate was gradually oxidizing and releasing oxygen into the discs. It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid Laserdiscs dated 1984 and older unless you can demo it and see that it’s still playable. By 1982 most discs were CLV, up to 1 hour per side, more about CLV later.
In 1981, after DiscoVision was stalled, Pioneer became involved in making players and discs and the format began to move towards it’s modern incarnation. A few years later composite video outputs appeared and in 1986 Pioneer’s first statement player, the LD-S1 even featured S-Video output and an optical digital output to send the digital audio stream of the new Digital Sound (PCM) discs to an outboard digital to analog converter. A few years later, the first LD/CD combo-players appeared.
By 1988 Pioneer’s entire line, except the statement player LD-S2 and the LD-W1 (auto-flip, double disc player that played four sides in succession), was made up of CD/LD combo-players. Also, in 1988 I found out about discs that had OAR (original aspect ratio) and started buying them. If there were OAR discs before that, they were few and I didn’t know about them. Anyway, the gradual shift to mostly proper OAR discs began.
Players stayed pretty much the same, with only small improvements like a small drawer for CD’s, until 1994 when Pioneer released the HLD-X0 in Japan. It was the first player to feature an AC-3 (Audio Coder #3, the original name for Dolby Digital) output. In 1995 Pioneer’s entire U.S. lineup, except the budget model CLD-S104, featured an special AC-3 RF output, allowing people with proper decoders to experience multiple channel surround sound at home! More about AC-3 RF later.
In 1997 Pioneer introduced their ultimate combo-players that handled LD’s, CD’s, and DVD’s. Pioneer is no longer manufacturing LD players for the U.S. A few dealers still have DVL-919 or the ELite DVL-91 (DVD/LD combination players) in stock.
In Japan where the LD format was far more popular, Pioneer is making the last production runs of LD players now (spring 2002). Pioneer has announced that 1 June 2002 is the official end of the Laserdisc format. They’ll provide service for many years to come, undoubtedly. Other manufacturers quit offering LD players in the U.S. between 1994 and 1996. That pretty much brings us up to the present and it’s time to move on to the technical specs of the format.
CAV = Constant Angular Velocity is also called “Standard Play”. CAV discs or sides are limited to 30 minutes a side. The frames of CAV discs correspond to the actual film frames. So, when you pause, or still frame, on a disc the image you is one of the film’s frames. CAV is often used on disc sides that contain extra or special materials. It’s perfect for displaying images of things like movie posters or pictures of the set or cast. CAV discs/sides have a running frame count instead of running time in the player’s display. CAV discs/sides allow the user to use all the format’s playback features which include: frame by frame advance, still frame, and multi-speed. CAV discs are a great way to study how films are put together. Many people don’t like them for casual viewing since the disc must be changed more often. Many CLV disc sets have one side, typically the last side, in the CAV format. CAV picture quality is said to exceed CLV picture quality by 1 to 2%, but it’s never been readily apparent to me.
CLV = Constant Linear Velocity discs, sometimes called “Extended Play” can typically hold up to one hour per side, a very few have exceeded that. But, most LD users will never see that (It’s rare for US discs to exceed 60 minutes, but a little more common on Japanese LD’s)
The overwhelming majority of discs are CLV. Using basic LD players, CLV disc’s don’t allow the use of the player’s still frame or frame advance. You cannot view the film’s actual frames on CLV discs. They are not available. Some nicer player have Digital Field Memory (DFM). Using DFM one can use still frame and frame advance to see still images but they are not the film’s actual frames. Since about 1990 nearly all higher-end players have featured DFM.
DIGITAL SOUND When an LD is thusly labeled it means it has a PCM digital audio track which could be mono, stereo, or Pro-Logic. In the laserdisc world, “Digital Sound” does not mean 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS.
CX NOISE REDUCTION CX noise reduction was used on analog Laserdiscs or the alternative analog soundtrack that is present on Digital Sound Laserdiscs. I think it’s something along the lines of various Dolby noise reduction systems (A, B, C, ect.). I think it simply raises the signal above the noise floor like Dolby does. The sound on analog sound laserdiscs is generally pretty good.
TRICK PLAY Is a term that generally refers to Digital Field Memory (see above in CLV) or other special playback functions. Some nicer players, like the CLD-99, have STROBE playback. It drops some of the frames but maintains the sound. The image will look like a series of stills. Many camcorders have similar functions. The Panasonic LX-1000U even has an odd paint function that will give the image a chalky, animated look.
AC-3, THE LONG FORM….
AC-3 = AUDIO CODER #3, it’s the original name for Dolby Digital on Laserdics.
The last count I heard was that there were over 800 AC-3 Laserdiscs released in the U.S. I think CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER was the first. The first one I got was STARGATE.
AC-3 has caused beaucoups of confusion with more than a few LD newbies. Here, I’ll explain it. The original LD format specifications included a stereo analog soundtrack plus analog left and analog right options. In the mid ’80’s the digital audio channel was added to the LD specifications. After Digital Sound appeared Pioneer insisted that all Laserdiscs maintain an analog soundtrack to maintain compatibility with older players that only supported analog sound.
Now, in 1994 when Pioneer added AC-3 surround sound to the Laserdisc specifications they wanted to maintain compatibility with as many of the older players as possible. The only players that would not be able to play the AC-3 encoded discs would be the very early players that only had an RF output for video and analog sound, that was routed into a TV’s antenna input. The analog right channel was the channel that was routed into the player’s RF output.
Pioneer decided there were not that many people still using players with only RF output. They obviously wanted to maintain the digital PCM tracks and wanted to maintain the analog left channel for commentary or an alternative language. So they came up with a system to transform the digital AC-3 signal into an analog signal (like a computer modem does to transmit digital info over an analog phone line) and they placed the AC-3 sound in the analog right channel. A new dedicated AC-3 RF output had to be added to players.
You cannot plug a AC-3 RF digital output straight into an ordinary modern Dolby Digital input on a receiver or preamp. The AC-3 signal must be extracted (called demodulated) from the analog carrier. Some older or higher-end receivers have an input with an RF demodulator built-in to perform this function. If a receiver does not have this special RF input, you can obtain an outboard RF demodulator to perform the function.
You send the AC-3 RF line into the little box and it turns that analog signal back into a digital stream. That output creates a Dolby Digital bitstream that is compatible with regular modern digital inputs. The good part of all this is that Pioneer maintained a lot of backward compatibility. The down side is they created the situation of having to “fish” the AC-3 signal out of the RF analog carrier.
AC-3 RF MOD If your player doesn’t have an output jack for AC-3, don’t worry. Most older LD players can be modified and given an AC-3 output with a simple kit you can still find online.
DTS = DIGITAL THEATER SYSTEM DTS for home theater was used on a limited number of discs between 1996 and 1999. JURASSIC PARK was the first DTS LD. On DTS LD’s, DTS replaces the PCM digital track. DTS LD’s also have an alternative analog soundtrack so they can be played on any player. You must have a player with an optical or coaxial digital output (this will be a different output from the AC-3 RF output) to export the DTS bitstream to a DTS decoder to enjoy the DTS track.
AUTO-FLIP or AUTO-REVERSE refers to players that can automatically play both sides of a disc. The laser that reads the disc starts out on the bottom reading side 1 and tracks the disc from the inside to the outside edge. Then, when side one is done, there is a pause of about 10 to 20 seconds, while the laser reader rides a rail to the inside edge of the top of the disc so it can begin reading side two. After side two is done, the laser automatically resets to the bottom and is ready to read a side one again. Single-side players require you to flip the disc over after each side by hand.
LASER ROT I’ve mentioned this already but I’ll give it a more complete description here. Mostly, laser rot is caused by bad manufacturing.
If air is left inside the disc when it’s manufactured the oxygen will break down the disc within two years, and a multitude of “snowy” spots will appear in the image and the sound will develop defects. If the glue seal around the disc’s edge is never good or gets broken by rough handling, air gets in and rot begins. I think the laser rot problem has been greatly over stated. I have about 800 LD’s and I have about 10 post 1985 discs that are rotted.
The majority of rotted discs from the 1990’s came from the Sony manufacturing plant in Indiana. Be weary of Columbia and Sony Music Video discs that came from that plant. I still buy LD’s of material that’s not available on DVD.
Personally, I prefer to buy used, open discs because the original owner would of returned the disc if it was defective. I’ve bought over 100 LD’s on eBay-bay and have only once had somebody send me a rotted disc.
MUSE or HI-VISION LASERDISC The names are interchangeable. Hi-Vision is the analog 1035i, hi-def, 16 x 9 television system in Japan. The Muse LD format was invented by Sony and ran from 1992 to 1997 It’s resolution is about 650i. Muse LD reproduction requires a Muse capable player like the HLD-X9 or HLD-X0 (imported laserdisc players from Japan), a Muse set-top box, and a 16 x 9 hi-def set or projector. The format never really got perfected. The early discs from 1992 and 1993 generally have problems maintaining proper colour balance and suffer from some nasty motion artifacts in spots. Digital video tape-based material worked wonderfully with the format from the start. Film-based material gradually improved. Some of the films look better than DVD, most do not though.
LD GRAPHICS or LD-G LD Graphics are subtitle tracks available on selected Japanese Laserdiscs. It works on the same principle as closed-caption does in the LD format. Theoretically LD-G Laserdiscs could have more than a dozen different subtitle tracks. Three is the most I’ve seen on a disc. You should be able to remove all subtitles from the screen using LD-G, but most imported discs have the Japanese subtitles “burned-in” so to speak (the subtitles are part of the video signal and cannot be removed). The STAR WARS PHANTOM MENACE LD is a perfect example and the only Japanese LD a great many folks have ever seen. If you have an LD-G capable player, you can super-impose English sub-titles on top of the Japanese ones. Occasionally you can see the edges of the Japanese ones. A few MULTI AUDIO Japanese LD’s feature LD-G subtitle tracks that are removable from the screen. The only U.S. player that ever had the LD-G feature was the Denon MD-3500.
Laserdisc is a very old format as we learned in the history section. It is a composite video format, where as DVD is a component video format. Many Laserdisc players come with S-video output, but for most of these players their composite video outputs are better.
With a composite format, the chroma (colour, free of white and gray) portion and luminesce (black or light level, from this point on luma) are together in one cable and must be separated at some point for the NTSC TV to use them. (I’m not the most technically astute person. That’s the best way I can describe it.) Anyway, with a four pin S-Video signal, the chroma and luma elements each occupy two of the pins. How did this happen? A comb filter separated them.
The point is, in order to be displayed by the TV- the composite format must be converted to a component format. That can either happen in the LD player (if you use the S-video connection, a filter inside the player will convert the signal and pass it on the S-video connection)– or that can happen at the TV set (using the composite cable will mean the LD player will send composite video, which the TV separates using its filter).
So, getting the best picture is a question of which filter is better in your system- the TV’s or the LD’s. If you have a cheaper player, chances are the picture will be better using the TV comb filter- so if you connect via composite output on the player- this will use the TV’s filter, and will usually result in a better picture.
All NTSC televisions have some sort of comb filter to separate composite video coming into their composite inputs. They vary in quality greatly. Most newer sets now have two or three line digital comb filters, three being better, usually. Nice sets have some variation of a 3-D comb filter.
Only the top Laserdisc players that have really good S-Video output with 3-D comb filters on board. The Pioneer CLD-97 has a 2-D comb filter that is close to as good as a 3d filter. It’s filter was hot technology back in 1993-4. Can you remember back that far? That’s a long time ago in the A/V world.
What players have great or at least excellent comb filters on board? Furthermore, why is that advantageous? I think the advantages are generally two-fold. First, the comb filter is optimized for the player. Secondly, most of the players that feature 3-D filters let you adjust them to optimize their output for your display. The 3-D comb filter in the Elite CLD-99 is adjustable. You can even adjust it to operate in 2-D if you want.
THE GREAT LD PLAYERS
What are the great LD players? Here I’m going to have to mention the Japanese market. LD was/is vastly more popular there. In the latter days of the LD era, they quit sending their very best players here. Several of the best players are Japanese players that can be imported if you want the very best LD performance.
For this list, I’m going to start with the absolute best first, and work my way down.
I’ve never seen one in person, but I’m told that the Japanese HLD-X0 is the world’s best player. It’s certainly the heaviest at 35 kg. (79 lb). It cost about $8000 new in 1994. It’s a single-side, all-out performance player.
The ‘H’ in it’s model # indicates that is a Muse capable player. It’s a dedicated LD player, in other words, it is optimized for and only plays 8 and 12 inch Muse and NTSC LD’s- not CD’s. It was the first player to come equipped with an AC-3 output. There are not too many of them in the U.S. I do know of one person who has one. The HLD-X0 is a non factor for most of us. I wouldn’t mind having one but I’m not sure I could lift it! (Note: You have to have one imported from Japan, as it was never released in the USA.)
The best auto-flip, relatively affordable player (well, yeah it’s expensive, $2500– But, it’s worth it if you can’t live without hi-end LD playback) to get is the Pioneer HLD-X9, another Hi-Vision, AC-3 capable player from Japan.
It features a red laser that gives a better read of discs, nearly speckle-free. The red laser will also make the best of scuffed or rotted discs. It will make most rotted discs playable, not perfect, but playable. It kicks butt with good, clean discs! The only limitation is how well-mastered the disc is. It has the best 3-D comb filter ever put in a Laserdisc player so it thusly has superior S-Video output.
It’s colour reproduction rivals that of DVD, software permitting, of course. It’s remote has a switch, labeled D-EXT that let’s you tog back and forth the correct NTSC colour temperature for Japanese NTSC and the U.S. standard. So, both U.S. and Japanese LD’s will look their best. The X9 is the top of the LD universe. (Note: You have to have one imported from Japan, as it was never released in the USA.)
The X9’s little brother is the LD-S9, a dedicated NTSC LD player. It has the same NTSC circuitry, including the same hotshot 3-D comb filter, as the X9. It uses a conventional laser head however. The S9’s video performance is very nearly as good as the X9, it’s very close. However, you lose the X9’s ability to read damaged discs, but the S9 really excels on good, clean discs. It also features the LD-G feature, AC-3 output, the works, of course! It’s as good an LD player as most people could ever need. (Note: You have to have one imported from Japan, as it was never released in the USA.)
I have not seen the Runco players except in pictures. They’re rather rare. Both models, the LD-RJI and LD-RJII, are pretty much the same except the JRII came stock with an AC-3 output. I’m not sure what kind of laser head the Runco players feature, but the one person I know of who owns one told me it would read rotted discs. It’s the only Laserdisc player that was ever THX approved. It may be the only one that ever applied? I’m sure the hi-end Japanese players could easily pass too. Anyway, it’s said to be an awfully good player and close to as good as the HLD-X9. The Runco players sold for $4000+ new.
The Pioneer Elite CLD-99 is a pretty darn good player. It cuts video noise really well providing a far clearer image than average LD players. It has Pioneer’s second best 3-D comb filter. It’s colour performance isn’t as good as the X9 or S9, but it’s no slouch. The CLD-99 has all the sound output options including, of course, AC-3. On eBay-bay you may occasionally see the CLD-D99 which is the same player as the Elite 99 except, it’s silver, no wood side panels, it has heavy metal side panels that make it weigh about 5 lb’s more. It was made for export to Asia and Pacifica. It will work just fine on U.S. sets.
The Elite CLD-97 was Pioneer’s best U.S. model in 1993 and 1994. It feature an excellent 2-D comb filter. Some people prefer it’s S-Video output to the CLD-99’s, I don’t. The CLD-97’s composite output is better than the CLD-99’s. So, if you have a display or video processor with a great comb filter, the 97 could be a great player for you. It predates AC-3 though but can be modified for AC-3 output. A great many of the CLD-97’s I’ve seen on the used market have been modified. Be sure and ask if you’re looking at one. Theta and Macintosh both offered clones of the CLD-97.
The Great Players are all going to deliver 52 db to 54+ db video S/N performance. They’ll make LD much more involving than lesser players.
ABOVE AVERAGE LASERDISC PLAYERS
This group of players offer above average performance but aren’t quite as good as the great players. Most offer S-Video output but it may not really be useful unless your display has a really ho-hum comb filter circuit. Remember, Laserdisc is a composite format and the only reason to use S-Video output, if provided, is because the player’s comb filter is better than the display’s. That’s becoming increasingly unlikely with today’s TV sets.
The Panasonic LX-900 and it’s clone the Denon MD-3500 are almost good enough to make the great players list but not quite. They both offer a really heavy build quality, over 10 kg (22.6 lb). They feature 3-line comb filters that may be useful depending upon your display. These models really cut video noise very, very well, better than Pioneer’s U.S. models except for the 99 and 97 and 95. They predate AC-3 but both offer optical digital output. These are very desirable players if you can find samples that aren’t too worn out by now. They were current models in about 1992 through 1994.
The Elite CLD-79 is very much like the CLD-99 except you get a 3-line comb filter instead of a 3-D comb filter. It can’t cut video noise quite as well as the 99 but it’s colour performance is just as good. It’s S-Video output can be useful with some TV’s. It has all the sound outputs including AC-3.
The Pioneer CLD-D704 is very similar to the CLD-79 despite a very different face-plate. It’s the best non-Elite player they ever made. It’s build quality isn’t as heavy as the 79’s and it’s analog audio section isn’t quite as good but it’s pic quality is right there with the 79’s. The CLD-D703 is the same as the 704 except it’s a year older and lacks an AC-3 output. The CLD-D702 is still a year older and it’s 3-line comb filter isn’t quite as good. It’s composite output is very above average. The still older CLD-D701 is a cut below the 702 and is much less desirable. It also has a reputation for breakdowns. I’d recommend avoiding it. Did I say it’s pretty old now too? Mitsu has a clone of the CLD-D704, by the way.
In many ways the LD-S2 is the best player in this group. I picked one up a few inches at a friend’s repair shop once. It weighs 67 lb’s, nearly 30 kg! You could hurt your back. I think later editions of it weighed even a bit more, 70 lb’s. The LD-S2 was made from about 1988 till 1997. You had to order them, mostly. Oh, did I mention they sold for about $3000? The S2 is the most over-built model ever offered to the U.S. market, only the 79 lb HLD-X0 is beefier in the history of the world. The S2’s transport is very quiet. It has a laser head that will read rotted discs. It has superb analog audio output, but the pic quality is a bit shy of the great players. It’s an old design. Oh, I forgot to mention it’s a single-side player but one that it’s worth the trouble of turning discs over for.
The Elite CLD-95 has got the CLD-97’s bulk at 38 pounds, but it’s a few features short of it’s successor. It’s S-Video output isn’t impressive. In 1991 comb filter technology had a way to go. On the other hand, the 95’s composite output is superb. The 95’s video performance is only limited by how good a comb filter you feed it into. When feeding it’s composite into an outboard comb filter like a Crystal Visions or into a TV with a quality 3-D comb filter, the 95 can perform up to the low end of the great players. It predates AC-3 but is easily mod’ed.
The Elite DVL’s 90 and 91 perform about the same as CLD’s 704/79 do for LD. The 91 is better for DVD’s because it will pass DTS sound for them. The 91’s ergonomics for DVD and remote are better too. But, when it comes down to LD performance, the two are about the same.
THE Panasonic LX-1000U, which is also called “Prism”, is an old but above average player. It’s an early 90’s player. It’s S-Video output isn’t great by today’s standards, but it’s composite is really good and looks really crisp when fed into a TV with a 3-D comb filter. It has the full compliment of trick play too, digital field memory, strobe effect, and even a three level paint function. It’s a cool player.
The Above Average players are going to deliver video performance of 51 db video S/N or maybe just a bit better. Their pic’s will have noticeably less video noise.
LD-W1 gets on this list despite very average pic quality. The LD-W1 is a double drawer player with auto-flip, capable of playing 4 disc sides in succession. That’s a cool trick and it’s the only such U.S. model as far as I know. No digital output or AC-3 output. This a late 80’s player, but it was a cool idea!
AVERAGE LASERDISC PLAYERS
I’m going to start this section by telling you that the average performance players, visually, of Pioneer players took a jump for the better in 1995. Since 1995 about the only models that won’t deliver a 50 db video S/N performance are the CLD’s S104, S304, and D406. The good news is that even those three players do 49 db. In the late 80’s and early 90’s most players performed at about 47 or 48 db. That translates down to a considerably noisier picture. Since 1995 every Pioneer LD player except the CLD-S104 has an AC-3 output. Post ’95 are the players to shop for, generally. Some of these players are the DVL models that also play DVD’s.
PIONEER’S 1995 lineup
CLD-S104 Visually, it’s the best single-side budget player ever. Composite video only, and left and right analog sound outputs only. It’s picture will beat all the older budget players. It looks and sounds better than a S-VHS VCR hands down. Originally sold for $300 in 1995. I’ve seen them sell for $30 and less on eBay-bay. If you just want a simple-stupid, inexpensive player the S-104 can be a good choice.
CLD-S304 Same performance and features as the 104 but adds an AC-3 output and sing along Karaoke -dfgwrt” input features.
CLD-D504 This player has auto flip, AC-3, but no PCM digital output if you need that too. It was their budget auto-flip model of the year.
CLD-D604 adds optical output and has the always fun (?) “karry-okee” function. Average video quality, AC-3, of course…
CLD-D704 one of the Above Average players.
Elite CLD-59 has the average pic quality but great sound. AC-3 of course! Coaxial digital audio output. Yamaha 901 and Marantz 520 are known clones.
Elite CLD-79 Above Average of course, see above!
Elite CLD-99 see great players above…
Since ’96, there’s the CLD-D606, CLD-D406, CLD-D505, CLD-D605, DVL-700, DVL-909, DVL-919. All these players have about the same pic quality except the 406’s is a tad less. The older CLD’s D502 and D503 hold interest for some folks, they have auto-flip and optical outputs. They were current models in 1993 and 1994, respectively.
Older players should be avoided unless you’re getting one of the players on the Above Average or Great lists or a hell of good price! Older Elite models like the CLD’s 52 or 53 offer very average pic quality but do offer toslink and coaxial digital audio outputs. RCA, Pro-Scan, Yamaha, Mitsu, Marantz, Kenwood, Denon, and others sold clones of Pioneer’s average players, mostly. Mitsu had a clone of the above average CLD-D704. Theta and Macintosh cloned the 97, but most clones are very average players. Some older players have digital outputs others don’t, you’d best check if you need that feature.
Outside of Pioneer made players I like Panasonic players. The LX-600 is good average player. The only problem with them is that Panasonic isn’t as dedicated to service of older players as Pioneer is. I would avoid Sony, Realistic, and Phillips/Magnavox players in general. Only if they’re dirt cheap are they worth fooling with. Sony has a few nicer players but their service-support isn’t good. Most of their models are prone to drawer problems. Sony USA released no great players. Reportedly, Sony Japan has…! Sony players are generally harder to mod for AC-3 output than Pioneer models, if that’s a consideration.
SOME PIONEER PLAYERS TO AVOID
CLD’s S980, S990, S1080 < These players can't always have their lasers realigned if it gets out of sorts, bad cheap design. The CLD-M401 has a 5-CD changer built in but is prone to way too many breakdowns according to a technican friend. I'd avoid all 1980's models unless you just want a $30, or less, toy. The older players just can't match up on pic quality or newness!
HOOKING UP LASERDISC PLAYERS
Always hook the players analog L & R audio outputs up. That’s all some players have anyway. Even if you’re hooking up a player with a digital output, you need the analog out’s hooked up too. Why? Because some older discs from the 80’s have only analog sound, because there could an alternate language, commentary track, or both. Many Japanese Laserdiscs have English on the digital channel and Japanese on the analog channel. Anyway, always hook-up analog audio.
If your player has either an optical or coaxial digital output, or both, yea, choose a line of transmission. You’ll be feeding your pre/receiver PCM, same as a CD, unless it’s it’s a DTS LD where the PCM track has been replaced by quess what? DTS, of course.
If your player has an AC-3 output, hook it up with a very shielded cable. There’s an RF (radio frequency) signal in this cable till it hit’s a demodulator, either in a receiver or an outboard demodulator box. Bad shielding could cause interference with other components? After demodulation the AC-3 stream is just like a DVD’s Dolby Digital signal, just at a slightly lower bit-rate.
There are prehistoric LD players from the 80’s that only have RF video out. I hope you’ll not be hooking up that way…! Many LD players only have composite video output. Composite is the hook-up of choice for LD players, unless you’ve got one of the Great Players or maybe one of the Above Average players? Many players have S-Video outputs which should not be used. Since this is the DVD age where S-Video is good, composite is bad days, it’s the other way around with Laserdisc. Only the great players have great S-Video output because of the terrific comb filters they have on board. Well, some of the above average players will have S-Video output that’s useful with some TV’s. Try both if you have them. The 3-line and most especially the 3-D comb filters in today’s TV’s will like the taste of LD composite video.
If you have a digital TV or projector, you may want to deinterlace your LD player with an outboard video processor like the DVDO iscan V1, V2, or Pro. I’ve had the LD-S9 hooked up with S-Video into quite a few brands of monitors from Sharp, JVC Priemer, Loewe, Sony, and Pioneer Elite. Suprise, suprise, in my experience the line-doubler in Elite 510/610/710 16 x 9 sets does LD better than the rest. iscan’d video will look better on most HDTV monitors. The iscan units have RGB outputs, but you can get a cable that converts RGB to 3 line component output. The point I’m making is that the internal line-doublers on most HDTV monitors won’t always do LD playback any justice, even if you have one of the great players.
Remember, in terms of video quality, LD players vary way more than DVD players do. Only the great players will aproach DVD performance. Most of the best players have been made since 1995. Composite video output is usually best. If there’s no sound and all you have is a digital audio connection, you’re proably playing an analog sound disc. AC-3 audio requires demodulation, and you’re just about ready to spin Laserdiscs.
There’s 17,000+ U.S. LD releases and 30,000+ Japanese releases to choose from, or look for since the format is out of print. Many cult films, classic movies from the 20’s thru the 70’s, and many music LD’s don’t seem destined for DVD release anytime soon if ever?
Intresting discs are out there, somwhere. From STAR WARS to SONG OF THE SOUTH to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS to WINGS OF DESIRE to DR. JOHN’S NEW ORLEANS SWAMP to SINK THE BISMARCK and all the really cool boxsets, there’s a lot of intresting content to collect out there that’s not on DVD. Good hunting!