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OBITUARY: The LaserDisc player

15 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

The LaserDisc player, the first commercial optical disc player for home entertainment, passed away Jan. 14, 2009, after a long battle with obsolescence. It was 30 years old.

Born as a home entertainment product in Atlanta in 1978, LaserDisc players saw their greatest success with Pioneer starting in 1980, eventually reaching 17 million units worldwide. Beginning with Jaws in 1978, more than 45,000 titles were released for the players worldwide, according to the online LaserDisc database (www.lddb.com). In North America, Sleepy Hollow was the last LaserDisc release, in 2000. Praised for its video and audio qualities, LaserDisc players were the first in home entertainment to introduce people to director’s commentaries and what are now called DTS and Dolby Digital audio.

However, LaserDisc players were first diagnosed with terminal illness shortly after content owners were faced with high manufacturing costs. Consumer sentiments toward four-figure player costs and three-figure media price tags added to LaserDisc players’ decline. The sudden onset of DVD in 1997 hastened LaserDisc players’ demise. The players limped along as American videophile and Japanese karaoke bar mainstays for another decade, before Pioneer announced Jan. 14, 2009, that it was pulling the plug after a final 3,000 players come off the production line.

Many in the industry are memorializing LaserDisc players.

“I know you are trying to keep it funny, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for my LDs, and for Pioneer for the support they gave the format over the years,” said Adam Gregorich, administrator for Home Theater Forum, and dear friend to the recently departed. “LaserDisc was the reason I got into home theater. It was the first enthusiast's video format.”

Andy Parsons, SVP of advanced product development for Pioneer, called it “an end of an era” and a “sad moment for me.” He worked with DiscoVision Associates in 1980 when MCA DiscoVision was releasing titles for LaserDisc players.

“If not for LaserDisc, I wonder how the home theater movement would have turned out,” Parsons pondered. “LaserDisc blazed a trail. … It had a way of capturing people’s imagination. I remember going down to Ken Cranes and seeing all those discs. It was hard to explain, but you’d pick one up, and feel the weight, and you really found value in it.

“I was there at the beginning. I’m here at the end.”

Julien Wilk, administrator for lddb.com, noted that LaserDisc lives on in organ-donor fashion at Pioneer, as the company continues to maintain a spare parts service. He refused to acknowledge the players’ demise.

“An obituary is maybe a little far-fetched,” he said. “My Pioneer HLD-X9 player is at my side and my stack of discs are waiting to be watched again.”

LaserDisc players are survived by optical media players for CD, UMD, DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The players were preceded in death by HD DVD (2008).

In lieu of flowers, the surviving kin of LaserDisc ask that you instead contribute to their future as viable, optical media formats.

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