Flashback Friday Tech: The LaserDisc

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Before DVDs and streaming, there was the LaserDisc. We take a trip down memory lane to revisit a format that was supposed to be the future of home movies.

To revisit the format that was, I went to the home of Jim Lawson, a self described “techno geek” who’s been doing IT work for 20 or 30 years. He was a big collector of the LaserDisc format.

“I liked the fact that it wouldn’t degrade over time and it wasn’t on a media that could get brittle old and die,” said Lawson, who lives in Southern California.

Rich DeMuro and Jim Lawson hold a laserdisc

With its futuristic name and sharp looks, the 80’s format seemed like a great successor to VHS.

“There was a place called Ken Crane’s LaserDisc in Huntington Beach… we would look at the upcoming releases and hurry on down there when a new movie came out,” recalled Lawson.

Still, expensive players and pricey discs eventually held the LaserDisc format back.

The craziest thing about the LaserDisc, by today’s standards, is that you had to flip it over halfway through the movie. Later, more sophisticated players could read both sides.

Lawson’s original player still works, so we fired it up and popped a disc into its giant tray.

A Batman laserdisc from the 1980s

The image quality? Well, not much better than VHS, and a far cry from today’s HD and 4K.

Even the pause functionality was old school – instead of a freeze frame, you would get a bright blue screen.

In the end, LaserDiscs struggled to find a mainstream audience and were eventually eclipsed by the DVD,  a less expensive, more convenient and higher quality product. They were an instant hit.

Rich DeMuro is the Tech Reporter at KTLA TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles and author of the #1 iPhone guide on Amazon 101 Handy Tech Tips for the iPhone.

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