Is DVD Better Than Laser Disc?

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Is DVD Better Than Laser Disc?

Yes folks, we've all talked about it, criticized it, dreaded it, and anticipated it. Now that DVD is here, we can finally answer the BIG question that everyone's been asking: "is DVD better than Laser Disc?". The answer is not a simple one. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. For the average user, DVD may be the preferred choice. However, Laser Discs clearly look better than DVD when processed through a video line doubler. Overall, selecting the best system will be a balance between your own preferences, and the strong or weak points of DVD or Laser. We have listed these below:

DVD Advantages

DVD stores video in a digital "component" format. The result is video horizontal resolution of over 500 lines with a s/n ratio of around 65db. DVD also delivers true "RGB" video quality when using the S-video or "component video" output jacks. The result is razor sharp detail and computer quality text, without any NTSC color subcarrier crosshatch distortion. Resolution is further enhanced with "widescreen" releases that are encoded to be compatible with 16x9 TV's. 16x9 encoded DVDs have 25% better vertical resolution than "normal" widescreen encoding. This applies to on all widescreen ratios above 1.77 to 1. Viewing 16x9 encoded DVD's do not require a 16x9 TV, but the image will look slightly compressed horizontally. This can be corrected by switching the player to standard widescreen, but you loose the extra resolution. Many DVDs also offer Pan- Scan transfers, giving a choice of up to 3 aspect ratios.

Along with video, DVD also supports a wide assortment of audio options. At the publisher's discretion, these can include Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 surround, or 48khz uncompressed 2-channel matrix surround audio. Using compressed 2 channel stereo, DVD can also support up to 5 independent stereo language or commentary tracks. DVD can also store a number of text "caption" tracks to display different languages or other information.

DVD's small size and manufacturing cost offer real potential for mass marketing. In large quantities, DVD can cost under $1.00 per unit to manufacture. This compares to about $2.75 for VHS or $6.00 for a single-disc laser release. Low per-unit cost makes "below $20.00" retail prices possible, while maintaining good profits for copyright holders, distributors, and dealers. The small size of DVD allow portable uses such as a TV "Watchman" or built-in computer DVD-ROM drives. Imagine being able to watch a video program on your lap-top computer while traveling. Even if some Hollywood studios are slow to support DVD, the computer applications alone should guarantee the format's success.

DVD Disadvantages

DVDs can be encoded with Macrovision copyguard protection. At this time, most of the Hollywood DVD releases are laced with Macrovision. Despite claims to the contrary, Macrovision causes color stability and picture contrast problems on many TV's. Macrovision decoder boxes are available, but ones that support S-video are expensive and hard to find (we plan to offer one by mid summer). DVDs may also include a regional code to discourage software import or export. Example: Japanese DVDs are coded "region 2", and cannot be played on USA players that are "region 1".

Although DVDs are the same size as CDs, many publishers are using non-standard size cardboard and plastic "snap" cases to make the product more displayable in stores. Unlike CD jewel cases, these "snap" cases will not fit in CD storage racks, and do not offer any protection to the printed jacket art. Many "snap" cases come with the art already scuffed just from dealer handling. The stores may like them, but most of our customers don't. Also, many publishers do not adapt their art to fit the small package size of DVD. In either CD-jewel or snap case, DVD art and liner notes may be impossible to comfortably see or read.

DVDs use MPEG-2 compression to store the video information. Discs that are not mastered to exacting standards can show some compression "artifact" distortion. Contrary to advance expectations, DVD video artifacts usually show up as grey-scale distortions or "shade rings" in otherwise soft pastel tones, and not in "fast motion" sequences. Artifacts are most noticeable in poorly encoded "fade to blacks" where the increasing darkness will take on a stair-step quality. DVD's MPEG-2 digital video does not work well with analog video line doublers. However, good results may be obtained with computer based digital enhancement to obtain higher resolutions.

Laser Disc Advantages

Laser Discs offer true full-bandwidth uncompressed, uncopyguarded video. When used with an analog video line doubler and data- grade video display, a good laser disc can easily outperform it's (unprocessed) DVD counterpart. Also, NTSC Laser Discs purchased anywhere in the world can be played on any NTSC standard laser Disc player. Laser Discs recorded in 16 bit digital matrix surround usually sound better than many DVDs that only contain Dolby-Digital 5.1 or compressed 2-channel audio.

Laser Disc jacket art is without equal. The 12" size allows for larger print, complete liner notes, and really enjoyable album cover art.

Laser Disc Disadvantages

Laser Discs are too expensive for the average consumer to own. With the exception of MCA, and Warner, most Laser publishers have raised list prices to $40.00 and up for a first-run movie. Worse, many titles are only available as "special box-set editions" at prices over $100.00. To justify the price, these box sets often include CD soundtracks, posters, books, and other stuff you may not want.

Laser Discs are large, heavy, and fragile. Great care must be taken in storage to prevent warpage, jacket damage, and deterioration of the disc's aluminum coating. With even the best of care, a few poorly manufactured discs will loose their aluminum reflective qualities over time, resulting in increased video noise. This problem is aggravated by many publishers who refuse to take defective discs once they have "gone out of print". Caught in the middle are the dealers (like us) who have angry customers on one side and suppliers refusing defective returns on the other.

Laser Discs are "hard encoded" in NTSC video. Even though many LV players have S-video outputs, all laser discs, exhibit a characteristic "crosshatch" distortion caused by the NTSC color subcarrier. This is most noticeable in small text, where the letters seem to be "floating" amidst background of moving fine-grain diagonal mesh. Since all NTSC broadcasts have the same distortion, many Laser Disc owners don't notice the distortion until they compare it with component video or true S-video.