Friday, December 9, 2016

Laserdisc audio/video setup

Ok, so I have issues.   I enjoy the act of playing vinyl records...I like the fact they are fragile and require care and a bit of effort to play music.   It is part of the charm.

So in ancient times (late 80's) I was in a video store (remember those) and watched the U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky concert playing on a laserdisc.   I was amazed at the picture and the sound (VHS was all you had then).   Some video stores had LaserDiscs to rent, but the machines were VERY expensive (twice what a VHS machine cost) and only played, no recording.   To buy a movie on laserdisc was another expensive proposition.  (first released around 1984)

(price $1200 in 1995, new)

Well since I didn't have any money, I didn't invest in that technology...but I remember lusting after it.

Fast forward to last year, I am watching some YouTube videos from a couple of different channels about old audio and video formats...and saw that there is still strong support for the laserdisc players and the discs themselves.   The format died around 2000, so there are no new disks past that point...and no new players after 2009.

Techmoan YouTube Channel

Culturedog YouTube Channel

For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to join this hobby...there is no good reason to do so, but it seemed to make sense at the time...sort of like vinyl...there is an effort involved in watching a movie on laserdisc.

Some interesting things about the LD format...the video was pulled live directly from the as in they would run a batch through to record it electronically, then check the quality...if they didn't like it they would change some settings and run it through again.   In most cases they had representatives of the move (directors etc) to evaluate the copy and approve or some cases it took 5 tries to get the copy they wanted.   So a LD is a permanent copy of a film the last time it was imperfections and all.   For me, it is like being back in the theater.

Audio is another subject.  There are 4 types of audio available depending on the disc...and again, for the most part it is whatever the movie had.  All audio is recorded as a kind of radio signal on the disc (you can research that yourself).  Your choices are plain old Stereo Analog.  Digital Stereo, AC-3 digital surround, DTS digital surround.

(BTW, to my ear the LD Digital audio is amazing...I am not a audiophile with $1000 speaker wires, but it sounds fuller and I hear details that I never noticed on DVD or BD of the same move)

Analog is those two plugs you stick in the back of the stereo.   Audio quality is as good as the converter on the player.
Digital Stereo is a digital conversion direct from the RF it is as good as your decoder (receiver) is.
AC-3 digital surround was a way to get the full 5.1 surround data to a decoder...right now almost no receivers have AC-3 you need an additional decoder.
DTS digital surround was the other way to get full 5.1 surround data...most good receivers have DTS decoders built additional decoder required.

Every disc has the Analog data on it.   Most have Digital Stereo outputs.   Quite a few newer releases have AC-3 versions available...but the packaging was similar to the Digital Stereo you have to look carefully...if there is an AC-3 version, then there is also a Digital Stereo only version.  DTS is very rare...I only have a couple was limited production, and only a few movies were released with it.

(use the to figure out what version is what)

The better than average LD players had the Digital you can play DTS on most of them...only a few LD players had the AC-3 output...So it is hard to get DTS movies, easy to get players...hard to get AC-3 players, easy to get movies.

I ended up with the Pioneer CLD-D704 which is at the top end of the (now) affordable LD players...there are some sold in Japan at about 5 times the price that are better...if you can find them.   The CLD-D704 has the AC-3 output and arguably some of the best video playback.

Oh, about that.   All playback is composite.   The laserdiscs were encoded as composite video data...that means your S-Video plug doesn't improve anything.  The video output is comparable to DVD.

So what do you do with that in an HD world?   You buy more parts.  To sum it up...the composite output has issues, and up-scaling to HD makes more issues.   Many receivers can do it (mine included) but with varying degrees of quality.   Mine is tolerable...but not good.

So in following the forums I learned that the best machine for cleaning up the composite video signal (comb filter) is a DVD recorder (say what?)  So I got a Panasonic DMR-ES10 off ebay with a broken remote sensor that I was able to fix for cheap.

I have the composite video and analog audio going into the ES-10 from the LD.   Now to upscale it, I got a DVDO iScan HD+ which can up-scale to 1080P.  I send COMPONENT out from the ES-10 to the DVDO.   Yes, the ES-10 separates the composite input to component.

It only has DVI outputs, so I had to get a DVI to HDMI adapter to plug into my receiver.   Also the up-scaling creates a bit of delay, so I put the Digital Optical through this then to the won't send audio over DVI.

Now for the audio...I need the ability to decode AC-3...but if no AC-3 then I need to send Digital Stereo/DTS ...and I don't want to have to switch audio inputs all the time.   So I got the Denon AVD-2000.

I have the AC-3 and Digital out plugged into this thing, and if there is AC-3 it automatically selects it...otherwise just the Digital Optical, and it sends that to the DVDO.   However some LDs have only Analog I put the Analog audio into the ES10, and plug the digital out from that into the AVD-2000...that way if I have to switch to Analog, I only have to hit one button, AND because I am sending the Analog though the same path as the digital, any delays in up-scaling will be synced.

So does it work...well whenever someone puts this much effort into a setup, they will of course say it looks great.   Well, the way I have everything hooked up, I had to select a lot of different inputs to make sure I had everything wired correctly...the LD player has two composite outputs, the ES-10 can output composite and component.   the DVDO can accept all sorts of inputs.   So I had one composite directly from the LD to the DVDO, one from the ES-10 to the DVDO and a component set from the ES-10 to the DVDO.

First test was LD and DVDO composite only.   Scaling was nice, no artifacts, but color seemed a bit washed out...I played with the DVDO settings but couldn't make much change.

Second was LD to ES-10 to DVDO using composite.   Everything else was the same but color looked a bit better, maybe still a bit washed out.

Third was LD to ES-10 to DVDO using component.   WOW that changed everything!   Color was good, but black level and contrast were amazing...

Now, my test disk was Pink Floyd live at Pompeii...a 70's concert movie...which already had some artifacts due to the film quality...but it looked good to me.

Here is how it is all wired huh.   (of course there are about a half dozen other components also plugged into the receiver...wiring clutter is fun.)

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