I’m reasonably sure if you are a regular to my little corner of the connected world you have a fair idea what a Laserdisc is. Round silver thing. Looks like a CD the size of a vinyl record? Good.
Now how about 20cm and 12cm Laserdisc singles? No? Read on to learn more!
Ever decreasing circles
Laserdisc singles are a bit of an unknown entity outside of Japan and a smattering of the Far East. Their small size could only hold 20 minutes of video per side so your options were somewhat limited. Laserdisc singles would provide a good home to a plethora of music videos, usually containing a couple of videos and perhaps some behind the scenes content.
Indeed, over here in the West, one of the first Laserdisc singles was a collection of music videos by the Pet Shop Boys. Released in 1991, Discography was a greatest hits compilation. Videography was a video accompaniment to the album. Others followed; David Bowie, Bananarama, Bon Jovi and so on. Though sales were weak due to the minimal penetraion of Laserdisc in Europe and the US. Ultimately the format was canned outside Japan contributing to the fact Laserdisc singles are a rare find today.Measuring just 12cm across, the same as a regular compact disc, CD Video (aka CD-V) was a digital and analogue hybrid disc capable of storing up to 5 minutes of analogue video and 20 minutes of digital audio. The video portion would only play back in a Laserdisc player, hence the CD-V format differed greatly to other popular formats such as Video CD and DVD which are purely digital.
I picked up a CD-V recently from Germany. The format gained minor traction outside Japan, with several releases peppering Western record store shelves in the 1980’s and 90’s. My sole CD-V is the hit single Misfit by British pop group Curiosity Killed The Cat.Arriving somewhat bizarrely on a gold disc, the years have not been kind to this poor old CD-V. While the digital element plays back perfectly well, the analogue portion is suffering from rot. Video playback is perfect but the audio track is heavily distorted to the point of being almost inaudible. Keeping in mind how volatile these discs were, it really is no wonder they didn’t really catch on. Over time the market would eventually become 100% digital.
He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Little Laserdisc Brother)
It was during another one of my patented ‘rummages’ online (the ones that end up with a thousand browser tabs open and lead me down about 97 rabbit holes) I happened upon content other than music videos that appeared on the Laserdisc single format.
Rafale Advanced Fighter is a wonderful demonstration video of the Dassault Rafale military jet. This is a disc that swallows just over 19 of the allotted 20 minutes per side of a 20cm disc. Also included is a data insert detailing the specifics of the jet on one side, and the components that make up the HUD on the other.The video opens with a flight demonstration montage before cutting away to a bunch of wireframe models of the jet. Considering the age of this film, the models are rather impressive. The disc even houses a ‘bonus feature’ tacked on the end after the credits. Gone is the naff synth track that potters along for almost the entire run time of the main feature. Instead, out of the black depths of your television screen a video feed appears.
What follows is a roughly five minute test flight recording from an on-board monitor showing the Rafale HUD (hence the explanatory insert sheet). It is a shame that the video is only a recording of the screen and not a direct feed as the recording captures all the flicker and refresh bars sweeping the CRT screen.
With that, the Rafale Advanced Fighter Laserdisc single draws to a close.
Looking Back (Over My Shoulder At My Laserdisc Collection)
I found a couple more flight demonstration, film/anime promos and music video discs during my ‘rummage’ but that was it. My assumption is that a lot of the material released on Laserdisc Single was more for promotional purposes and thus likely ended up being thrown away once consumed, hence the rarity of the format.In some ways I think it is a shame that Laserdisc singles never really took off properly outside Japan. If marketed and priced sensibly they could have been home to a vast array of subject matter.
Though as time moved on, and taking in to account the consistently high prices and the 20 minute per side limitation, I guess interest had waned and moved on to DVD, and we all know how popular that format became!
Birds On Film
If you look carefully on the reverse of the Rafale sleeve, you will spot that the official photographer for the film is Katsuhiko Tokunaga, considered by many to be one of, if not the finest master aircraft photographer ever.
Take in to account the cost of fuelling a flagship, bleeding edge jet fighter for a photo and video shoot alone would cost tens of thousands of Euro’s. On top of that you have the fees commanded by the premier aircraft photographer that has ever lived and what likely appears to many on the face of it to be a cheap, throwaway little 20 minute Laserdisc, is actually a very expensive production.
Look at the glorious sleeve photos too (see bonus scans below). On the reverse a magnificent ground view, detailing the pompous grandeur of Dassault’s latest, greatest aerial masterpiece.
And that cover photo. Just…wow. Sundown over warm seas. Just a pilot and their aircraft tearing the air apart. The detail and framing in such a shot at such a high speed is truly phenomenal. The good folks at Nikon would appear to agree considering they’ve a humongous article about Tokunaga-san on their website. It makes for truly insightful reading and is well worth taking a look at.
So next time you are on the hunt for something obscure, who knows, you may happen to stumble upon a Laserdisc single. Don’t dismiss them. Instead, take a chance and you might uncover something super interesting!
Note: All scans in this article are my own. Bonus scans are included below.