Which Pizza-Sized Movie Format Failed to Win Over Consumers?
Introduced to North American audiences in 1978, LaserDisc was an enormous optical disc—most of them being 11.8″ across, the size of a modest pizza—that had quite a few technological advantages over the then current movie formats, VHS and Betamax. The video quality was significantly better than the two cassette-based alternatives and the disc could, and usually did, include multiple surround sound tracks in both analog and digital encoding among other additional features like director’s cuts, commentary, and extras not found on competing formats.
That said, however, the disadvantages of the LaserDisc system (especially for North American and European consumers) outweighed the benefits. The discs were huge, they weighed around half a pound each, movie releases were few and far between on the format, and the low adoption rate did little to encourage studios to release more films. The North American household saturation rate at peak LaserDisc ownership was a mere 2 percent. Although the player and disc prices were kept artificially low in Japan to encourage adoption, even then the saturation rate there was only 10 percent.
The format and player production were eventually retired and by 2001, world-wide production of the discs had halted. Pioneer, the last player manufacturer, halted production of LaserDisc units in 2009. The format retains a small but loyal following thanks to movies released only on the format and never again on other formats (mostly controversial movies like Disney’s Song of the South and obscure, hard to find anime films and series).
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