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Episode 257.5 - Minisode 257.5

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I’m not kidding when I say I could have listened to 8 more hours of their Blockbuster/laserdisc talk.  So funny and interesting and so many parallels to my own experiences with video stores growing up.

Paul should start a third podcast called Block Talk.

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A few notes:

1) "Laserdisc was a failed format".   Laserdiscs were commercially sold for over 20 years.   There is no way you can consider that a "failed" format.  Was it as popular as VHS?  No.  But that's like saying In & Out is a failed burger chain because it doesn't have nearly the number of restaurants as McDonalds.  Laserdiscs were profitable or else companies like Disney wouldn't have put out hundreds of releases, including specialty box sets.

2) Laserdiscs were very expensive.   Not really.   Laserdiscs were positioned as an archival format.  You were meant to buy them to own them forever because a properly made LD could (theoretically) last forever and never wear out (laser rot excepted).  This is one of the reasons why they often had special features like deleted scenes, Director's cuts, audio commentaries, etc.   Bog standard laserdiscs were priced in the $30 range while VHS copies were initially priced in the $100-$150 range.  That's because originally VHS was considered to be a "rental format".   Rental stores were meant to buy these and rent them out hundreds of times because no sane person (who wasn't rich) would spend $150 for a movie in 1980s dollars (over $400 in today's money).   Around the mid-80s, some movies companies (most notably Disney) tried the "insane" idea of pricing VHS tapes in the $20 range and selling directly to consumers.   Disney doing this for some of their classic movies was seen as a bold, crazy (even sacrilegious) gamble.  But it was a gamble that paid off big-time and saved Disney from bankruptcy.  When movies like The Little Mermaid earned more money on home video than they did at the box office, home video was changed forever.  Once VHS went to $20 (and below), laserdiscs stayed at $30.  Studios started to realize the retail value of LD's special features.  That's when you started getting the prestige "box sets" where the special features were the selling point, not just extras.   I have probably over a hundred LDs while only a dozen are "box sets".  Most were bought for $30 (or less).  VHS also had box sets with prestige pricing, but those never sold that well because if you liked the movie enough to spend all that extra money on a box set, you probably would be the person who would want the superior audio and video that laserdiscs provided.

And without Laserdiscs, home video releases would have been much worse.   Laserdisc was the format where you could get films in their proper aspect ratio.  As I mentioned before, laserdisc was where director's commentaries came about. The same for alternate cuts of the movie where laserdisc technology allowed movies to insert deleted scenes, a tech that would later show up in DVDs.   When DVDs were first released, many were essentially just a digital version of the VHS version (complete with the wrong aspect ratio) and no special features.   Video reviewers would complain about DVD release that didn't have the proper aspect ratio and special features because they knew (from laserdiscs) that they could do better.  Digital compression artifacts on early DVD releases also weren't tolerated because reviewers could point to the LD version and say "What's up with that?  Why should I buy this DVD when the picture quality is worse AND I still have to flip the disc!".   Dual layer DVDs (so you didn't have to flip the disc on long movies) and better compression occurred because LDs were still on the market, and DVD had to be better in order to compete.

Similarly, you shouldn't diss HD-DVD too much because without it, Blu-ray would be a really pathetic format.  The original blu-ray spec didn't have advanced audio and video codecs, interactive features, etc.   If you look at the first year of releases on blu-ray, the video looks terrible compared to the HD-DVD counterparts because Blu-ray was still using old DVD video formats.  The competition made Sony update the blu-ray spec because movie studios would point to the HD-DVD features and better codecs and threaten to stop supporting blu-ray if blu-ray didn't match those capabilities.  

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