HI-Vision LD Launched in Japan
enters a new era of high-definition laserdisc - the first upgrade to depart
completely from the original 1978 NTSC LD specification
September 1991 five major Japanese manufacturers - Matsushita (Panasonic),
Pioneer, Sanyo, Sony, Toshiba - announced specifications for a new domestic LD
format based on the 1125 line Hi-Vision system. This would employ the MUSE
compression algorithms used in the domestic reception of Hi-Vision broadcasts,
thereby enabling the use of the same MUSE hardware. MUSE reduces the bandwidth
from 30MHz down to 8MHz.
summer (1994), three of those manufacturers – Panasonic, Sony & Pioneer
released hardware onto the Japanese market. While the new laserdiscs enjoy
similar playing times and functions as existing discs, the new format is
otherwise a significant event in laserdisc history and the first major upheaval
in its 14-year history.
the Japanese Hi-Vision system is less and less likely to be used in other
broadcast regions (mostly for political rather than technical reasons), it is
increasingly being used as a video origination format worldwide. Principally
with the efforts of Sony and the near-complete range of equipment sold under its
High Definition Video System (HDVS) banner. Therefore, while the United States,
for example, is trying to establish its own domestic high definition
transmission, it's a fair bet that the programmes will still be originated on
the Japanese 1125-line equipment. The 5:3 aspect ratio is the same and the frame
rate within a whisper of NTSC.
Japanese have been developing Hi-Vision for 20 years and, while there are valid
technical arguments to approach HDTV differently now, those who make such
arguments don't yet have an alternative, working system, and when they do it
will be many years before it translates into purchasable products. Consequently,
if Hi-Vision LD is up to quality, it has the opportunity to become something of
a laserdisc standard in all 30 frame-per-second based broadcast areas, much as
NTSC LD has become. There isn't room in this shrinking world for a Japanese LD
standard and an American LD standard.
European position is somewhat more complicated by the broadcasters support for
25fps based HDTV. This would mean a 25fps based HD LD and put us right back in
the same position, as we have been with PAL i.e. not enough discs. This is
clearly not the way to go. Seeing as Philips, the prime mover in European high
definition, is publicly doing everything possible to distance itself from LD anyway,
it's difficult to imagine that a European HD LD will be anywhere near the top of
its list of priorities. Consequently, any move the Japanese make with HD LD
could, by default, end up providing us with a truly worldwide HDTV LD standard.
The first machine to reach the market on May 20th 1994 was Panasonic's LX-HD10 which costs Y600.000. Of the three players the specifications of the Panasonic player are the least known but a reliable Japanese source maintains the player was actually a Sony-made machine. I unfortunately don't have a picture of the HD10. The LX-HD10 was followed in 1996 by the Panasonic LX-HD20 which is similar in appearance to the Sony HIL-C2EX.
initially released its own Y600,000 HIL-C1 player (photo above) in
June 1994. This
substantially made piece of equipment weighs 18.5Kg and measures 470 x 160 x
4SOmm (w x h x d) and is capable of replaying both Hi-Vision LDs and NTSC discs.
The video specifications for the latter are a conventional 425-line horizontal
resolution with a 50dB s/n rating. The horizontal resolution for Hi-Vision LD is
first Hi-Def Laserdisc player was the HLD-V500
launched in 1992. This model was aimed at the commercial market though. Pioneer's
first consumer Hi-Def player, the July 1994 released HLD-1000
(photo above) cost Y650,000 and offers the same
Hi-Vision & NTSC compatibility and is able to play both disc sides without
need to turn the disc manually. The champagne-coloured player is rather similar
in appearance to Pioneer's double-side NTSC combi, the
CLD-959. The HLD1000
weighs in at 17Kg and measures 440 x 1 73 x 455mm. A frame memory circuit is
incorporated in the player. For NTSC LD there is a Y/C output. NTSC video specs
are 425-line resolution and a 51dB signal-to-noise figure with Hi-Vision LD
rated at 650 lines. As with the Sony player, no signal-to-noise figure is given
for Hi-Vision LD. Hitachi also released Hi-Def player, the
Hitachi also released Hi-Def player, theHitachi HLD-1000, a clone of the Pioneer HLD-100 and bearing the same model number.
significant difference of all these Hi-Vision LD players (which are,
just that, with no provision for CD replay, is this the end of the combi
concept?), is that instead of the conventional 780 nanometre laser they make use
of a shorter wavelength 670nm device, able to read the more closely packed
spiral of pits on the new discs. With NTSC the nominal track pitch is 1.67
microns (though can be less) whereas with Hi Vision it comes clown to 1.1
microns. The actual size of the pits encoded on die discs is the same as before.
However, in CAV and at the fastest CLV speed the new discs rotate 50%
faster at 2,700 rpm (NTSC is 1800rpm.) Though the shorter wavelength
laser is a necessity for Hi-Vision to cope with increased bandwidth, it will be
interesting to see how this affects replay of NTSC discs. In theory, the
performance should improve.
compatible with existing NTSC TVs when playing NTSC LDs none of these Hi Vision
LD players will be of much use for Hi Vision LDs without a MUSE decoder and a
Hi-Vision TV. The latest generation of Hi-Vision TVs tend to incorporate the
decoder though projection units still rely on an outboard one. As a guide (1994
prices), Sony's KW 3210HD Hi-Vision TV is a 32” model (incorporating MUSE) and sells for
Y900 000 Sony's KWP-5500HD 55" rear projection set lists at Y2,900,000 but
this needs an outboard MST-2000 MUSE decoder an extra Y750,000. There are also
MUSE-NTSC converters such as Sony's SAU-300MN Y110,000) which make it possible
to view Hi-Vision material on a conventional NTSC TV, but obviously only at NTSC
picture quality levels and, in all probability. with a considerable amount of
picture degradation over a pure NTSC source.
the cheapest level just the player and bottom end TV setting up for hi-Vision LD
costs around Y1,500,000, not far short of £10,000, though these are list prices and a Japanese consumers
normally pay less
in practice. Either way, Hi-Vision LD at day one is not a cheap endeavour and
then there s the discs.
Panasonic doesn't have much of a software profile but obviously both Pioneer and Sony do ad these two companies had discs available for sale to go with their hardware. Sony chose three movies from its Columbia Tristar catalogue: Laurence of Arabia, Bugsy and A League of Their Own (though this last disc is usually known under an alternative title in Japan). All are double-disc sets - which is not a problem with the 4-hour epic Lawrence of Arabia but the other two don't really make the best use of the LD format from the point of view of running time. Also while Hi-Vision employs a 5:3 aspect ratio, both Lawrence and League Of Their Own are 7:3 Panavision productions and so will show black bands above and below the image. Not the best way to show off the new technology.
what will no doubt make the biggest impression are the prices. Lawrence costs
Y9,800 (approx £180) with the other two being Y24,800). There would seemingly
be no good technical reason for such a high price. Any new technologies involves
added expense but in principle there should be no significant added cost to
pressing Hi-Vision LDs compared with NTSC. High disc prices like these are
unlikely to cause a rush to buy and one imagines the price will fall in time. It
is always difficult to say precisely what a normal NTSC movie title would sell
for in Japan but it wouldn't be far off the mark to say these particular titles
are tour times more expensive in Hi Vision than NTSC.
also believes it Hi-Vision discs should command a considerable price premium
over NTSC. There were supposed to be 15 titles to accompany the player launches
but those listed are the only ones we could track down. Only 30 titles are
expected in total during the first year and most of these will be movies. The
manufacturers have set up a mail-order service to ensure customers can obtain
the discs, which might otherwise be not particularly well distributed through
conventional outlets. The discs, as with all MUSE Hi-Vision players, can be
differentiated from NTSC by a new logo, which is a more rounded version of the
standard laserdisc "L", broken up by scan lines. The words
"Hi-Vision LD" appear beneath, instead of "Laserdisc".
such high prices it looks as though Hi Vision LD will remain a minority interest
in the early stages, though Matsushita has published sales predictions which
suggest otherwise. No less than 50,000 player sales are expected in this
year rising to 200,000 units in 1995, 600 000 in 1997 and 1,600.000 by the year
2000. Pioneer's estimates are more conservative. With player sales of 200,000
by 1998. Pioneer is only planning to make 800 players a month to begin with.
first year rising to 200,000 units in 1995, 600 000 in 1997 and 1,600.000 by the year 2000. Pioneer's estimates are more conservative. With player sales of 200,000 by 1998. Pioneer is only planning to make 800 players a month to begin with.