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Pioneer CLD-2850

Thanks to Sascha for the pictures.

The archive site has a copy of the Operation Manual for the CLD-2850. Please see the manuals page. 

The big beef about Pioneer's two previous models of play-both-side combis (the CLD-2600 & CLD-2700 has been that they were PAL only and while positioned as upgrade machines proved impossible for anyone with even just one NTSC disc in their collection to upgrade to. Well, Pioneer has fixed that with the 2850 (photo above) which offers PAL/NTSC duality but again messed it up rather by leaving off the analogue sound replay for PAL. The price of the new machine is £699.95.

The double-side play function works with just the one laser assembly. In a standard player there is a track running beneath the disc - from the centre spindle towards the back - on which the laser runs. On the 2850 there is another track mirroring this above the disc. This accounts for the slightly increased height of the casing. The laser starts off under≠neath, playing the disc from the centre, and when it reaches the end of the side it continues onto a little cradle which rotates through 180 degrees. When aligned with the upper track the laser then travels back into the centre of the disc but from above. While this is going on, the disc has to stop and begin to rotate in the opposite direction. All this takes about 13 to 15 seconds and apart from a few audible clunks, does so fairly smoothly. Pioneer has been making double-side players for several years now so the idea should be relatively fault free. 

It's certainly a great improvement not having to get up and change a disc over each time and there is also the other little ways it improves convenience. For exam≠ple, it doesn't matter if you accidentally put the disc in the wrong way up. Rather than have to change it over, you just need to tell the laser to read it from the other side. Also, if you've ever reached the end credits of a movie and seen someone mentioned in the cast list you didn't notice in the movie itself, it's no trouble to switch hack to the start of side one and scan back through the whole thing. This is real couch potato stuff. 

Providing you don't have any old PAL discs, and are pretty sure you won't ever get any, then the 2850 might be worth considering except for the fact that picture performance was again disappointing. Pic≠ture detail was much less than the 1850, to the extent that discs were visibly 'soft', even without needing to do a direct player-to-player comparison. With the same title synched up in each, on an NTSC cartoon disc, for example the colour boundaries looked quite smudgy compared with what one is used to. Subsequent tests of resolution gratings told quite a different story, however. For both the 1850 and the 2850 these looked perfectly respectable and actually an im≠provement on the 1750. So how come this doesn't translate into more detailed pic≠tures in a real world situation? The logical conclusion is that the weakness is some≠thing to do with the colour portion of the signal or at least how it is mixed with the luminance/black & white. All these resolu≠tion gratings ignore the colour aspect of the signal by being carried out on a black & white monitor. Doing resolution tests on a colour TV can be problematical because there are bound to be corruptions of the combined colour/black and white signal around the relative sub-carrier frequencies (3.58MHz for NTSC, 4.43MHz for PAL). The TV will be doing this in order to suppress various blending effects so it is not therefore possible to allot a picture characteristic to either the source (the LD player) or the replay system (the TV). 

Picture resolution is essentially a lumi≠nance characteristic anyway the colour signal does have a resolution of its own but it is not significant in PAL and NTSC.

The answer to the quandary came a few days later when discussing with Videotec the possibility of restoring the analogue sound feature. Videotecís engineers were of the opinion that Pioneer had economised on the video signal processing, employing cheap "lump' filters this time round to the detriment of the final colour picture. So while both the 1850 and 2850 are basically capable of resolving a proper amount of detail, subsequent econo≠mies in the design have negated this asset.

Analogue Sound Remedy 

Videotec has developed a modification for both the new Pioneer players to restore the analogue sound, which it is claimed does the job better than the usual quality of sound circuits in production players too. Audio improve≠ments are often very difficult to pin down but it has become apparent that recent players do often have trouble with sibi≠lance on analogue discs. This is one quantifiable problem that Videotec claims to improve by increasing the number of components it employs in its analogue soundboard. 

Videotec can also fix the video side of the new Pioneer players by installing its S-Video board (which needs to be used with an S-capable TV, of course) and, though the finished product has not been tried as part of this review, one could well believe the result to be closer to the normal expectation of LD quality.  

That aside, as far as off-the-shelf machines are concerned, neither of these new Pioneer models has impressed in respect of laser's most important feature -the detail and clarity of the picture. 

Pioneer promotes the 16:9 button - Why? 

On both the new players Pioneer has put the 16:9 button for those as yet non-existent 'squeezed' wide-screen discs into a very prominent position on the remote. Why should it be doing this when there is so far no suggestion of such software being introduced. Pioneer UK says it will only release such discs when wide-screen TV takes off, which it consid≠ers to be some time away Pioneer itself is not pinning to introduce any widescreen TVís yet. 

All that makes a certain amount of sense but is there actually any need for widescreen TVs to justify the release of squeezed widescreen. The principle behind these discs is that the unused scanning lines above and below the image (the black strips) could be used for picture information. In manufacture the image is stretched vertically and spread over all the normally unused black. When played back the image is compressed back down to the correct height. The consequence is that maybe up to 100 previously redundant scanning lines are brought into use to generate the image, thereby increasing the vertical resolution. (You must have noticed bow vertical detail is sacrificed in widescreen movies.)

But if this is bow the squeezed laserdisc can be made to work there is, in fact, no reason to delay introduction to coincide with wide-screen TVs. Providing some black can be generated by other means to fill the top and bottom of the screen.

All the picture resolution advantages could be equally enjoyed on a standard 4:3 TV. Squeezed LDís don't need widescreen TVs to be viable. What is needed to make them viable is to avoid any requirement for double inventory - to make both standard and squeezed versions of the same title. This is not economic and retailers would throw up their bands at such a prospect here in the UK where the product is hardly established as it is. However, if Pioneer fits the 16:9 button on all its players or TV manufacturers achieve the same result by putting the function on TVs for example, many new Sony TVís do this), then it might be possible to introduce such a format without undertaking two-version release. The only consumers who would be inconvenienced by the new type disc would he those without either a switch on their player or their TV.