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Dead medium: McDonnell Douglas Laserfilm VideoDisc Player
From: howet@ohsu.edu (Tom Howe)

SourceLASERFILM VideoDisc Player LFS-4400 Operating Instructions, 1986 McDonnell Douglas Electronics Co., Box 426, St. Charles, Missouri 63301

Bruce:

Recently, 700 of these Laserfilm VideoDisc players turned up at a surplus firm for $39 each, postpaid in the continental US. These are new-in-the-box units that this firm is planning on stripping down for parts, if the units don't sell intact. The units don't include any software (two empty caddies are included), and I don't know where to find even a single disc to use for playback demonstration; but these units may be of interest to collectors of dead VideoDisc formats.

I purchased one and the following notes reflect my observations. The URL for the surplus firm's page is:

http://www.i1.net/~mega/viddsk.html

The McDonnell Douglas Laserfilm VideoDisc Player

This was the last and shortest-lived of the competing VideoDisc formats that emerged in the 1980's. It had the distinction of using ordinary photographic film as the playback medium. The film was cut in the shape of a 12" disc which was loaded into the player with a caddy, much like the RCA CED System. Data was recorded on the disc as a spiral track of dots, which interrupted the laser beam as it was projected through the disc. Thus Laserfilm is a transmissive system rather than reflective, which is characteristic of the popular LaserDisc format.

The first unit was available in 1984, and the last was made in 1986, as this format was apparently never marketed successfully outside of McDonnell Douglas. All of the players were very well-constructed industrial units, and featured an RS-232 port for external computer control. McDonnell Douglas used multiple units running in unison for flight simulation.

The commercial failure of this format is somewhat surprising, since the use of photographic film, disc mastering and replication was supposed to be much simpler than competing VideoDisc formats. Indeed, the duplicate discs were merely photographic inverses of the masters. The masters used dark dots on a transparent background, whereas the replicas used transparent dots on a black background.

The players were unique in being able to play either a replica or the original master, although to play the master it had to be loaded in the caddy with the label side facing down. The playback time was limited to 18 minutes of full motion video per disc, and perhaps this was its major downfall. Competing formats were capable of 60 minutes of video per side, or 120 minutes total per disc.

The discs were recorded in CAV format, and could produce 33,200 still frames, 42 hours of compressed audio, or 36 hours of Still-with-Sound (assuming 28.6 seconds of compressed sound per frame).

Tom Howe (howet@ohsu.edu) www.teleport.com/~ceds