Eye Anchors: LaserVision Discs Page 2

In fact, most TV sets in American homes are cheating their viewers of much of the picture quality that's present in the received signal. Color TV receivers have myriad internal adjustments for such things as color tracking (gray scale, when the color is turned off) and convergence (registration of the red, blue, and green images on the screen), and these need periodic touching up if the set is to produce the picture it's capable of. Properly adjusted, many TV receivers can give as accurate color as the best photographic slide films, with enough detail to show individual hairs in a newscaster's eyebrows.

Actually, the sharpest TV images you are ever likely to see are on the monitors at a TV broadcast studio, and if you have any interest in good video quality, I cannot urge you too strongly to pay an educational visit to your local TV studio for a gander at what 35mm film's poor cousin is capable of. The picture definition from some cable "transmissions" and many LaserVideo discs comes close to it, but the limiting factor in most instances is the restricted bandwidth of the average TV set. (The upper-frequency limit determines picture detail.)

But by far the biggest disparity between the TV picture and good video sound reproduction in the home is their relative size. Unless you own a projection TV system, the visual cues you get are completely contradictory to the aural ones. The sound is spread across 6–8' of space between the speakers, while the picture is crammed into a tiny rectangle between them. An automobile on-screen moves 12" inches to the left and its stereo image shifts 5 feet.

Many viewers are not at all bothered by this, as there is a natural tendency for us to let our eyes tell us where our ears are hearing things from. But most audiophiles, who have come to rely on aural cues for directional information, are so distressed by this sensory paradox that they can derive no enjoyment from the program.

There is a solution, though.

Loudspeakers must be a minimum distance apart and away from you to convey spatiality from a stereo signal, but there is no rule that says the TV set has to be as far away from you as the speakers are. Time alignment doesn't matter here. And the closer you sit to a TV screen, the wider the included angle of the picture you see.

With a 19" screen a mere 2–3' or so away from your face, as you sit in your favorite stereo seat, the viewed picture is about as wide as the distance between the speakers, and the disparity between space as seen and space as heard virtually disappears. (And the image detail on a good TV set is superior to anything yet obtainable from a projection TV set.) This is the way to enjoy video with stereo sound, and take it from one who's tried it, the experience can spoil you.

Although the specifications for LaserVision videodisc sound are unimpressive, the sound is not. Combined with CX noise reduction (for which many music discs are encoded and all recent-model players are equipped), the sound is in most respects comparable to the best that digital has to offer, which is saying something! The loudest passages are more effortlessly clean than anything ever heard from analog LPs, and surface noise as such is virtually nonexistent. (Interestingly, the only noise I heard from our Pioneer LD-660 player was not hiss, or hum, but a faint 60Hz background buzz. Pioneer tells us this should not be there, but the problem had not yet been resolved at the time of this writing.)

Highs are simply gorgeous on some of the LV music discs, and the low end has much the same startling detail and weight as that from the new CD digital audio discs—to a point. That point is 40Hz, which, apparently because of the FM system used for audio on LV discs, is a veritable brickwall. Below 40Hz, the system output seems to plummet like the proverbial lead balloon. (This lower limit was verified from three discs with a spectrum analyzer, which read 8dB down at 37Hz and 20dB down at 30.)

Whether in fact this 40Hz bottom is a limitation of the system or of the software we had on hand remains to be seen, and while it may seem very off-putting to a perfectionist accustomed to reproducing the subway rumbles from Philharmonic Hall, in terms of music reproduction the range below 40Hz is rarely missed. It is below the lowest note of a double bass and below the fundamental of most bass drums. And it is lower than most film soundtracks go, including the concussive opening of Apocalypse Now or the omnipresent surging-power background rumble of the Deathstar in Star Wars.

In short, I am very favorably impressed with the LV system as a means for reproducing music. There are fewer than 15 classically oriented LaserVision discs available as yet, but what's available is rather substantial fare: Tales of Hoffman, Aida, the Swan Lake and Nutcracker ballets, the complete Ma Vlast of Smetana, Britten's Peter Grimes, and Horowitz's London concert. And if the three discs I heard/ saw are representative, the performances are superb—several cuts above your typical sound-only recording. (Be it noted for the record, though, that the sound-only part of most of these performances is also available on conventional stereo discs.)

The popular field is much better represented on LV, including many taped-on-stage performances and MTV-type sight-and-sound extravaganzas. More music with images is appearing each month on LV, and from now on we are going to include them in our recorded-music reviews. They can no longer be ignored, even by those who have thus far equated home video with Deep Throat, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Three Stooges Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Find God.—J. Gordon Holt


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