Laserdisc was the Home Cinema format that offered high quality images, multi channel sound, widescreen and anamorphic titles and many other innovations...long before DVDs and HD discs came along and offered them as if they were something new.
There are a few things a potential buyer needs to consider before stepping into the world of Laserdiscs, here are some of the main points...
Think about what you want...
1. Firstly...Don't make the mistake of trying to generally compare Laserdisc pictures to HD DVD or Bluray pictures. It was never designed to compete with them so it cannot do so fairly, despite the fantastic technical developments right at the end of the format's working life. To deliberately do such a comparison and then say "ooh, it's not as good as my PS3 or my SKY+HD" is just plain ludicrous.
2. Picture requirements. The first purchase is typically going to be your machine so make sure you get the right one. UK Laserdiscs are just fine, there is a very good choice of titles, with good picture quality and Dolby Surround sound. ANY UK produced machine will play them with no troubles.
But if you want a huge selection of titles with the possibility of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 sound, then the American and Japanese titles are the ones for you. This determines the type of player you would need to buy.
The UK TV standard is called PAL, and the American/Japanese TV standard is called NTSC. All UK Laserdisc machines will play UK Laserdiscs, but not all will play Laserdiscs from the USA or JAPAN, which are NTSC countries. For the widest choice of titles then, the player must be described as MULTI-FORMAT or PAL/NTSC or DUAL FORMAT somewhere on the front of the machine. As this was quite a big selling point, most companies made a big splash of it and made it very obvious on them. Pioneer, for example, always display it prominently on the front panel. Most modern TV will easily play NTSC pictures without even breaking a sweat these days, this feature was already 'in' in the days of the old Cathode Ray TVs.
3. Audio requirements. There are many audio streams coming out of a Laserdisc that you can listen to directly through your TV, or by routing out the sound via the audio sockets on the back of the player. Do you want to channel the audio out into a separate stereo or AV receiver? It really will improve the sound quality if you do so.
There are several types of audio/video outputs on the back of a potential Laserdisc player. There could be a SCART socket which will simplify connection to your TV greatly as it carries both picture and sound, there could be an S-Video socket, which was a connection that migrated to DVD when it was launched, but usually there will be a separate yellow coloured video socket as well as a red and a white pair of stereo sockets, and they can all connect directly to your TV if you wish.
If you wish to have a player that will give you Dolby Digital 5.1, you need an amp that is Dolby Digital capable and a player that is described as having an AC-3 RF OUT socket, which will look just like the yellow, red and white sockets but will usually be black in colour. This type of machine will automatically pick up an AC-3 Dolby Digital track from a disc with Dolby Digital on it and output it through the black socket. To get the 5.1 sound you will then need to run this through a piece of equipment called an "RF Demodulator" which turns that signal into something that your Dolby Digital capable AV amp will recognise. RF Demodulators are things which seem to have really held their value of late, but it is not impossible to pick up a bargain if you really want Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. I've bought two over the last year from eBay, and they were both for under £70 each including P+P.
If you want DTS, it is much simpler really. You still need an amp or AV receiver capable of DTS reproduction, but your potential Laserdisc player has to have a Digital Optical socket called a TOSlink. Most DVD players have them, the PS3 has one, even the SKY-HD box has one. TOS link leads are easy to find and not expensive. If your player has one and is capable of playing USA discs, just connect it directly to your amp via a TOS link cable and you can get DST straight away from any DTS enabled title.
4. Most later Laserdisc players will be capable of playing both sides of a disc without having to get up and flip the disc over, but not all of them. For example, the PIONEER CLD-S315 is a decent machine that will play both UK and US discs and put out Dolby Digital sound,...but it will not flip my discs over. The makers will here too, make a big point of showing this on the front of the player clearly. Bare in mind...A whole film could possibly fit onto one disc, but some titles are recorded such that you they are on 3 of 4 sides, that's two discs (and the DEFINITIVE STAR WARS BOXED SET was 6 sides - ie 3 discs - per film!). In such cases, having a player that will play both sides of a disc without having to get up to flip it over at the end of a side, is a real boom.
5. Finally, if at all possible, collect your player rather than have it sent via mail or courier. These are sensitive mechanisms and WILL NOT be treated anything like gently by the Post Office or FED-EX alike, no matter what you get written on it. It pays to go and get it if the seller is agreeable...and most are. And if you are going to spend £50-£100 on a Laserdisc player, then what is £10 of petrol but an insurance policy? Don't cheap-out at the last and end up with a box of broken circuit boards in a smart and black but otherwise useless casing.
I hope this is of help to potential Laserdisc buyers. It really is a lovely format for what it is. Just remember to plan ahead and decide what it is you want from you player and make your choices accordingly.