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Thursday, September 14, 2006


Earlier this year, I got a Pioneer Laseractive. This was my view of that particular videogame hardware oddity.

Let me tell you a little story about what kind of strange luck I have sometimes. I was in the market for a Laserdisc player, crusing the pawns, not finding much. Yeah, I saw lots of decks on eBay, but these days everyone is gouging on the shipping, so a $45 good deal quickly becomes a $90 not so good deal. No thank you.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not turning up anything, but I stop back in this one shop I'd been in before and remember them having a late 90s industrial Pioneer in there. I figure if I can talk them down to a reasonable amount, I'll manage with that, though it's not really what I want.

I'm in there and there's this sweet grandma lady helping me. I'm asking if this has a remote and she says no, but they have another Laserdisc player with a remote and some games. My heart jumps. It couldn't be!

But it is.

She shows me the case and lo and behold, there's a Pioneer CLD-A100 aka Laseractive, with the Sega module, the remote, three controllers (including the Pioneer branded one that came with the system,) the manual and seven games. The price? $39 for the whole deal*.

Anyway, hook it up, play a little Mortal Kombat, all looks well, so I bag it. The worst part was, this was literally right before we were leaving for the weekend to do Christmas stuff, so I didn't even get to touch the thing other than unloading it. Baah!

Later on I did get to spend some quality time with my new toy. Now, I still haven't gotten around to digging my Sega CD games out of the closet, so I can't speak yet on that. Really, I haven't spent too much time playing Genny games on it either. I have, however, been watching movies on it. After all, that is what I was looking for in the first place, just a movie player.

So what can I say about my week of Laseractive ownership? Well, the longer I own this thing, the more amazed I am that it was ever released in the States. This has got to be the most Japanese console ever released here.

You start with a Laserdisc player, a format that caught on in Japan bigger than it did here (except among videophiles, who probably aren't going to be that interested in playing videogames.) Then you combine it with a videogame system, reflecting that Japanese love of consolidation with their electronics that Americans don't seem too concerned with. While one of the avaliable systems was popular in the States, the Genesis, the other one wasn't, the PC Engine. Even with the Genesis stuff, I think you could argue the big selling point, the ability to play Sega CD games as well, was probably going to go over better with a Japanese audience as I think the CD add on did better there than here.

Oh, and don't forget the third module you could own, the karoke unit. Again, very Japanese.

So, we have an impressive machine here, but with few features the average American is going to care about. Add to that the price. The Laserdisc player alone sold for nearly a grand. The game packs were $400 each which, by the time this thing released in 1993, was more than buying the respective console and CD Rom add on.

Now, you could play LD-Rom games or MegaLD with this setup, but the list of those doesn't look too appealing. Still, it was a logical step from CD-Rom to go to the next higher capacity media, though I think the lukewarm acceptance of Laserdiscs in general probably prevented that from ever taking off.

Let's take a look at just the Laserdisc player for a moment. For $960 (or whatever it was exactly) you got a bare bones LD player. Actually, sub-barebones for 1993. It can play a disc, skip chapters, fast and slow scan and jump directly to a frame or time mark, but that's it. To use any "special effect" features, such as still frame, variable scanning speeds and programming, you needed to shell out $400 for one of the game packs.

For most people who just want to watch a movie, this isn't that big a problem, but if you have a disc with supliments stored in still frame, like art work or text, you can't watch them unless you have a game pack. Even then, you have to use the game controller to use the special functions making the actual unit's remote almost worthless and teathering you to the system if you actually want any of the special features they were using to sell Laserdisc in the US. (Well, other than improved picture and sound.)

The big problem here is, you're shelling out $1400 or so for a Laserdisc player that's just average, at best. I'm pretty sure even in 1993 you could have bought a more full featured LD player and your choice of Sega CD setup or Turbo Duo and saved money. Of course, you couldn't have played the Laserdisc games, but judging by how hard those are to track down, not many people did anyway.

Personally, I think this is a really cool idea. Plus I think it's nothing short of amazing that two rival videogame companies would allow both their systems to be compatable with this (can you imagine anyone agreing if Panasonic had asked Sony to make a PS2 attachment for their Q DVD player/Gamecube hybrid?) I also like the consolidation aspect of things and I just think the entire system is so funky that it's really cool.

What I don't like is the lackluster LD player they built this around. If you're charging a premium, you should give people premium product, especially when you're selling something most people are indifferent on in the first place. I also think this is one of those products where I really can't figure out who the audience was. Videogames were still seen as kind of a kiddie thing in the US (though the Genesis was doing much to change that perception) and the Laserdisc was a high end videophile thing. Unfortunatly for Pioneer, I don't think there was much crossover between the two in 1993.

I am glad I have this, but because this was one of those things so far off my radar due to obscurity and price, I have to admit I could easily live without it. It's a neat curiousity piece, but I'm still looking for a better Laserdisc player. I can't complain about the Laseractive though, at least not for the price I paid, but I really think unless you're a completist, wealthy or find a really good deal like I did, I wouldn't advise anyone go to far out of their way to accuire one.

*sidenote: when I got out of the store, I realized the reciept was itemized, meaning I actually got my Laseractive for $25! Of course, it also means I paid $2 each for NBA Jam TE, Tommy LaSorta Baseball and that damn EA chopper game you see every frickin' place. But, it also means I paid $2 a toss for Darwin 4081, Darius II and Japanese Strider as those were the other games in the deal. And Mortal Kombat. Aside from Tommy LaSorta, they were complete copies too, so I'm not complaining too much.

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