Review of the month; Pioneer CLD-S315 Laserdisc player

I was intending to do a follow-up review on the ceramic knives I handled last year around this time, but when I checked the post I noticed that it wasn’t a review. Bugger. I’ll have to get back to those some later time with a comparative review, as the ceramic knives I got didn’t serve their purpose too long.

The question then became apparent; what should I review for this month? I’ve been doing too many game reviews in a row as of late. Initially the plan was to review Kettou! Transformers Beast Wars; Beast Senshi Saikyou Keitteisen, a Japan-only GameBoy Colour game, as it is the first honest to God good Transformers game, miles better than anything that’s come before it or than its big brothers on the PlayStation or N46.

So I went back a little bit and remembered that I promised a Laserdisc player review… about two or three years ago. Shit. The problem with that still is that gathering comparative information on LD players is rather hard because setups differ so much across the board. I’m also a horrible little piece of shit and use one of the modern flatscreen LCD TVs for my LD playback without anything in the middle to handle the image quality, so I’m automatically thrown out from the hardcore LD club.

As you’ve most likely gathered, this will be more or less a different kind of review from the other ones, because I honestly don’t have enough base information to go by. This is all my personal experience with this single player and the discs I have. Unlike with VHS, BETA, DVD or BD players, this LD player is the only one I’ve ever actually seen functioning to 95% extent. That 5% comes from the fact that I’ve never seen a VCD disc in nature nor have I managed to make head or tails how to connect that AC-3 to anything at my disposal. I would want to say that doesn’t bother me, but ultimately it does. Let’s move on with the show then.

This particular model was produced in mid-90’s, as the user manual shows printing year as 1996. Not a bad year. For technical jargon, the CLD-S315 is a Dual System player that handles both PAL and NTSC formats, plays LDs, CDs and CDVs, has a 1-bit DLC pulseflow, a D/A converter and has Analogue Sound Reproduction for NTSC side. For video it’s got horizontal resolution of 440 lines in PAL mode and 425 lines in NTSC mode, plus contains a Digital Video Processing system. There’s a lot more stuff that’s more or less relevant, and you can check the complete list on Laserdisc Archive.

Is it the best possible model? Far from it, but it’s a good entry model and for the low consumer group. The reason I went with this particular model myself was that it was straightforward and played both PAL and NTSC discs. I’ve got a collection of 40 LDs at the moment, and only two of them are of PAL format. 22 of them are from Japan, 16 from the US. It does what it’s supposed to do well enough for the time being.

420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action
420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action

Let’s go with the overall design first; it’s a box. It’s clean, simple player that is dictated by the sheer size of the discs themselves. All of the design is basically in the front, and it looks gorgeous. The smooth lines it consists of balance the otherwise industrial bulk it has. As you mostly see just the front, it’s a pretty good balance. The Pioneer gold stands out very well, thou the playback details and model number may be a little too small and thing compared to dominate Pioneer logo next to them. The same goes for the control panel text, but all you really need to see are the symbols. The usual Compact Disc Digital Audio logo in the middle of the disc tray is well placed, although that now means the LaserDisc text on the upper right corner of the tray looks haphazardly placed. The LaserDisc logo on the other fits just fine in the upper right corner of the machine. It’s not that you’ll be watching much the front, but it’s still pretty well realized.

It's beautifully simple
It’s beautifully simple, and you most likely noticed that part is cut out. That’s because I’m too lazy to lift the player out of its rack for now

The control buttons feel sturdy and as responsive as ever. They’re clicky, which elevates them to a higher level. The LD and CD tray open/close buttons look similar to the first Sega Saturn model. While they clash a little bit with the rest of the controls, the shape serves them better. They’re distinct and you can’t mistake them for other buttons. When the player is on, they light up too. The main controls contain slight convex spot where your finger naturally falls. The play button is the opposite and simply control the thing. The menu button on the other hand is something I just noticed, to be honest. It should’ve been similar in shape with the LD/CD tray buttons. The power button on the lower left feel right and is as clicky as all other buttons. The digital panel works as you’d expect, and the additional label just under the control buttons look like they’re in their proper place. There’s nothing special to mention about those.

It's classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue
It’s the classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue

Sadly, it’s the remote is where things fall down a bit.

Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can't say the same about all remotes out there
Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can’t say the same about all remotes out there

The remote follows the basic remote rules of the 90’s, it’s nothing particularly special. The rubber buttons are as you’d expect, and feel more or less the same with other its contemporaries, or even with something like ZX Spectrum. Nevertheless, it’s alive and works, I can’t fault that. The construction is sturdy to boot. It feels nice, but I can’t say wholly ergonomic. It’s just kinda there. I have to say that the added red rim on the POWER is nice and draws your attention to it. The same goes to the red underlining for OPEN/CLOSE. A nice detail on the remote is the lighter gray area for the main buttons about halfway down where the buttons become more irregular, but more important for the main playback. The emphasize for the PAUSE and PLAY are as expected, and with very little memory you can use the controller without even looking at it.

On to the playback then, and here we’re going to hit a stop. I don’t have anything to capture the footage out of and make a comparison, but I don’t think I have to.

The LD I’ve watched the most on other formats is Fight!! Iczer-1. When comparing to the DVD version I have at hand, the picture quality is the same, meaning that the Digital Remaster the DVD offers doesn’t have much to offer over the LD version. As a reference, the LD I use is the 1991 release, TOLH-1048. It being CAV format, it offers superb picture quality. CAV and CLV are basically the normal and extended plays of Laserdisc, where CAV could fit 60 minutes of footage on one side, and CLV could fit double the amount, but with lesser image quality overall.

Early DVDs were commonly either direct VHS or LD rips, and it took well into mid-2000’s companies to put out proper digital remasters that could rival the CAV LDs. It’s not too uncommon to see a DVD with less quality than LD if it’s not a digital remaster. It should be noted that the video a Laserdisc has is analogue, but it differs from VHS footage by simply being far more sharper. Higher end models could produce better quality, and using a CRT TV is recommended for this model.

On the sound on the other hand is superb all around. I’m using Onkyo TX-SR308 as my sound system, and with proper settings it offers better sound than our local movie theatre. It can be brutally honest with discs that have awful sound, but those with that have better audio sound absolutely fantastic, better than what most DVDs ever had. This is because LD could carry an uncompressed PCM digital audio at higher sample rate than DVDs. The aforementioned AC-3 format took advantage of this RF modulated audio, and receivers with their inputs slots could decode it into six channel audio. Even in stereo this model sounds absolutely fantastic, and I’m pissed off now that I can’t access the AC-3 audio.

During playback I don’t notice the loudness for this machine, which I guess means it’s pretty silent. Lately I’ve noticed that resonance happening when the disc reaches full spin, and I’ll have to take the top case off in order to secure whatever is causing the noise. I’ll take some pictures of the internals then.

The connectors in the back seem to be more or less a standard form for this price range; a standard Video Out, 2/R and 1/L Audio out, a SCART Out connector and a control In Out plugs. I’m using the SCART with a high quality cord, so I’m betting I’d get scorned by hardcore LD enthusiasts.

Am I satisfied with the 160€ I put into this one? Most certainly. For a well kept and maintained unit, this particular CLD-S315 plays things just right. All I need to do is to keep the discs in good shape for the player to play them, and if I end up upgrading to a higher end unit at some point, I’m sure to keep this one in good condition as well for possible future use.

LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison.
LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison. It’s as big as any of your standard size hipster LP, and twice the thickness. In short; these discs feel and look awesome

And before anyone mentions it; yes, I need to clean all that dust away.

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