Review of the Month; Pioneer LD-V4300D

A new Laserdisc player review nowadays is a bit of a rarity nowadays, but so are the people reading the reviews. For the interested, here’s a low-end user’s review of Pioneer’s LD-V4300D industrial Laserdisc player.

LD-V4300D, an industrial level Laserdisc player from UK working in the Nordics

Compared to the CLD-S315 I reviewed few years ago, this time I have a frame of reference of function and quality. Let’s start with the exterior, which is pretty much what you get here; a natural white box, weighing just below 13kg. There’s not much to see outside the front and the back. I don’t have a reason to open this one up at this point, but whenever I clean in from the inside sometime next year, I’ll be sure to grab some picture to update this post with.

But first, the LD-V4300D is an industrial player. It lacks the usual bells and whistles a consumer level players would have, like a front panel for information, CD-player function and such. However, the information from the panel can be accessed via the screen itself, to an extent, and everything with a disc drive can play CDs, this isn’t exactly a huge hurdle to get over. What its nature does affect is the design, which is hefty use of no nonsense decisions. It’s built like a steel house and made to last, its looks be damned. However, it does have its charm, and the control panel being slanted slightly upwards from the rest of the face does give it a feeling that everything was designed with a purpose over looks. It’s also rather large, hitting dimensions of 420 x 125 x 433mm, which means it has more depth that most players of its size.

For some of the important info bits out of the way; LD-V4300D plays both NTSC and PAL discs, and does not have a AC-3 output. However, if you can find yourself Pioneer DA-1 and connect it to the EFM port in the back, and you have yourself digital sound.The PAL and NTSC outputs are required to set from a separate selector as the player outputs pure signal rather than converting NTSC signal to PAL. The player also uses CX system, which is automated like always. Due to its nature as an industrial player, it plays both old LaserVision and newer LaserDisc discs.

Furthermore, the machine has a linear motor, meaning that unlike most models, this player is not belt driven. It does not flip sides, but that means there’s less parts to break. Whether or not this contributes to the player’s fast access speed to disc’s chapters, with CAV discs supposedly having one second search for any frame at 50 frame distance back or forth, and CLV maxing out at six seconds.

The buttons have a very satisfactory feeling, even after nearly thirty years of its production

The most important controls of the player are clustered to its one side. Open/Close, Play, the usual. Still/Step is frame perfect step back or forth with CAV discs, which Scan essentially being Chapter Skip. Display showcases info on the screen. PAL/NTSC button selects the region of the disc inside, which is indicated on the top with the lights, next to the remote sensor window. The Power button is a bit cumbersome to access, as it sits underneath the slant and needs to be pressed a bit deeper than you’d expect, but it does have a very, very satisfying physical switch feeling to it. Power indicator is on the other side of the player, seen in the larger front picture.

The Laser Barcode terminal just below the classy LaserDisc logo is a normal stereo mini jack, and could use either RU-103 remote or UC-V104BC barcode readers. The barcode readers could be used to skip directly to necessary bits on a disc during company presentation or education situation. In home use, it’s largely unnecessary dust hole that you can plug with a proper dust cover.

Heavy duty indeed

The back has the more interesting bits, to be honest. A hooded external power cord is required to power up this beast, and the player allows around 10% throw of current to either direction. The Voltage selector is a necessary thing, considering this piece was released for European market. Next to the power on the right we have C. Sync, with  75 ohm switch. This is useful if you need to use an external sync, but somehow I doubt most home users need that. It’s a V&H Lock anyway for CAV discs. Probably worthwhile in a studio environment, but no studio uses LD players anymore for anything.

But here’s we get video and sound. The V4300D offers three options to use; BNC, RC or D-SUB9 RGB. RC is the worst option of these, whereas BNC offers a high consumer level image similar to EuroSCART, with a better quality, from what I’ve seen. The RGB of course would yield the best possible quality, though I’ve been hard pressed to find a proper cable to test this out. Apparently, the RGB decoder this machine has is the same Sony V7021 that Commodore Amiga had, which gets an approval in my books. Currently, I’m running this on a BNC-to-SCART adapter cable, with two leads going to Left and Right audio at the other side of the machine.

The lack of AC-3 support is regrettable, but that’s what high-end consumer devices are for. However, as mentioned, the EFM socket there, with DIN connector, can output digital audio via aforementioned decoder. The sound quality is what you’d expect from stereo RC-jacks; they do their job. Could be better, but so could many other things in life.  The positive thing is that you can find anything that accepts these.

As for the RS-232C serial port, it’s best used with connecting to a computer terminal or if the player is used to play Laserdisc games like TimeGal or Dragon’s Lair. Apparently, with a proper ROM card like LaserAce you could switch the player into a dedicated game machine. Seeing Dragon’s Lair and its siblings have seen re-releases on PC, DVD players and God knows what else, there’s little reason to do this outside authenticity. I’d prefer TimeGal anyway. This is a considerable bonus, if you’re into LD games. The aforementioned RS232 interface, C. Sync and the EFM socket together could be used to make this player a proper LaserDisc game machine, but you’d need something like DA-V1000 LV-ROM adaptor in the middle.

A massive brick of a remote

The remote for the LD-V4300D isn’t the usual deal either. First, it didn’t come with the remote as a standard, you’ll need to buy it separate. Second, it feel very cheap and is lighter than it seems. The keys are membrane keys, but are clicky. Not the best feeling combination, or the most tactile, but it serves its purpose of keeping splatter and dust on the outside in industrial environment. The top has its usual IR window, but there’s another audio mini jack there, which you could connect to the player’s jack if you don’t have two AA batteries at hand. Some reports have mentioned that you can use other Pioneer LD remotes with the player, but CLD-S315 remote didn’t. The remote above isn’t the same as listed in the guides either, being model CU-113A, but appears to be the exact same as in the User’s Manual.

If you’re more interested in the technical aspects of the image quality, I’d recommend checking out Not On Blu-Ray’s more testific review. While it gives the player 3/5 result, for a general enthusiast who barely has access to LaserDiscs overall the LD-V4300D is a competent player. The lack of certain things, like a straight up SCART port, the image and sound quality are good. I’ve noticed that due to the better signal quality the image quality is better than with CLD-S135. The improvement isn’t world breaking, but notable.

This isn’t perhaps the best choice for anyone to pick up as a main LD player. However, it works great as a stopgag player if you can’t find a better one and simply need/want one. It’s more specialised ports and moddability (is that even a word?) does give it an edge to Dragon’s Lair and LD game enthusiasts overall. The player’s runs with a low noise as well. When starting to play, it has few good audible clicks, which all honesty are pretty satisfying. You don’t hear such things nowadays anymore.

In conclusion, a solid unit, but as a specialised player NTSC users may want to look for something better. As a PAL/NTSC combo, it’s probably one one of the better units out there with a relatively low price.

Child’s play

Video and computer games are almost the only form of escapist entertainment that puts a wall up and challenges you to do better. Movies, music, books and so on are passive entertainment in comparison, you’re just there listening or watching them. A movie doesn’t stop to tell you to do a task in order to continue the movie. A book doesn’t close itself and tell you to do a math problem in order to keep turning the page. Music doesn’t stop and tell you to solve a puzzle do keep it playing.

But a video game right up tells you to kick a boss’ ass in order you to continue.

This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when most mainstream and the most popular games had no end and the challenge came from advancing to the highest possible level while scoring. When people are talking about game length, they should try to play those fixed versions of Pac-man with infinite amount of levels. Should keep them busy.

Of course, this is all about game design. With games having a definitive start and beginning since, well, since the first computer role playing games, they have obstacles for the player overcome. Not to continue with the story, but to continue with the play.

Movies are a continuation of theatre culture. The only thing that really changed between the two is that now you have a camera to work with, and that little thing opened a whole new can of worms. That one thing changed how acting needed to be done, how sets were made and almost everything else. Similarly, as video games are continuation of children’s play culture (the same could be said of sports and other similar things) and kids like to play up to challenges, especially boys’ play culture.

It’s not any sort of surprise that video and computer games challenge us as people like to be challenged like that. We play against the dragon that threatens the safety and defeat it with valour and friendship and stuff, and that exact same thing is still carried over to electronic games. Monster Hunter is essentially the classic dragon slaying play with friends, just often lacking the whole castle and princess thing. That’s why we have Dragon’s Lair.

Laserdisc games are all the same with QTS, but goddamn they look pretty

The thing kids rarely do in their play is that they lose willingly. There is always some sort of victory or a well done task. All of it is very simple but rather creative, like knights defeating space pirates with the help of Lego men from the future. I’m pretty sure there was a dimensional robot dragon in there somewhere in that play. It wasn’t the Hunt for Red October in storytelling terms, just something the kids played for fun.

That it is exactly something that games seem to have moved away from. Games are for all ages, as all aged people still play. The plays may have changed in form and shape, but they always come back to the same basics. Games have become far more massive, far more demanding and incredibly more complex than necessary. Developing a Triple A game takes a half a decade now, and yet the game ends up being pretty much exactly the like the previous titles or its contemporaries. It’s still says a lot how 2D Mario makes more splash than its more complex 3D brethren.

An example of lack of challenge can be made between most Platinum games, like the recent Transformers Devastation and Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2. Both games are action games, but only one of these requires you to actually play along. You can play CLoS2 through without ever really grasping the finer aspects of the game to any extent. It’s cruising through the game without any worries. The first boss comes after a building high climbing and occasional fight sequences, until you’re to fight a boss that’s not really all that interesting. The game holds your hand on how to avoid everything. TF Devastation on the other drops a building high boss after small intro to controls and tells you to get good or forget about it. It doesn’t hold your hand after that and expects you to get along the ride. It’s simple and it poses a challenge. Just like kids playing with each other, TF Devastation throws you a challenge to beat it one better and to come up with something to overcome what it’s dishing out. CLoS2 is a like a lazy rich kid that tells what he wants to do, but ultimately you end up doing whatever hell you want.

One more thing that needs to be mentioned is that everyone has their own game they want to play. Now all kids want to play that simply because it may be lousy, uninteresting or anything else that people are just not into. The same applies with electronic games, which is a problem within the industry. Games have become a common commodity with little to no value, especially after companies started pushing out free games. You don’t only have insane amounts of games produced, but you also have far too many people working on games. The same problem is with the design industry.

The tipping point will come, where there will be too many games on the market and far too few people paying for them. After that we’ll most likely see more of the simpler games that don’t try to push the developers’ own unique vision on things.