Weird Formats: Before The DVD, There Was The CDV

CD Video
This starting optical disc format overturned the world of home entertainment in 1986 and…what? You missed it?

Oh, but I used to be a bleeding edge kind of technology guy as a videophile guy with an abiding interest in the best quality available back then. I was always a ßetamax user, until S-VHS appeared and I could finally embrace the larger videotapes. But as a childhood reader of the Popular Science magazine my dad always subscribed to, I was well primed for the advent of video playback technology that used a laser to read an optical disc!

popular science laserdisc cover
Laserdiscs “just around the corner” in 1977… if you lived in Atlanta!

The players, after a decade of trying to figure out how to manufacture optical media, finally limped to the market to be sold in Atlanta in 1978 under the name Discovision®. Plans for 500 titles at the launch were whittled down to 50 but high video rollers were buying. MCA was the manufacturer, but in three years Pioneer would join the market to become the standard bearer of the LD format.

The MCA “Discovision®” title all had this “unzipped” cover art that was curiously 70% generic

Laserdiscs were…different. If you ever saw the Dali’s Car video for “The Judgement Is The Mirror,” then you saw Mick Karn memorably holding a Laserdisc in the clip as a signal mirror. They were the size of an LP, but mirrorlike, with up to an hour per side of 400i resolution, as they’d call it now. ßeta had 270i and VHS 220i, so this item was the ultimate in home video quality! The Laserdisc was an analog format with the video and audio [initially] being about FM stereo quality. Better than pre-Hi-Fi VCR audio by far, but not to CD standards. And the video was analog. Digital video did not yet exist [but was coming].

The CD came to market two years after the Laserdisc, and this was a digital audio only format. but since both were read by lasers, it was only a matter of time until some geeks figured out how to unite the formats and players. By 1985, the Laserdisc could now also have a digital soundtrack for the best sound in home video, even if the video was still analog. Here’s a helpful [if in the German language] depiction of all of the laser read optical disc formats of the mid-80s and a cheerful table of data..

comparison of early optical disc formats
The discs in gold contained video
FORMATVIDEOAUDIO
CD-3NO20 min.
CDNO74 min.
CDVYES – 5 Min.20 min.
LD-8YES – 20 min./side20 min./side
LDYES – 60 min./side60 min./side

The CDV was identified as just the thing to sell a single music video to the marketplace. The suggested list price was $9.98 in The States. The 5″ discs were gold colored, possibly for the best quality video playback [gold oxidized far less than aluminum, which was used on CDs] but also to differentiate them from normal CDs. The discs could have up to 5 minutes of analog video and 20 minutes of digital audio. Any CD player could read the audio portion, but the video portion was only readable in a Laserdisc player that was modern enough to have digital audio playback and a tray that had an indentation for CD-sized discs.

The US and Japanese markets produced CDVs that used the NTSC video format in those nations, and the UK and European [mostly Germany] market got PAL video on their discs. Presumably there might have been a French SECAM CDV market, [using the 3rd competing world video standard] but I could only find a single disc in Discogs. Most of the market was divided between Japan/USA/UK/Europe.

While I could play back the video on any US or Japanese CDV, I bought just as many PAL DVDs because the audio portion frequently contained rare tracks and remixes of bands I collected. And then the Japanese market went one step further with the VSD [Video Single Disc] format that only contained up to five minutes of video with nothing else! Here’s what’s in the Record Cell today.

ryuichi sakamoto - risky CDV cover art

Ryuichi Sakamoto

RIsky CDV

JAPAN | NTSC

audio: LP tracks from “Neo Geo”

video: “Risky” clip

david bowie - sound + vision plus CDV cover art

David Bowie

Sound + Vision Plus CDV

US | NTSC

audio: three live tracks only on this disc

video: “Ashes To Ashes” clip

visage mind of a toy CDV cover art

Visage

Mind Of A Toy CDV

UK | PAL

audio: three 12″ remixes

video: “Mind Of A Toy” clip

level 42 - lesson in love CDV cover art

Level 42

Lessons In Love CDV

UK | PAL

audio: three 12″ remixes

video: “Lessons in Love” clip

New Order - true faith CDV cover at

New Order

True Faith CDV

UK | PAL

audio: one 12″ remix, one 7″ remix, one B-side

video: “True Faith” clip

level 42 leaving me now CDV cover art

Level 42

Leaving Me Now CDV

JAPAN | NTSC

audio: three 12″ remixes

video: “Leaving Me Now” clip

level 42 - somethiing about you CDV cover art

Level 42

Something About You CDV

US | NTSC

audio: two 12″ remixes, one B-side

video: “Something About You” clip

donald fagen new frontier CDV cover art

Donald Fagen

New Frontier CDV

US | NTSC

audio: one 7″ edit, one LP track

video: “New Frotnier” clip

front 242 - headunter CDV cover art

FRONT 242

Headhunter CDV

US | NTSC

audio: one 12″ remix, one 7″ remix, one B-side

video: “Headhunter” clip

the lilac time - return to yesterday CDV cover art

The Lilac Time

Return To Yesterday CDV

UK | PAL

audio: one 7″ remix, three B-sides

video: “Return To Yesterday” clip

randy newman - I love L.A. CDV cover art

Randy Newman

I Love L.A. CDV

US | NTSC

audio: two LP tracks

video: “I Love L.A.” clip

roxy music virginia plain CDV cover art

Roxy Music

Virginia Plain CDV/VDS

JAPAN | NTSC

audio: nothing

video: “Virginia Plain” live TV performance video

That last disc above was possibly the final CDV that I remember buying. The Video Single Disc was usually some Classic Rock Band® performance from television from the early 70s, but this one was crucial. Roxy Music performing “Virginia Plain” live on Germany’s “Beat Club” and while I’d seen clips of this elsewhere, this was the best quality I could see at the time. It was some time in 1993 that I can recall seeing this one in a catalog.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that something so obscure and niche as Front 242’s “Headhunter” CDV was ever produced! As a technological artifact, it possibly can’t be beat as the CDV of the grainy Anton Corbijn super 8 video of the band was probably the ultimate expression of the band’s technology fetish, as applied to a once advanced, but now vastly obsolete video carrier format.

Flukes like the F242 notwithstanding, the US market was largely down to two genres of music: R+B and Heavy Metal. The preponderance of those two genres on CDVs in the US was interestingly enough, down to the A+R proclivities of Polygram Records, which were strong in those markets and heavily represented on the format. Polygram was owned by Dutch Philips, who helped to develop the LD [and CD] formats, so naturally, they promoted IP they controlled in the new format.

Things were different in the UK and Europe. With Dance Music being a big thing. There were several Yello CDVs, that I would have bought on principle at the time as I collected everything Yello through the early 90s. But a glance at the five CDVs revealed mostly album tracks and no remixes I didn’t already have on CD singles. Discogs lists about 650 CDVs and the discs were always a super niche product that never had mass appeal. There are still a few out there with some nice mixes I’d like like the “Walk The Dinosaur” UK CDV.

The CDV pretty much died out by 1990 and the next time we saw a 5″ optical disc with video on it was the Video CD format, popular in Asia through the 90s and ‘naughts. Which contained digital video in MPEG-1 format, so the quality was about VHS, or 220i. I’ve never seen any VCD produced for the US market, outside of karaoke discs, maybe. And even those might have been Asian imports. I only ever bought a single VCD, which I later found out was a pirated copy of JAPAN’s “Oil On Canvas” home video since that was the first time I had seen the title in any format since the early 80s. It looks very mushy, but the whole show, for those familiar with it, is shot with a diffuser over the lens to specifically make it look soft focus. Mushy was baked into its DNA.

japan oil on canvas VCD cover art

JAPAN

Oil On Canvas VCD

PIRATE | NTSC

audio: nothing

video: the “Oil On Canvas” home video which was probably digitized from VHS from the look of it

1997 saw the DVD happen and pretty much take over home video playback for a generation, but even now it’s fading out like anything else you can hold in your hand. The future of video and music is now streaming [from The Man] and with it comes the death of the notion of collecting music. Now there’s a sobering thought.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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30 Responses to Weird Formats: Before The DVD, There Was The CDV

  1. thxdave says:

    I think the debut of Laserdisc/DiscoVision was in 1978 at Rich’s Department store in Atlanta.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      thxdave – Welcome to the comments! I knew it was some Atlanta department store they picked for the initial splash but I had mis-remembered the year as 1980. You can remember the chain? Nice brain you’ve got there! About 1983 I saw that LD was sort of “sticking” in the marketplace and I made plans to jump in at some point. This was down to 1988 for me as I had to have the earning capacity to make this move. That was the year I started developing software.

      Like

      • thxdave says:

        Been a long time since you and I corresponded about WORJ….many years! I got into LD in 1985 when the players got down to a price I could afford (LD-838). I had friends who were into Betamax almost from the rollout and they got into LD in the late ’70s. I was always a bit late to the party!

        Like

  2. I lived with a guy in my Unidays who had a back projection Widescreen TV and about 100 Laserdiscs before we were even done with Pam and scan VHS. It was brilliant

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      steveforthedeaf – Then you were rocking home theater to the max at that point, my friend! I still have a working LD and a few hundred LDs but when I stopped watching TV in 1993, my years of high-end video basically stopped. I didn’t jump into DVD until 3-4 years after the debut. I just bought a [dumb] flat screen HDTV [1080i] this year since Ms. Monk was seeing that all the movies we wanted to see were streaming only these days. Prior to that we were still on CRT!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bridget says:

    Timely post…I inadvertently purchased an HD-DVD of Blade runner…would not play in my CD/DVD/Blu-ray player…and an HD DVD player is only to be had on eBay for $200 or more….as for physical media going away, uhhhhh, I say universal single finger salute to that. After taking a copy right class learning more about ‘leasing’ electronic content versus owning it and then seeing Amazon in a fight with a publisher erase e-books that people had purchased, I made a decision I would own physical copies of things I liked and wished to keep. It’s nefarious the way this ‘leasing’ can be manipulated as well as end up inflating lifestyle costs. Moreover, by owning you are tipping some of that gargantuan balance the e-platform side has towards you, the little guy.

    I currently live in Europe-the first time I lived here, one of my colleagues said Disco never died here like in the USA….. so true. It is so odd to have experienced the different musical influences of the USA and Europe having lived in both places. It’s amazing I picked up on the UK new wave influence and liked it because it surely was not dominant where I lived: country and rock were the most dominant….

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bridget – I see you got caught up inadvertently…years later at that, in the dreaded Format Wars®!! I had forgotten all about HD-DVD. Indeed, I still don’t have Blu-Ray and only just got a [small, dumb] 1080i HDTV this year. The tendency to produce IP objects in non physical forms only exacerbates the problems inherent in Rentier Capitalism. Where control of access to ideas is the ultimate political and economic power. It’s nefarious, as you correctly point out. I also wonder about how culture will persist when it is no longer physically manifest and out in the physical world. I often joke about how future anthropologists or visitors to this future husk of a planet will be able to tell much about its former inhabitants thousands of years down the line when culture became entirely digital services. But it’s not funny.

      Like

  4. Tim says:

    In addition to the Sakamoto one that you have I also had Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier.” I may have had one more title that I didn’t see in your list but the memory is a bit foggy right now.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Good call there. You have reminded me that I also have that Fagen CDV but when I searched on the format in Discogs, I didn’t see the green dot to show it in my collection…because I never entered it like so many things! It’s one of the all time great music videos that used to get played by every guest V.J. on MTV. That also reminded me that I have another Warner Brothers CDV for Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”

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  5. jsd says:

    I was big on the laserdisc train in the 90s. One of my friends was dating a girl whose family owned the Criterion Collection so she got me loads of their stuff at insider prices ($10 per platter, flat rate. So a 6 disc package that retailed for $250 I could get for $60.)

    I sold it all a few years ago on craigslist. The guy who bought it was younger than me by a good 15-20 years. He said “wow, how did you get into this stuff?” I said “I was alive at the time, and it was all we had.”

    Like

    • Bridget says:

      That’s when you realize you are *old* – so many formats have come and gone and many times you can’t play what you have due to equipment non-availability or outrageous prices. I have a similar issue in my job of healthcare with regard to keeping some electronic physiological data viable for 20+ years for possible lawsuit issues. Fidelity of the data deteriorates while sitting around as well as every time it is ‘transferred’ to another media. Moreover, trying to keep equipment that is no longer supported by the manufacturer still working gets prohibitively expensive as well. It becomes a trade-off sometimes in terms of the financial analysis (risk analysis).

      In any case – sorry for the rabbit hole I’ve dived into. Frankly, I’m amazed that music has kept alive some of the older formats and people want them. My ears aren’t good enough now to ascertain all of the nuances of the analog formats over some of the digital, although, I suspect if I re-bought some killer speakers (the good ones the ex got) I might notice it….

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      • Nortley says:

        Yeah….too many format changes.

        It was during my college and early post-college years when CDs started taking over. I was a long time hold out, having my local record store special order me what I wanted on vinyl until vinyl was no longer available.

        So, I made the switch to CD which was annoying (and not just because of $18.98 list prices) but finally got there. Now I’m supposed to switch back to vinyl? No. It just isn’t practical for me these days. Now when I want new music I have to order CDs from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

        I can also remember when CDs had bonus tracks on them to entice you to make the switch. Now it is the vinyl that comes with bonus tracks and most CDs come with the absolute bare minimum in packaging.

        I have a decent DVD and blu-ray collection (many of them Criterion Collection titles) and now have to worry that these formats may get phased out. Not too long ago Samsung announced that it would no longer manufacture blu-ray players. Should I start panicking? Seriously. Should I?

        Planned obsolescence is one of capitalism’s darker sides.

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Nortley – That’s very alarming re: Samsung no longer manufacturing the hardware to play the next-gen video format, which I don’t even have yet! I just got an [old, dumb] HDTV this year, having previously lived comfortably with a CRT in the 21st century. My capitulation was down to my wife realizing that the films we wanted to see were rarely making it to DVD much less the theaters, since they were in many cases commissioned by the streaming services, not studios any more! The lockdown only exacerbated that, so now we bought an HDTV and AppleTV. It sounds like I had better invest in a Blu-Ray tout suite. One thing I have noted in 20 years of DVD ownership is that the players have become cheap and nasty with poor firmware/build quality. They tend to stop working after 5-7 years. My current DVD player truncates the first split second of every music CD track and woe betide you if the tracks are seamlessly segued together, as with live albums in particular as there’s a pronounced “notch of silence” between each cut. My wife and I have since switched to playing CDs on the laserdisc player which was a well-made Pioneer late model industrial kiosk unit.

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          • Nortley says:

            As casual look a while back indicated that it is kind of hard to find new CD players today. It seems that manufactures just figure you’ll get a DVD player and have it double as a CD player. Among the many problems with that notion is that they don’t make DVD players with display panels anymore, so good luck figuring out what track is playing.

            Onkyo still makes a 6 CD changer but it costs north of $300.

            Others are still making blu-ray players — most notably Sony and LG — but prices seem to be actually going up which is weird.

            Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – But the joy was when everyone else was stuck with VHS you were living the Criterion Collection life…and cheaply! My first LD was Criterion’s “Blade Runner!” That Criterion “Brazil” package is still my ultimate boxed set. I bought into LD in 1988 and I built a library of about 200 LDs. About one a week, and you’ll recall that while Warner Brothers LDs were $24.95, the Image titles were $39.95. With CBS Fox even higher! When you got a CBS Fox title in widescreen look out to pay $59.95! My music titles from Japan were the sacred jewels in my collection. Things like the Visage LD were holy objects to me that I watched endlessly.
      visage japanese laserdisc cover art

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Bridget says:

    PPM-I just purchased a region free DVD player that will play PAL/NTSC….I did it to play British TV series DVDs that have not been converted to NTSC. And one series I am going to buy is ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ the sequel to ‘Life on Mars.’ What you might find interesting about ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is the soundtrack-almost 100 % pure early 80s Brit Music that you and the rest of the gang here loves…there are three soundtracks. Maid of Orleans by OMD features on one of the episodes. Oh yeah……and this series is not in a US NTSC DVD version, only PAL…it was filmed and aired in 2008, so probably won’t be converted….

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bridget – I’ve always had multistandard video equipment since 1990! And back then it was not cheap! Every DVD player I’ve ever had was region-free multistandard. It’s the only way to go if you’re a music fan like me. I have so many PAL DVDs of crucial material. But my wife also got me the complete “Schitt’s Creek” which was available first in PAL for some reason.

      Like

  7. Tim says:

    “The future of video and music is now streaming [from The Man] and with it comes the death of the notion of collecting music.”

    I was reading a thread over at BluRay.com about the Critereon BL box set of Toho era Godzilla movies and some of the people talking over there were commenting about how Toho (which is much more than Kaiju, think Kurosawa, too) have essentially given up on physical media releases in Japan.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – So Toho Studios have abandoned physical media in Japan? That’s alarming, considering how for years Japan has been help up as the lone standard bearer market for physical media in the music realm. These are dark and troubling times in more ways than one.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I still have my LD player along with a bevy of discs. There are a number of titles that just haven’t been released yet on streaming (blech) or DVD/Blu–ray so I’m not giving them up yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. negative1ne says:

    hi Mr. monk,

    i too, am a technophile, that still clings to physical media in so many ways, and formats. and video is just one of them. i hung onto all my music laserdiscs (and a few movies), after getting rid of most of the movies, as i transitioned to dvd’s [never bothered upgrading to blurays, although i have a ton of cheap hd-dvds, which were the losing format in the HD video wars].

    i have been buying CDV, and occasionally a VCD every so often, as i go through my wishlists for groups. so far i have about 15 of them:
    ———————
    big country:
    in a big country (PAL)
    king of emotion (PAL)

    curiosity killed the cat:
    misfit (PAL)
    free (PAL)

    donald fagen : New frontier (NTSC)

    go west : dont look down the sequel (PAL)

    level 42:
    lessons in love (PAL)
    something about you (NTSC)

    this one is weird, i thought it was a laserdisc, but its classified as a 12 inch CDV on discogs:
    level best (NTSC), i’m not sure why its denoted that way. but it still plays on laserdisc equipment

    new order:
    true faith (PAL)
    blue monday 88 (PAL)

    tears for fears:
    everybody wants to rule the world (PAL)
    shout (PAL)
    head over heels (PAL)
    i believe (PAL)

    i like the ones that have extra mixes or b-sides, that were never released as regular cd-singles.

    there’s still a lot more on my list, that i will add to. also, there are 8 inch CDV also.

    later
    -1

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – The whole 12″ CDV branding started to get muddy when UK Polydor re-branded laserdiscs in the UK as CDV, due to the digital, CD quality soundtracks. Here’s the INXS UK LD of “In Search of Excellence.”
      INXS in search of excellence UK laserdisc
      It has gone all-in on the CDV branding, as we can see.

      In comparison, the US had a bigger Laserdisc market among videophiles [though still niche], so there’s only a single CDV logo on US Polygram’s LD of the same title.
      INXS in search of excellence US laserdisc

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Glenn says:

    The Cure released some interesting CDV titles including Close to Me with the extended mix on it as well as In Between Days with a couple of live tracks from The Cure in Orange live video. Another video that needs to be re-released on DVD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Glenn – Really? “The Cure In Orange” has never made DVD? That seems crazy! I remmeber that as being a big thing at the time as The Cure were starting to really take off. I used to have “Close To Me” CDV but sold it off when I was gunning for a MacPro in 2005. After all, I had “Connect the Dots” by that time mand Cure collectibles are very popular.

      Like

  11. I only own 5 CDV singles and of all 5 I’ve never been able to watch the video:

    Shakatak – Mr. Manic & Sister Cool
    Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
    Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
    Tears For Fears – I Believe (A Soulful Re-recording)
    Visage – Mind Of A Toy

    And I still think this is a fascinating format. Wouldn’t mind owning more CDV singles.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ronald Van Veen – Even though I had a multistandard TV and VHS, my LD player was NTSC only, so I could only watch the US/Japan CDVs. If I put a PAL CDV in the LD player, it played but you could see a B+W image that flickered a lot. Can’t remember if the audio played with the video or not. I’m so amazed that Polygram issued “Mind Of A Toy” instead of “Fade To Grey” for Visage.

      Liked by 1 person

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