LaserDisc UK Web Site



Pioneer CLD-A100 (LaserActive)

LaserActive - August 1993 Japanese Launch
LD's answer to CD-I?

The archive site has a copy of the Operation Manual for the CLD-A100 PAC-S1. Please see the manuals page. 

Pioneer's LD-based computer game format, LaserActive, was launched in Japan on August 20th. The US is expected to follow on before the end of the year. Pioneer describes LaserActive as an "in­teractive home-entertainment system" that is based around a new Y89,800 modular comb player, the CLD-A100.  

NEC also cloned the A100 and launched the player as the NEC PDE-LD1.

A front panel recess (bottom left-hand corner, behind a flap) is designed to accommodate plug in modules, three of which have so far been announced. The Y39,000 PAC-S1 is required for SEGA Mega discs, the Y39,000 PAC-N1 for NEC system discs and the Y20,000 PAC-K1 is for karaoke. Each of the modules has the ability to decode CD+Graphics. The SEGA and NEC modules will play existing CD and cartridge games as well as Pioneer have newly developed LD-based ones. The August player launch was accompanied by five Y9,800 laserdiscs with five more planned by October. By the year-end Pioneer expects to have 17 LaserActive titles available. 

Where Pioneer believes it has a technological advantage over CD games is with the vastly increased data capacity available on laserdiscs. No matter how they are configured, any programme or game fitted on to a CD is limited to 540 megabytes of data. For audio only this will result in the familiar audio CD with a playing time of up to 80 minutes. If the CD is used for still images up to 7,000 can be stored at full bandwidth. The new Video CD off-shoot of CD-I promises 72 minutes of moving video but only by vastly reducing the bandwidth and conse­quently the reality of the images. A standard NTSC digital audio laserdisc on the other hand, has this 540 megabyte data store exclusively available for full band­width audio and can still offer 54,000/108,000 full bandwidth stills (or the equivalent 30/60 minutes moving video) CAV/CLV. On top of that, the FM analogue audio channels can be brought into use for high quality audio. All these capacities are for just one side of the LD. Whereas a CD programme is severely limited by the data capacity of the small disc, the LD has abundance of the same.

That the picture on LD is still analogue based is often given as a reason for the trend to digital video on CD as the latter is more simply integrated into the computer environment. Once data is digital it becomes more easily moved about and adaptable, but digital encoding remains data intensive and so with a 'closed' application (i.e. one that functions as a self-contained system without need to interconnect) like a games system, the analogue LD still has a lot going for it. Pioneer doesn't exclude the possibility of digital video in the future, though, and there will very likely be further modules compatible with CD-I/Video CD and others. Pioneer has recently announced a set of data compression chips that would seem ideally suited to such applications (see story elsewhere).

Beyond the appeal of games being added to the combi concept, Pioneer predicts LaserActive could be equally turned to electronic publishing (for exam­ple, image databases) and education. In some ways, many of the benefits of LaserActive have been available on LD before but often tied to specific computer systems and designed for specialised applications. Something like the UK Domesday AIV disc should be attainable with LaserActive but at consumer prices. 

Initial LaserActive Discs 

Pyramid Patrol - A Mega-LD 3-D shoot- 'em-up set on Mars in the near future. The participant sees the planet from the cockpit of a space fighter and has to engage approaching enemies. The game has seven rounds with the spacecraft being able to absorb a certain amount of damage before the game is terminated. The high quality computer graphics and extremely fast scrolling background are claimed to match arcade game standards. [Publisher: Taito] 

The Great Pyramid - Is a moving video encyclopedia for the Mega-LD module. (But what a confusing choice of title; surely out of five launch titles they could have managed better than have two of them with pyramid in them?) This is a 4,000-year history of Egypt focusing on the pyramids, pharaohs, Egyptian gods and mysteries of the civilisation. The disc is accessed by clicking on on-screen icons. [Pioneer] 

I Will - An interactive movie with much of the footage shot in London. Professor

Ozone’s new inventions are stolen and the player must track down the culprit. The disc can switch between maps of the city and footage of the actual location. The disc is bilingual (Japanese/English). The second side comprises a guided tour of England in the standard LD format with a narration by Japanese actress, Hideko Hara, [Pioneer] 

Quiz Econosaurus - For the NEC module, this Hudson Soft produced game is in a quiz format that up to four people can play. It has an ecology theme and is based on the Ryo Hondo comic Hideko Hara [Pioneer]. 

The Demon's Judgment - Another one for the NEC nodule, it is again a quiz game. Demon Kogure a popular Japanese rock star, acts as host and passes judgment on the participants. There are 20 themes with a total of 100 questions. The target audience is a large gathering rather than just one or two players. [Planet] 

Angel Mate - Strip poker in which the participant takes on three porno actresses at either poker or roulette. Every time the player wins a hand the actresses sheds an item of clothing The film footage is 35mm originated thus ensuring high quality visuals. Innovative use of lighting and clever angles give an interac­tive feel" says the publicity material! Angel Mate is targeted at an adult audience, one that will have the NEC module too. [Planet] 

High Roller Battle - An aerial battle game for the Mega module. The explosions are encoded in Dolby Surround to add realism. [October release - Pioneer].

Manhattan Requiem - Is an interactive adventure with a mystery storyline for the NEC. The task is to unravel the plot through conversations with 40 characters. The on-screen text can be switched between Japanese and English [October release: Riverhill Software]. 

Varja - An NEC 3 D shooting game featuring high speed high quality compu­ter graphics and which claims to achieve a level of virtual reality not previously seen in home video games.  It takes place in Geopolis, a floating city in Osaka Bay with the players piloting Vajra, a flying robot created by ancient telekinetic pow­ers. Vajra must combat Kugutsuki demons that have been re-incarnated. [October release – Pioneer] 

Space Berserker - Another space shooting game with humans battling aliens in the year Omega 193 (that's next Thursday week in old money). [October release - Pioneer]. 

To further stimulate LaserActive develop­ment, a Multimedia Creators Network has been established the first fruits of whose work should appear in December. The idea is to combine the diverse talents of game specialists, moviemakers and academics to develop new themes and programmes Three titles are currently in development. 

3-D Museum - A museum style database of 3-D worlds created by a combination of computer graphics, film footage and 3-D audio. The programme is making use of both Japanese and American talent. [Provisional December release.]

Melon Brain - The title is a reference to the melon-shaped brain that it is unique to dolphins. Dr John C. Lilly a leading authority on dolphins. Bob Talbot a top underwater cameraman, and Estelle Myers, the Australian dolphin researcher are putting together this interactive programme. [Provisional February 1994 release.] 

Goku - The world's seven great civilisa­tions are investigated in this edutainment programme produced in conjunction with NUK Enterprises. Kadokowa Shoten Pub­lishing and Dai Nippon Printing. [Provisional May 1994 release]. 

A PAL LaserActive? 

Undoubtedly. if the LaserActive con­cept proves a commercial success it will find its way to Europe too. At best that's unlikely to be before the end of 1994. possibly, later. What remains to be answered is whether Pioneer will attempt to produce PAL format LaserActive discs. There are problems. To begin with, the PAL LD standard is either analogue or digital audio based, but not both as is the case with NTSC. Therefore one of Laser-Active’s features is immediately out the window.

An additional problem might be with converting existing games to PAL. Here in the UK we have experienced this barrier before when Pioneer introduced its MSX format PX-7 computer, one of the features of which was the ability to control specially made arcade-type games, such as the Strike Mission disc illustrated. While Pioneer strongly intimated these discs would appear in PAL format they never did. Part of the reason could well have been the low take-up of the computer itself but there was also a suggestion that the conversion work necessary was pro­hibitively difficult and/or expensive. Un­like a normal linear video that just needs to be run through a standards converter (albeit with a degradation in picture quality), the computer related coding of the games and the fact that the discs were 30-frame based apparently proved too much of an obstacle. 

It will be interesting to see whether Pioneer has found a way round this impasse. Alternatively, it could just intro­duce LaserActive as an NTSC-based format in the first place, thereby avoiding any such problems with programme inter­change. By the looks of it, several of the initial LaserActive discs have been desig­ned for the English, or more accurately, American in speaking market. 

As a guide to the probable UK cost of LaserActive the Y89,800 that the CLD­A100 sells for is approximately Y89,800, more than a basic LD/CD combi in Japan. If the same percentage increase applies here this doesn’t t sound too bad, but the Mega and NEC modules could well translate to £250 each which is inure intimidating, especially as the player and one module together will result in a hardware cost nudging £1,000. The Y9,800 L LaserActive LDs run about twice the price of a budget movie or premium pop music release in Japan, so for the UK something around £40-00 would seem likely.

These goggles are used for LaserActive games like 3 D Museum, Melon Brains and Goku, but they can be used with any adapter that accepts a 1/8" plug, so can be used with 3D DVD's and VHS tapes as well as the Sega Master System games.

Pioneer did not package the GOL-1 goggles with the ADP-1 adapter, that was a separate item. I use an adapter from that taps into the composite video out on DVD players and VCR's, and this adapter works fine on the CLD-A100 LaserActive player with the 3D LaserActive LaserDiscs.