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Pioneer CLD-1850

Pioneer’s replacement for the CLD­1750 is the CLD-1850, which offers most of the usual PAL/NTSC capabilities but drops the playback of analogue sound PAL discs. The price - £579.95 - is the same as before and just about the only new feature you get is a two-part loading drawer, the centre of which is dedicated to CD use to save having the whole thing push out just to load one of the smaller discs. This feature is brought into play by pushing the Direct CD button which then illuminates. In this mode all the video circuits are disconnected and Pioneer reckons the sound quality is improved as a result. 

However, for the bulk of people who have both analogue and digital audio PAL discs in their collections, the new machine is not a terribly exciting introduc­tion. Anyone looking for a basic PAL/ NTSC Pioneer player would be better of with last year's CLD-1750, though by October 1993 Pioneer UK reckoned it was down to its last 100 units. Effectively, Pioneer has said good­bye to the old technology; old, that is, if you think discs released only 4 years ago qualifies as old. It is mainly for this reason this review will be briefer.

 It's been enough of a shortcoming that none of the standard consumer combi players has incorporated CD+Graphics (which should have occurred as part of the CD-V Clip endeavour, to brighten up the visually dead portion of the disc) and possibly also CD-I/Video CD, though it may be too soon to embrace these as yet unproven formats. 

There is only one operational gripe about the machine worthy of mention: the slowest scan mode no longer offers a continuous image on screen. Instead one sees blank screens every other frame which is a strain on the eyes as well as less informative. There is an improvement to go with this, however, in that the sound is now audible at this slowest rate. The player has a similarly lightweight style of construction as last year's 1750 but, mechanically, runs a lot quieter.

The audio sounds perfectly reasonable but there are causes for concern over the video performance. There just isn't the detail in the 1850 picture that can be achieved with either the CLD-1450 or the CLD-1750, or come to think of it, most earlier Pioneer players going back to the old CLD-700. Pioneer can obviously make players that resolve all the required detail but chose not to here. It seems a mistaken decision.

Pioneer promotes the 16:9 button 

On both the new players Pioneer has put the 16:9 button for those as yet non-existent 'squeezed' wide-screen discs into a very prominent position on the remote. Why should it be doing this when there is so far no suggestion of such software being introduced. Pioneer UK says it will only release such discs when wide-screen TV takes off, which it consid­ers to be some time away Pioneer itself is not pinning to introduce any widescreen TV’s yet. 

All that makes a certain amount of sense but is there actually any need for widescreen TVs to justify the release of squeezed widescreen. The principle behind these discs is that the unused scanning lines above and below the image (the black strips) could be used for picture information. In manufacture the image is stretched vertically and spread over all the normally unused black. When played back the image is compressed back down to the correct height. The consequence is that maybe up to 100 previously redundant scanning lines are brought into use to generate the image, thereby increasing the vertical resolution. (You must have noticed bow vertical detail is sacrificed in widescreen movies.)

But if this is bow the squeezed laserdisc can be made to work there is, in fact, no reason to delay introduction to coincide with wide-screen TVs. Providing some black can be generated by other means to fill the top and bottom of the screen.

All the picture resolution advantages could be equally enjoyed on a standard 4:3 TV. Squeezed LD’s don't need widescreen TVs to be viable. What is needed to make them viable is to avoid any requirement for double inventory - to make both standard and squeezed versions of the same title. This is not economic and retailers would throw up their bands at such a prospect here in the UK where the product is hardly established as it is. However, if Pioneer fits the 16:9 button on all its players or TV manufacturers achieve the same result by putting the function on TVs for example, many new Sony TV’s do this), then it might be possible to introduce such a format without undertaking two-version release. The only consumers who would be inconvenienced by the new type disc would he those without either a switch on their player or their TV.

Analogue Sound Remedy 

Videotec has developed a modification for both the new Pioneer players to restore the analogue sound, which it is claimed does the job better than the usual quality of sound circuits in production players too. Audio improvements are often very difficult to pin down but it has become apparent that recent players do often have trouble with sibilance on analogue discs. This is one quantifiable problem that Videotec claims to improve by increasing the number of components it employs in its analogue soundboard. 

Videotec can also fix the video side of the new Pioneer players by installing its S-Video board (which needs to be used with an S-capable TV, of course) and, though the finished product has not been tried as part of this review, one could well believe the result to be closer to the normal expectation of LD quality.  

That aside, as far as off-the-shelf machines are concerned, neither of these new Pioneer models has impressed in respect of laser's most important feature -the detail and clarity of the picture.