Monday, July 8
Okay, this certainly isn't the norm for this blog, but it is an interesting curiosity on the grounds of home video history. In the early '90s several Japanese electronics manufacturers saw the potential in the then very early in-home HDTV market and devised a revised, Japan-only LaserDisc standard based on the "Hi-Vision" HD broadcast system in the country. The new standard greatly improved the video quality of "vanilla" 430i LaserDisc bumping up the resolution to around 1035i analog (versus today's 1080i digital HD broadcasts) along with anamorphic widescreen enhancement. The audio was also different, and this is where things got sticky, since one needed an HDTV, MUSE Hi-Vision LD player, and MUSE decoder box to decode both the picture and sound.
In other words; if standard LD was generally considered a rich man's video format, Hi-Vision LD was the top 1%'s format. All three equipment requirements were über-expensive at the time and the actual software wasn't exactly a bargain. The retail on this Cliffhanger LD is ¥20,000 or about $200USD in 1994 money. Ultimately; the overall cost, some lingering technical kinks (strange picture artifacts), and wavering quality between releases killed this variation of the format. Although Hi-Vision LD preceded Blu-ray, HD DVD, and even D-VHS as a format capable of delivering physical high definition media at home. The players, decoders, and titles (like Jurassic Park, T2, A River Runs Through It, and Lawrence of Arabia) still command a premium among collectors. Expect to still sink thousands and much patience into the venture just to get started.
Surprisingly, I managed to get this disc for essentially next to nothing (like, cheaper than the Blu-ray!). Aside from a bumped top right corner (argh), it's completely mint. The outer cardboard slipcover slides off to reveal a hardbound "book-style" digi-pak. The inset has a note from Renny Harlin and a gatefold insert with cast/crew information is included. The LD is even protected from the reverse side by a sheet of tissue paper. Certainly a very handsome package even though I can't even play it due to no player or decoder. Still I feel lucky and privileged to even own this piece and maybe some day I'll be able to actually watch it. Apparently this is one of the more easily found but better looking Hi-Vision releases.