By Evan Erwin | January 14, 2001

In the beginning… ^ Even in its infancy DVD was a robust, extraordinary film medium. It was cheap enough for the average consumer to afford yet held the ability to contain laserdisc-only content. Laserdiscs, large 12″ silver platters bought and viewed primarily by hard-core film fans, had several jaw-dropping Special Editions in its catalogue. Groundbreaking discs were produced by companies such as The Criterion Collection, Universal, and Disney. Criterion started the ball rolling by inventing the commentary track and original laserdisc-only documentaries. Universal began their laserdisc foray with bare-bones releases, but soon launched deluxe Signature Series discs. And Disney finally hopped aboard with extravagant Limited Editions of some of their best films, including many that will not see a DVD release for many years (“Bambi,” for example). Movie geeks everywhere loved laserdiscs for their clear picture, elimination of rewinding or fast forwarding, widescreen letterboxed video, and true digital surround sound. In the early 1990’s, to be a true film geek was to have a large laserdisc collection.
Around 1996, when DVD came along, film enthusiasts were divided: on one hand the format was seen as a gift from God; on the other movie buffs had already put fortunes into their laserdisc collections, and didn’t want to start the process all over again. It didn’t take long for the majority to decide. For less than half the size, a third of the price and with greater capacity than laserdisc, DVD was the clear frontrunner format. Though it took another year or two for laserdisc production to cease entirely, the framework of a new era of home video had already begun.
Warner and New Line were pioneers of early DVD. They embraced the format early, publishing titles quickly to provide a diverse selection. The early releases looked much like small laserdiscs: dual-sided with half of the film on one side of the disc and vice versa. Laserdisc counterparts paled in comparison with their limited space, noisy video and high price tags. Around this time the first DVD Special Edition made its way onto store shelves: New Line’s “The Mask: Platinum Series.” It was then the Special Edition DVD format came alive. Soon after dual-layered DVDs became the norm and Digital Versatile Discs began their domination.
But with all new toys a few fads must be introduced. DIVX, a pay-per-play service, was quickly rejected by the public. Full-fledged DTS soundtracks were also attempted, but required too much disc space to be economical. Soon afterward the DTS group cut its data bit rate in half, enabling the same DTS clarity with little sound loss. With the difficulties of a new medium now eliminated, the remaining studios wary of DVD finally joined the bandwagon. Soon after the home video world exploded with the fastest growing consumer product ever released, period.
DVD also featured something that continues to baffle many a consumer: anamorphic video. Anamorphic video was utilized a handful of times for laserdisc (such as in The Criterion Collection’s “Pulp Fiction” Box Set), but with limited storage capacity and the expensive high-end players required to showcase it, the feature just wasn’t cost-effective. The increased storage of DVD made this transition effortless and it instantly became the norm. With the ability to “squeeze” the image onto the disc and then uncompress it on widescreen (16×9) televisions, anamorphic video has delivered 30% more picture and striking clarity to new and old movies alike. VHS had never looked so bad.
Soon those laserdisc Special Editions were ported to DVD with better quality than ever before. The Criterion Collection quickly began transferring their catalogue, including the classic 3-disc “Brazil” that remains unrivaled in terms of quality and quantity. Universal began releasing Collector’s Edition discs that held the same, if not more, of the material included on their Signature Series (“Field of Dreams” for example). Disney recently introduced the first of their Platinum Edition DVDs, their laserdisc Limited Edition counterparts, beginning with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” New Line broke new ground with “Fight Club: Special Edition,” featuring a novel cardboard keep case and an astounding amount of extras. Anchor Bay crept onto the scene with limited edition tins, breathtaking transfers, and solid supplements for obscure films. Over the past four years everything DVD has just gotten bigger and better.
Get the rest of the story in the next part of THE DEATH OF THE SPECIAL EDITION DVD>>>

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