Video Manufacturing - USA

Location Carson, CA USA
Operational Status LaserDisc Replication Off-Line

The beginning of an empire, part II. In 1981, when MCA DiscoVision closed its doors, Pioneer came in to pick up the pieces. The DiscoVision plant in Costa Mesa was closed permanently and the facility in Carson was closed for an extensive re-tooling. When the plant came back on-line, it produced disc of average quality. Many suffered from the normal range of DiscoVision defects including speckling, skipping and crosstalk. The entire Paramount catalog at the time was produced by the new Pioneer facility.

During 1982, Pioneer refined the Extended Play encoding routine, changing it from "CLV - Constant Linear Velocity" to CAA - Constant Angular Acceleration". This change was incorporated to help reduce track-to-track crosstalk. Phased in over the course of the year, the first disc to use the new process was the 20th Century Fox release of Star Wars. Until mid 1993, Pioneer flipped back and forth between CLV and CAA, sometimes using the two different processes on the same title. For example, on the initial pressing of Paramount's An Officer and a Gentleman, side 1 & 2 were encoded with CAA, while side 3 was CLV.

Quality improved at an even pace until 1984 when the black plague struck the LaserDisc industry. At this time, all major studios were pressing LaserDiscs with Pioneer, along with a huge line of industrial discs. This is when we discovered that LaserDiscs are not perfect. Discs which had been perfect the day they were purchased suddenly began to develop snow. Static crept into the audio. And it would have been okay, except that it got worse. As the disc aged, the colored speckles and bad audio became worse. By the end, the discs would often not play at all, or were unwatchable if they did. It is unclear who coined the term, but the new buzz word in the industry was LaserRot.

Getting a genuinely defective disc was bad enough, but now there were known good discs which were going bad on the shelf. To make a long story short, it appears that the glue used to bond the discs together contained some impurities which affected the reflective layer, causing it to loose its reflective qualities. The problem was very wide spread as it affected Technidisc and to a much lesser degree, Pioneer Japan. It's also hit and miss as to which discs go bad. For example, the entire pressing run of CBS/Fox's Fairy Tale Theatre series all rotted. Gone too are the Gold Classic II series of discs from Disney. All copies of the MGM/UA version of Octopussy failed utterly. It is important to note that not everything was affected, nor were all copies of suspect titles affected. I still own discs produced during this period which are still perfect, including "Xanadu", "Up the Creak" (a really great movie), and Mr. Mom (although, Mr. Mom was pressed in Japan).

By mid-85, the problem had been corrected for the most part. There were reports here and there of troubles, and one publication Disc Deals refused to let the topic die, devoting nearly half their 50 pages to the problem. The magazine was forced out of business because of the editor's unwillingness to stop beating the dead horse.

In 1985, Pioneer introduced the next great leap in LaserDisc technology. With the introduction of the Compact Disc in 1982, suddenly audio was sounding better than video. Pioneer answered this challenge by introducing a PCM carrier to the LaserDisc and the digital sound era was born. At the introduction, Carson was limited to encoding only 55 minutes of digital audio on Extended Play (CAA) discs. Any discs which demanded a side greater than 55 minutes in length was sent to Japan for mastering, which has already broken the barrier. By the end of 1987, Carson had incorporated the proper encoding techniques to allow the full recording time.

The years following were free from any new advancements in the platform in general. Pioneer continued to improve the quality of their equipment, reducing the defect rate to almost nothing. The number of titles increased steadily with video transfers and audio quality improving with each release. The 25th Anniversary Edition of MGM/UA Home Video's "Doctor Zhivago" was used for this scan to illustrate the mint markings of current Pioneer Video Manufacturing products.

In early 1995, Pioneer Carson began producing discs which included a Dolby Digital (AC-3) soundtrack. This audio carrier replaces the typical analog right channel on the LaserDisc with a modulated digital signal which can produce 5 full range discrete channels of audio with an additional limited frequency Low Effects or Sub-woofer channel. The Carson facility became the 2nd facility (behind Pioneer Japan) to provide this new sound format. In 1997, they also produced their first DTS Digital Surround audio disc, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Like Dolby Digital, DTS provides 5.1 channels of discrete audio, but it uses both digital audio channels instead of a modulated analog channel. This approach proves beneficial because of the increased bandwidth of the digital tracks, which provides over three times the data rate of the analog track, plus on LaserDisc players equipped with a Digital Audio output, there would be no modifications to the player required. A special LaserDisc player is required for Dolby Digital audio.

Sometime late in 1996, Pioneer began to suffer some setbacks. Discs produced by the Carson facility began to see an increase in the number of dropouts and speckles present - even on flagship THX certified titles. As time went on, the situation grew worse and worse, to the point where titles required exchanging several times before acceptable copies could be obtained. The transfers and masterings by Pioneer continued to be first rate, however the actual disc reproduction was suffering badly. By June 1997, the problem became so critical that THX pulled the pressing of Star Trek: First Contract from the facility. The title was delayed about 4 weeks while the pressing moved to Japan. This action by THX did prove beneficial although the recovery of the plant was slow. The quality of discs from Carson improved slowly.

Pioneer took a giant step forward in improving their quality by changing their plastics supplier. In late 1997, Pioneer began importing their raw materials from Japanese plastics giant Kuraray. Disc quality has improved markedly since this change and more new titles are released, the quality continues to improve. There is still some evidence of trouble from time to time as titles such as The Fifth Element from Columbia TriStar had some of the typical annoying defects seen earlier in the year.

With the continued advancement of the DVD format, the LaserDisc has taken severe hits in the number of titles being released and the quantities of discs produced. On October 1, 1999, Pioneer Video Manufacturing terminated LaserDisc replication in the United States. This effectively leaves only Kuraray and Pioneer Video Japan as the worlds only LaserDisc replication facilities.

Last Updated: October 13, 1999
Copyright ©1999 Blam Entertainment Group