Adventures in Laserdisc and Pro Logic, Part 1: Mortal Kombat

January 23, 2020 | By

Way, way back in November of 2019 I posted on Instagram a set of stills from a setup I rigged to enjoy a laserdisc in Dolby ProLogic through my quite humble 5.1 setup and flatscreen monitor. The blog elaborating on the setup and the experience of watching Mortal Kombat (1995) sort of got buried on a hard drive during Xmas.

Now, in July of that year,  dragged my Pioneer CLD-3090 out of storage, and had two goals: a) get audio & video playback from a machine that quite literally hadn’t been used in a good 10 years, and b) digitize some footage using an iMac at the capture point.

It is amazing the player still works (fingers crossed), and it was really heartwarming to hear these classic sounds of the machine turning on and whirring to life:


CLICK the still to watch the short Instagram clip of the Pioneer turning on.


There are plenty of videos and text pieces on the history of the laserdisc format, so I’m just going to get to the meat, assuming you know a bit about the format to begin with, or had a player during the pre-DVD era of home video after CED had died, and the playing field consisted of VHS, SuperBetamax, and laserdisc.

Like several early DVDs, laserdiscs offered non-anamorphic widescreen films, meaning the widescreen image was framed with black bars above & below so that you could watch the movie in its original ratio on a conventional 4×3 square CRT monitor. As widescreen TVs debuted, anamorphic transfers quickly became the standard; the image was designed to fit 16×9 monitors and sets, which rendered the old 4×3 sets redundant.

There were widescreen CRT sets, but they were far more costly and were ostensibly transitional products, aimed to fill a niche spot as prosumer & high end users waited for the best flat screen 16×9 sets to become the dominant force (and cheaper).

Both later 4×3 and widescreen CRTs often featured RGB outputs which where cleaner than composite and S-VHS aka Y/C signals, and some late-term models had HDMI inputs for what could be pegged as giant computer monitors that were outfitted with TV tuners, and multiple multi-format inputs for lower resolution, consumer gear.

The laserdsisc was rendered redundant as soon as the DVD and LCD & plasma sets debuted, but there were late-term efforts to goose the format. 2-channel stereo was superseded by Dolby Pro Logic (a matrix that folded out directional tracks to evoke a 4.1-channel centre / subwoofer / front & rear surround image), after which came Dolby AC3 (actual discrete offerings of a 5.1 image) and rival DTS 5.1.


Stock shot of the beastly Pioneer VSX-9700S courtesy of


The Pioneer VSX-D1S monster and its very rectangular remote.


My old A/V amp was a Pioneer VSX-9700S, which now sells for a few hairs above $100, but brand new cost almost $1300 in 1990. It was a beast, but could only decode Pro Logic. After the power supply died in the early 2000s, it was eventually replaced with a monster gifted to the Hasonian by a client, a Pioneer VSX-D1S, which also offered only Pro Logic, but if you removed the U-bars at the rear, you could bypass it’s pre-amp to control the speakers and enjoy actual discrete 5.1 as sent from another transitional device: a separate decoder that spat out 5.1 via RCA jacks. Connect those to the D1S’s inputs, and using the decoder’s volume, you had true 5.1.


The Technics SH-AC300 – decodes AC3, but not DTS.


The SH-AC500D and its wee wittle wemote which decodes AC3 and DTS, generously donated to the Hasonian by Gary & Ayami.


My first decoder was a Technics SH-AC300, which only offered AC3 decoding; the upper tier SH-AC500D handled AC3 and DTS under one roof. (Up until 2015, I’d never had a subwoofer.)

Additionally, both Pioneer amps handled a ridiculous array of inputs – 3 VCRs, laserdisc, TV, and an extra video, plus Tape 1&2, line, CD, phono, and tuner – and offered clean sound all around, plus some punchy power. Most who find one of these monsters curbed or snag them off Ebay are surprised by the power & clarity of these beasts, and to some, they remain Pioneer’s last great and beautiful A/V amps. (Note the cool black metal, the big visual displays and pulsing amber meters for all major audio tracks.) But these were all pre-RGB and pre-HDMI amps, so once again, there were limitations in having just straight composite and S-VHS plugs.

Using older gear with a RGB projection system could be had using an upscaler – a device that accepted component, S-VHS, and RGB from a computer or other source, and spit out a converted signal for whatever higher resolution display was being used.

Higher-end projection systems may have required separate RGB + horizontal and vertical sync, and the connectors were often BNC rather than RCA.

Upscalers had drawbacks in that they didn’t make a lo-fi signal better – they couldn’t – so at best, you ended up with a softer image which, depending on the display’s resolution, might look okay in 720p, or dirty in 1080i or 1080p.

Consumer laserdiscs were designed for home use – spanning basic, middle, and videophile tiers – not theatrical playback, so there are limitations built into what was still a high-end format. On a CRT monitor, lasers looked great and blew VHS out of the water. On a 1080p monitor… not so great… since the CRT phosphors added a higher degree of brightness and brilliance which arguably masked the format’s limited resolution.

VHS clocks out at roughly 200i; S-VHS, Hi8, and laserdisc around 425i; a progressive anamorphic DVD is 450p, so it’s easy to see why legacy formats were doomed once people grew accustomed to the sharpness, stability, and discrete sound options of DVD.

(Small side note: the Japan-only MUSE system was an attempt to boost the content density and quality of video on laserdisc. Techmoan’s two-part examination is a great intro & outro to this high-end format which is coveted by niche collectors.)

Moreover, while laserdiscs offered a maximum of 2 analogue and 2 digital audio tracks and burnt-in subtitles for foreign films, DVDs had more storage capacity for several foreign audio dub and optional subtitle tracks. The once-prized Japanese laserdisc releases of rare films lost some of their lustre when a foreign film could be played with English subs and no burnt-in Japanese subtitles.

So, going back to the two queries at the top of this piece, Can one get a clean laserdisc transfer to a hard drive, and Can one watch a laserdisc on a 1080p monitor as an upscaled anamorphic image?

I’ll start with the second question first because it answers the more direct issue of format connoisseurs wanting to enjoy the giant silver platters on their existing HD setups, but I’ll use my weird series of workarounds and compromises before I give my subjective conclusion.

For the test, I chose Image Entertainment’s laserdisc of Mortal Kombat because it’s a film I remember looking good and sounding great on my old system, and here’s the patching I used:


The Sony DSC-1024HD is both an upscaler and a PAL-NTSC standard converter, with composite, SVHS, and RGB inputs & outputs.


For Video: I sent the S-VHS video from my Pioneer CLD-3090 into a Sony DSC-1024HD, an upscaler that also supports converting PAL-NTSC and visa-versa. The laserdisc’s non-anamorphic image wasn’t upscaled, but stretched until I had a 1.85:1 anamorphic image – a pretty easy & near-seamless process.


The Pioneer laserdisc resting below the Sony upscaler.


MORTAL KOMBAT on laserdisc, stretched to fill the 1.:85: LCD screen.


The DSC then output the non-upscaled NTSC image to a Toshiba DR-7 DVD recorder, which can output video via HDMI to an LG LCD, and upscale it as 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. Again, I chose to stick with 480p to avoid that softness.

Why not upscale the image? Because while it appears a little cleaner and the colours are slightly more stable, you’re also trying to increase information where there’s very little or none. For example, when characters arrive at a dock to board a boat, a blue spotlight flips twice across the screen, and when upscaled, the DSC and Toshiba attempt to add more detail to the blue light splatter, but the results are a splotch resembling a jpeg that’s similarly upscaled, but lacks detailed gradations as the blue disappears into black.

Even when outputting an upscaled RGB signal from the DSC to the LG monitor directly, the lack of detail in the upscaled video does affect high contrast areas, especially blues and reds. I tried 480p via the Toshiba instead of the DSC because it’s circuitry is designed to handle rubbish video, and that seemed to do a decent job. The DSC’s RGB output would’ve been a little cleaner, but I opted for the lesser to see how bad is bad.

Another issue with the laserdisc signal is that it isn’t perfect; the consumer player has no sync in or out; and adding blackbust to the DSC (of which the 1024HD as a sync in for genlocking) to feed it a clean stable sync signal does nothing when playing back on the LCD monitor.

A Time Base Corrector might help, but TBC’s don’t always output a clean, stable signal if the signal has flaws the TBC wasn’t specifically designed to tackle. I had a FOR-A TBC that gave variable results with VHS tapes, whereas the TBC in my friend’s Panasonic (or was it JVC?) editing decks were amazing in transforming crappy signals into something markedly cleaner.

As for audio, here’s a more ridiculous patching scheme I chose, because each component in the current workflow isn’t perfect.

The Toslink out from the laserdisc player is decoded by a Technics SH-AC500D as Pro Logic, and using its 6 RCA outputs, the de-matrixed audio is sent to a basic Logitech 5.1 desktop setup using its analogue mini connectors. It’s a small system for a small room, rather than a beastly setup that would be overkill and be a mess with reflected audio in such a small space.

The results were decent Pro Logic – the Logitech subwoofer has a good range – but herein lies the chief problem when trying to replicate, or rather, recapture the sweet sound of the memory from a system and setup that for many isn’t possible in a tight housing market.

Years ago, I rented a fully detached house and had no problem watching laserdiscs LOUD (albeit without a subwoofer). When using a vintage system in a room that has the space, resonating wood, carpeting, and shape of a mini-theatre, Pro Logic can sound impressive, even though the audio isn’t discrete 5.1 by any means.

My old setup was the Pioneer VSX-9700S using its included Pioneer centre channel speaker, two Celestion DL-12 towers for front surrounds, and two Cerwin-Vegas for the rear surrounds. For a living room, these were perfect, but for a bedroom-sized area, that’s a big nope, hence the lesser-tier Logitech setup which obviously can’t replicate the spatial sweetness of a bigger room. A good-sized entertainment room is a rarity in large cities where condos are being built with combined kitchen-dining room-living room shoe box rectangles, and highly reflective floor-to-ceiling windows and cheap wall matter; basement apartments tend to be temporal units with wafer-thin drywall, and ceilings lacking sound-proofing material.

You can also argue discrete 5.1 using a smaller audio setup works better in small spaces because the channels are discrete, whereas Pro Logic can sound like a mush when the environment lacks the depth and footage which compliments big speakers.


MORTAL KOMBAT’s Sonya Blade demonstrates a first-rate Thwack! to the noggin’.


So how did Mortal Kombat measure visually?

The experience of watching a laserdisc on a LCD screen in 480p was soft and a little messy, partly due to secondary issues inherent to the format and players. The glue that binds the two sides of a laserdisc can rot, resulting in dropouts, and the flaws in a transfer can similarly be enhanced by a higher res monitor that’s already trying to display a lo-fi image.

When spotted in assorted posts and groups, it seems my Pioneer 3090 model has a sketchy record – some regard it as a lemon in spite of costing around a grand when new. It has digital freeze and frame-by-frame shuttle, and the optical head will rotate so you don’t have to get up, eject, flip the disc, and hit play again, but there are piquant comments of its less than ideal picture quality.

Early into its life, I had the optical head on my Pioneer replaced when it started to add herringbone noise in the picture, and decades later, the noise issue seems to appear near then end of Mortal Kombat Side A. This may be due to a poor video master and / or replication by Image Entertainment, or the player proper, but the only way to determine what’s at fault is to play a variety of CLV and CAV discs to see if the noise stems from the player itself.

During the film’s flame-drenched Main Title sequence, the reds are a bit messy, but that was often a problem when watching composite and S-VHS video – reds could smear. Component RGB is less nasty, but again, it depends on the player and the media. My player is from 1990, and it’s quite frankly a miracle it not only works, but the rotating head still functions, so I’m stuck with it (unless a late-term, higher end model drops into the lap that is the Hasonian).


Dolby Pro Logic may be an outmoded matrix, but it can pack a punch, due to laserdisc’s still laudable audio dynamics.


So how did Mortal Kombat perform in Dolby Pro Logic?

In the audio realm, Toslink seems to sound better than the stereo RCA outs (which would still need decoding from the Technics or the aforementioned Pioneer amps to get clean Pro Logic. Note: neither Pioneer amp features a Toslink input).

Mortal Kombat was released as letterboxed laserdiscs twice – as a DTS disc, and as a Pro Logic & AC3 disc (which is what I have). DTS, like AC3, requires a demodulator because the digital stream is too big and needs to be knocked down for a decoder like the Technics to read it.

So, if your player has straight right-left RCA audio outputs and a Toslink output, both spit out only stereo and Pro Logic, not AC3 nor DTS. Some have successfully modded their player’s board to enable the outputting of the AC3 stream via an RCA connector, but whether you have a model that can be modded or have a model with a factory installed AC3 output, you need that demodulator.

DTS, in turn, requires more space, hence separate pressings of Mortal Kombat. According to the, the DTS edition features mono audio on the analogue left, and the producer’s commentary on the analogue right, and both digital tracks hogging the DTS 5.1 mix, whereas the AC3 / ProLogic edition has Pro Logic on the the digital tracks, the producer’s commentary on the analogue left, and AC3 on the analogue right.




Space issues for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS also existed with early DVDs, hence separate Dolby and DTS DVD editions of Dances with Wolves (spread over 2 discs) and several other releases, like The River Wild (1994). It was only when a patented codec that offered a compressed DTS track was licensed that DVDs began to (finally) feature both Dolby and DTS tracks, like Fox’s line of Die Hard (1988) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

So in answering Question #2, the experience of watching Mortal Kombat in what’s inarguably a convoluted but not altogether preposterous setup failed to capture both the nostalgia and the oomph of Pro Logic in a house for reasons of gear, space, environment, and the inability of the current digital gear to be kinder to lo-fi vintage gear.

In way, perhaps the best solution is to follow the strategy of gamers who build systems with the endpoint being a standard def PVM monitor that’s high quality but has the brilliance, colours, refresh rate, and pixels for which their vintage were designed. Watch laserdiscs on the biggest / best CRT you have (or a projector that’s kinder to displaying 425i), in a proper living / entertainment room with similar period A/V amplifier and speaker setup – a reasoned arrangement not unlike playing records with a vintage tube amp and speakers whose power matches the qualities of the amplifier and listening room.

I’ll have answers for Question #1- How to do a clean digital capture – a bit later, as there were some unique issues that cropped up when I tried to grab video from laserdisc, such as unexpected combing that only kicked in when the DSC upscaler was used.

It might also be wise to test known stellar laserdisc transfer(s) to see if my player was the source or contributed to an imperfect video transfer.

As for Mortal Kombat, like vintage games, fans will retain an affection for the production which was shot on film, features a pleasing, deeply saturated palette of 1990s chroma reds, blues, and purples, and early CGI visual effects that have a special charm.

As for the audio… well… nothing can match the oomph of the Uptown 1 where it screened during its original theatrical release. The best sounding, best cinema left in the city was eventually murdered for condos and a Rogers cellphone shop – both abominations to the ever-shrinking cinema venues in Toronto.

Of New Line Cinema’s 1990s popcorn-friendly offerings, Mortal Kombat deserves a theatrical revisit – perhaps something programmers at The Revue or The Royal might investigate, in swanky 35mm?

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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Category: Articles, EDITOR'S BLOG

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