Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 54 / NOVEMBER 1984 / PAGE 10

Computers And Laser Discs

I was wondering if Atari was planning to produce a laser disc machine for use with its computers. I had read they had planned to do so, but then decided to drop the idea. Is this true?

John Engman

Originally designed to store high-quality video images, the laser disc's power is only now being tapped. Unlike a videocassette recorder, which works like a computer tape drive, a laser disc player has fast random access to any frame, analogous to a computer disk drive. Theoretically, any computer can be interfaced with the relatively simple controls required to drive a laser disc. Digital Research, Inc., sells the VidLink, a $49 hardware/software package that lets you interface a Commodore 64 to a laser disc player. Versions will soon be available for the IBM PC and Apple II.

Also, while not essential, it's useful if the interface can mix computer and laser disc images so you can superimpose sprites and text with the laser disc image. With a laser disc, surprising realism can be attained in computer backgrounds, but laser discs do not seem to be capable of entirely replacing the bitmapped raster graphics currently used by computers. A laser disc is limited to the available images, whereas computer graphics can be dynamically synthesized.

Since the laser disc can be accessed at random, video can be shown in nonsequential order, branching to different frames under computer control. The laser disc has already proved to be a valuable educational aid, especially when teamed with a computer.

The new Atari 7800 Pro-System videogame machine has a jack on the side for mixing video from a laser disc. A computer keyboard that accepts standard Atari peripherals also was planned for the 7800 Pro-System. Several Japanese companies have shown machines (including a low-cost MSX computer) with laser disc control and video image mixing.

Laser discs have enormous storage capacity. A laser disc can store much more information than a comparably sized conventional magnetic disk, making it an attractive mass-storage alternative. Up to this point, laser discs have been read-only, since storing the information involves burning pits into the disk surface. New technologies such as optical-assisted magnetic recording permit both read and write access. Panasonic sells a read/write optical disk recorder using 8-inch disks. According to the press release, "Each disk can hold the equivalent of 10,000 letter-size documents." The list price is $35,000.