There are really only four solutions to preserving old LaserDiscs:
1. Buy a used LaserDisc player and put in storage until you need it (not really knowing if it will work after several years in storage).
2. Buy new DVD versions of movies in your LaserDisc collection.
3. Make inferior VHS copies of your LaserDisc collection.
4. Copy your LaserDisc collection onto DVD.
The last option may just be the most viable. With the very good image quality and low prices of DVD recorders, copying important films in a LaserDisc collection onto DVD is a viable way of preservation. Recordable DVD comes in two forms: PC/MAC recordable DVD drives and Standalone DVD recorders.
Using a DVD Recorder
For the purpose of copying your LaserDiscs onto DVD, it is best to use a standalone unit. These units can copy video from just about any source in real time, whereas the video burned on a PC-DVD burner must be first downloaded onto a computer hard drive in short segments and then the files copied onto the DVD.
However, using standalone DVD recorders isn't foolproof, there are several recordable DVD formats in use (most DVD recorders record in several of these formats), each which varying degrees of compatibility with standard DVD players (DVD-R is the most compatible). For an overview of recordable DVD formats, check out my complete DVD Recorder FAQs.
In addition, for suggestions on possible DVD recorders to use, check out my current list of DVD Recorder Picks - which is updated periodically.
Some Useful DVD Recorder Tips
When copying your LaserDiscs, use the DVD recorder's two-hour record mode. Since most movies are two hours or less this will give you the best quality (which should be as good as the original LaserDisc print) and you can still fit an entire movie on one disc. One note: If you want to also copy alternate soundtracks or commentary, you will have to make more than one copy of the movie, the DVD recorder can't copy all the other imbedded information of the LaserDisc unless it is actually outputted at the time of playback.
Basically, connecting your LaserDisc player to a DVD recorder is just as easy as connecting a camcorder to a VCR. Just connect either the S-Video (preferred) or composite video outputs of the LaserDisc player to the S-Video (preferred)or composite video inputs of the respective DVD recorder. For audio, connect the analog audio outputs of the LaserDisc player to the DVD recorder. Unfortunately, consumer DVD recorders, up to the current time, do not support digital audio inputs. In other words, you cannot record the Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC-3) or DTS bitstream (available on some latter LaserDiscs), only the analog Dolby Surround tracks.
In addition, if both the LaserDisc player and DVD recorder are hooked up through a central AV receiver with video switching, just use the AV receiver as your recording switcher for both units.
Also, if your LaserDisc player is an auto-reverse or dual-sided player (my choice is the Panasonic LX-1000), you can record both sides of the LaserDisc automatically, without stopping to turn over the disc. This also allows you to do leave the copying process unattended if you need to do something else. After you connect everything up, check the DVD Recorder's setup procedures, cue up the LaserDisc player and start the recording process.
Words Of Caution
Now, some of you may be thinking, "What are the legal ramifications of this?".
Here is where I want to emphasize three points:
1. LaserDiscs do not have any type of Macrovision or anti-copy encoding, so there is nothing on the disc, the player, or the DVD recorder that will actually prevent you from making a copy. No special equipment, such as a video stabilizer is needed.
2. With some LaserDisc collectors having invested thousands of dollars in discs, being able to preserve them for future viewing is appropriate for private and personal use.
3. FOLLOWING THE STEPS OUTLINED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE INTENDED FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY -- I AM NOT ADVOCATING, IN ANY WAY, ILLEGAL USE OF THESE COPIES. DO NOT RENT, SELL, EXHIBIT IN A PUBLIC PLACE, OR GIVE HOME MADE COPIES OF ANY COPYRIGHTED VIDEO MATERIAL, INCLUDING DVDs OR LASERDISCS, TO ANYONE. REMEMBER: EVERY LASERDISC STILL CARRIES THE ANTI-COPY FBI WARNING.
In an ironic fashion, it appears that DVD may be the one thing that can actually preserve the LaserDisc. The one decision on the part of the LaserDisc collector is whether the time it takes to make DVD copies of LaserDiscs outways the cost of purchasing new DVD versions, or now, high definition Blu-ray disc versions. In any case, there are some classic movies that were released on LaserDisc that still haven't been pressed on DVD and some Special Edition LaserDiscs may have different supplementary features that are not on their DVD counterparts that may be worth preserving. In either case, this could be a fun activity for one with a large LaserDisc collection.