Written by Dan Jones - September 9th, 2001


We all know DVDs, most of us have experienced Laser Disc, but the majority of us U.S. residents probably have little experience with commercially produced Video CDs. Video CD is a format that became highly popular in Europe and Asia before DVDs ever hit the market. For whatever reason the format never really became popular in the U.S., and thus, us Americans, cannot find any at our neighborhood video store.

Genuine Video CDs, in theory, should give us video quality equaling that of a genuine VHS movie. This comparison can, and has been heavily debated; in this writer's opinion, the quality of is dependant upon what you are looking at. A close shot can look clean and sharp, while a zoomed out shot that contains many small details can look heavily pixilated and generally bad. Shots requiring a heavy amount of movement suffer from such visual artifacts as well. These shortcomings are not overly distracting and allow the Video CD format to be more attractive in this day in age, then VHS. Why? Because they have an exponentially longer shelf life then a VHS tape, they work in DVD players, they are easier to copy (strictly for backup purposes of course), and because they take up less space on your already cluttered shelves.

Video CD sound quality is quite good; better then that of a standard (non-HiFi) VHS tape. The exact specs of the audio in which VCDs are encoded at is 224 kbit/sec using MPEG-1 Layer2 compression (.mp2). Having said this, Video CDs DO NOT contain CD quality audio, but overall, the sound quality is quite nice. I stress that the sound quality is not CD quality because it is often times said that VCDs do contain such quality. If you think about it though, why would 74 minutes of CD quality audio fill up entire disc, yet 74 minutes of CD quality audio + 74 minutes of decent video take up the same space? In short, it could not. Therefore, the sound quality is compressed from that of "CD quality" sound.

How does VideoCD compare to DVD? Well, besides being playable on MOST DVD players, it does not. Video CD is encoded at a mere 1150 kbit/sec using MPEG-1 compression, where as DVDs have a much higher bandwidth, far superior sound, and much better video compression (MPEG-2), resulting in a greater viewing experience. Therefore, the only real fair comparison that can be done with Video CD is that of VHS. If we were talking Super Video CD…well we're not so I won't go into it.

The greatest advantages in the Video CD format is portability, cost of material, and ease of creation and replication. These factors no doubt make Video CD the preferred format of bootleggers looking to copy DVDs (or new movies captured from a theater, or other sources) for cheap, and sell them on the streets. These features also make the format very nice for those who want to convert old VHS's to VCD so that they don't lose anymore quality as time goes on; VHS's wear out, VCDs do not (at least no in your lifetime). The format only requires a standard blank CD-R or CD-RW, and gives you 74 or 80 minutes (depending on your blank) of video and audio to work with. Overall, this is very nice.

I am sure readers of the DVDCC know that the Star Wars series has not yet made it to the DVD format. Why? Well…we can only guess. Although, this tradition of George Lucas DVD hatred will soon come to an end as Star Wars - Episode I, The Phantom Menace is coming to DVD October 16, 2001; as for the rest, we will just have to wait for a release date.

Now I know what you are all thinking right now: "Dan, I have a DVD player, but my VCR only plays one movie from 1986 and eats the rest, is Star Wars available on Video CD?" Ah, yes.

Thus far, all the Star Wars movies have been commercially released on VCD, Episode 1, and Episodes four through six. That being said, I won't go into the plot of the Star Wars series. If you've been alive for more then 10 years you have most likely seen them all, and if not, well then I'd recommend checking your pulse, you might be dead. Seriously.

Overall, the VCDs are presented nicely. You get essentially a VHS quality copy, which is broken up into chapters for easy track skipping. Each movie consists of two discs, so you will have to change discs half way. The packaging is pretty basic. Episodes 4-6 come in one dual disc jewel case per movie, and a nice collector's box. Episode 1 came in two jewel cases (although one would have been more convenient), and a large booklet-type sleeve.

The video, as I have said before, is near VHS quality throughout. Of course, the video is presented in full frame. Some scenes look much better then others; scenes requiring large amounts of detail look, well, poor. Overall, though, the movies are very watchable. The video quality improves slightly from viewing of "A New Hope" to "The Phantom Menace," this is just due to better technology being used from the first filming. This difference though is much less visible then it probably will be on DVD, as the picture quality is limited by the Video CD standard, where as with DVD transfers from old footage, the limiting factor is most likely lower quality masters.

The sound is quite strong. What you get is a nice stereo track that does not test your speakers at all, but does give you a good listening experience.

Extras? None here. You will just have to wait for the DVD.

Overall, Star Wars on Video CD is a nice addition to any die-hard Star Wars fan that just cannot wait for the DVDs to come out, yet want to watch it on their DVD player. It's also one of those cool things to say you have, as few people, in the U.S. at least, actually do.

You can purchase these VCDs and many others at the best place on the net for VCD's - Coolvcd.com!





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