Friday, November 2, 2018


The Orphan team has been expending a lot (too much) of its free cash buying analog media (VHS tapes and laserdiscs) in Japan and getting them transcribed to digital form. We really feel we're in a race against time. Magnetic tapes and optical disks have a finite lifespan. The phenomenon of laserdisc "bit rot" is well documented. Worse yet, Erik (of Piyo Piyo Productions) has had discs come apart during playback. The clock truly is ticking.

Up until now, the best way of transcribing a laserdisc has been to play it back on a high-quality player, capture the video with little or no compression, and do all the filtering, color correction, deinterlacing, etc. in software. The old ATI All-in-Wonder cards were ideal for this and are still highly prized by specialists. However, most of those cards only run under XP, and it's becoming harder to find and maintain an XP system, not to mention exceedingly dangerous to plug one into a network. USB capture devices usually have fairly crappy electronics. And no matter how the signal is captured, it has already been processed and distorted by the ancient (and often crappy) electronics in the laserdisc player itself.

Fortunately, Orphan and Piyo Piyo have not been the only groups pondering how to capture and preserve laserdiscs. A far more august body, the BBC, has been running a project to recreate the experience of its Domesday laserdiscs from the 1980s. An offshoot of that, the Domesday Duplicator project, is taking a novel approach to the problem of electronics distortion in the capture chain by removing most of the consumer electronics from the path. Instead, the laserdisc player's laser signal is captured as early as possible, while it is still RF. Direct RF sampling allows all information on the laserdisc to be duplicated (unlike conventional RGB sampling of the video output). The sampled RF is stored in a computer and then post-processed by highly sophisticated modern signal processing software. This results in images that are much clearer than anything the laserdisc player can produce on its own. (There are some examples on the Domesday duplicator site.)

[Side note: this is very similar to how the computer hobbyist community salvaged old 7-track magnetic tapes. Old magtape drives are difficult to find and harder to get working. The tapes themselves suffer from flaking of the magnetic media and also from "print through" (distortion of magnetization through exposure to the bits on the surrounding layers). To deal with this, the hobbyists mounted a more modern 36-track tape head on a board, with tape hubs controlled by precision stepper motors. The tape was stepped across the head in precise increments and oversampled both horizontally and vertically. The captured data was post-processed by modern software that applied not only local signal processing techniques but spatial compensation for data that would have been in adjacent layers, in order to account for print-through effects.]

After much agonizing (and searching of threadbare wallets), Orphan has decided to try creating a Domesday Duplicator capture capability in Japan. Up until now, we've had to ship laserdiscs to the US or elsewhere for transcription: a hazardous and expensive process. With an in-country capture capability, we can purchase used laserdiscs in Japan and have them shipped inside the country at much lower cost. And getting better lossless rips is an added bonus. We've already bought the laserdisc player, a reconditioned top-end unit. The next step is to buy the Domesday duplicator electronics. The signal processing software is, fortunately, Open Source and free.

As you can imagine, all this has put a serious financial drain on the team. Orphan has no fund-raising mechanisms: no ads on this website, no referrals to Amazon, nothing.There's no donation button anywhere. An anonymous benefactor helped buy the Hidamari no Ki DVD set, but that was a one-off. There's simply no cash to buy the duplicator itself. So if our fans (all six of you) are feeling generous and would like to help with this project, please let me know.


  1. I assume someone is based in Japan to actually do the duplication? Which wow the RF quality is a major upgrade. I have next to no money to really contribute but if a small donation would help then I'd be happy to oblige.

  2. About how much does that gear cost? In the ballpark of 1-2k$, 10k$, or more?

  3. The whole project will be ~$650: about $380 for a decent used LD player, the rest for the Duplicator itself.

    1. I see, and I'm ready to pitch in as well.

      I also haven't actually watched your releases and only found out about them because of this post, but this is most definitely a worthy cause.

    2. Also adding a PayPal button or something to this post could be wise, as people may forget to check back later after replying.

  4. I don't have much, and am loath to say I have yet to watch a single one of Orphan's releases, but given that archiving (as yet) unpopular anime series, especially when they are getting harder and harder to find and transcribe, is something I'm passionate about, I'm willing to donate.

  5. Can you contact me at about this? I don't have any money, but I do have an old Laserdisc that I wouldn't mind donating to this project.

  6. If you're still in need of funds for this, please contact me, I'm willing to chip in.