What Was A "MovieCD"?
by Justin Sevakis,
I was in a thrift store the other day and found a copy of this Cyber City OEDO "MovieCD". What was this format? Was it at all successful? How many different formats over the years has anime been released on?
MovieCD was a short-lived predecessor to DVD that was aimed at PC users back when full-screen, full-motion video was a new, novel idea. And a computer being able to play back video was a big deal -- I have a strong memory of one of these discs being prominently displayed at a CompUSA store growing up.
Of course, by today's standards a MovieCD is so lame that it barely registers as a thing. It was just a standard CD-ROM with an .AVI file on it, as well as video player software. The .AVI file was very low resolution by today's standards -- only 320 x 236 -- and used a proprietary video compression technology (codec, for you nerds out there) called MotionPixels. It would play reliably on any 486 machine with a 2x CD-ROM drive, and the software was compatible with Windows 3.1 and Windows 95/98. (It wouldn't work on a Mac.)
Software company Sirius Publishing exclusively produced a pretty decent library of titles in the format, most of which were aimed at young males who were thought to be primary computer users in that era. And since this was also the era of the VHS anime boom, Sirius licensed several popular titles from Manga Video and from Central Park Media: in addition to Cyber City Oedo 808, Dominion Tank Police, Macross Plus, Genocyber, Ghost in the Shell, New Dominion Tank Police, Ninja Scroll and Urotsukidoji III: Return of the Overfiend all made appearances in the format. Non-anime titles included a few mainstream movies (mostly from New Line Pictures), some Playboy videos, some Best of SNL discs, and a handful of American cartoons like Cabbage Patch Kids.
MovieCDs were available in several major software retailers for a number of years, and a few discs sold fairly well. The format had a very limited utility: without any available set-top players, it was impossible to play these discs back on a TV. Back then, trying to output your computer's display through analog video cables was a bigger pain in the butt than it was worth to most people, and the quality was actually worse than VHS. MovieCD was never more than a curiosity for nerds who had to do EVERYTHING on a computer.
Another, more standards-based format, known as VideoCD, was exploding in Asia around this time, but it wasn't ever much of a thing in the US, so there were still a few years there where weird computer-based video formats like MovieCD were the only way to buy digital video. But then the much higher quality (and TV-compatible) DVD format came along in 1997 and that was that. A few years later, the MovieCD format died along with its owner, Sirius Publishing.
If you should happen upon a MovieCD again, you should be able to play it with most open-source video player apps, like VLC or MPlayer. I wouldn't attempt to run any of the included software in a modern PC, however.
Amusingly, MovieCD wasn't the only funky CD-ROM video format that got anime releases in that era. Software Sculptors started off licensing anime from Central Park Media, AnimEigo and Viz to create video clip screensavers from shows like Ranma 1/2, Project A-ko and Bubblegum Crisis. The screensavers were pretty unremarkable, featuring no actual artwork or custom animation, but just tiny square clips of fuzzy digitized video that would appear in random parts of your screen. The company later went on to release anime themselves and eventually got absorbed into Central Park Media. Most of its founders left to start Media Blasters not long after.
Somewhere in that history, they also released a handful of full anime on CD-ROM as QuickTime .MOV files (using Cinepak compression). These looked slightly worse than MovieCDs, but could play on both Windows and Mac platforms. Titles like Record of Lodoss War, Metal Fighters Miku, Detonator Orgun and a few other popular CPM titles got CD-ROM releases, but none sold very well that way. Years later, while I was at CPM, we were still trying to get rid of those discs at conventions.
So, over the years, full-length anime has been released on VHS, Betamax (Japan only unless we count kids' releases), Laserdisc, VHD (Japan only), VCD (Asia only), MovieCD, QuickTime CD-ROM, DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD, UMD, Game Boy Advance Video (just some 4Kids dubs of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!), Windows Media files (used by Amazon and XBox Live), PSN downloads, iTunes downloads, smartphone apps, and of course, streaming. Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.
UPDATE 1: Thanks to CatSword who pointed out that I missed a few kids' titles in the weird Tiger Electronics VideoNow disc format, as well as pajmo9 who mentioned that Gundam Thunderbolt has been released in UHD (4K) Blu-ray. Also, WingKing and Cerceaux mentioned that ADV put out a few promotional discs as 3" MiniDVDs, although it's debatable whether that counts as a separate format.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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