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Firms to give laser discs another spin: Eleven electronics and video companies will attempt to persuade Britons to buy LDs which, they say, offer the ultimate in crystal-clear pictures and digital sound. Susan Watts reports

ELEVEN of the world's best-known consumer electronics and video companies have come together in a final attempt to sell laser discs to the British public.

They are hoping it will be third time lucky for these 12in (30.4cm) compact discs. Two previous attempts to launch LD in Britain, in 1972 and 1988, flopped when the large, shiny platters appeared then disappeared almost immediately from high street shops.

The newly-formed UK Laser Disc Association claims that LDs offer the ultimate in clear pictures and digital sound. Philips, the company behind both of the earlier campaigns, has joined the new association but is talking down the future for the format. A spokesman said LDs were destined to remain the preserve of 'enthusiasts and techno-freaks'.

His company does not dispute the quality of LD, but believes the mass market is covered by video tape. The other members of the new association are more optimistic. They include the hardware manufacturers Sony and Pioneer, the feature-film distributor Columbia Tristar and EMI's classical music division.

The chairman, Frank Brunger, director of retail video at Columbia Tristar, said it was the willingness of the feature film and music video industry to support LD that distinguished this revival. Columbia Tristar is the first Hollywood major to commit itself, but Warner and Fox are also keen, he said.

The association expects between 12 and 15 new feature film titles to be released each month - before or at the same time as on video cassette. Columbia Tristar's autumn LD offerings include The Silence of the Lambs, The Fisher King, Bugsy and Hook. Pioneer plans to release Dances With Wolves and Terminator 2.

Mr Brunger wants to reach film and music collectors who already hoard video cassettes but might be attracted by more durable, higher quality LDs. The players are designed to be used with stereo sets and televisions.

Classical music, particularly opera, is already popular in the LD format, and more mainstream music scheduled for release this autumn includes Pet Shop Boys - Performance and Jimi Hendrix - Plays Woodstock.

The latest LD machines play ordinary audio CDs as well, so Mr Brunger hopes to entice people who have not bought a CD player to opt for the new players instead. The association cites healthy markets outside Britain as good reason for optimism. In Japan, one in ten Japanese households owns an LD player and sales are outstripping those of ordinary CD machines.

Sales in the US and on the Continent are also going well.

In the UK, the major high- street distributors - Tower, Virgin, HMV and Our Price - have all shown a keen interest in stocking the discs.