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Best DVD Movie Formats to Buy? DVDs vs Blu-ray Discs, Full vs Wide Screen, and Special Editions

By Kira Botkin

DVD Shopping OptionsDVDs are a favorite shopping item – they’re great gifts, very portable, and frequently on deep discount. However, since many movies now come in multiple formats and editions, it’s become more and more confusing for the average shopper to know which type to buy.

To help reduce any buyer’s remorse you have the next time you go DVD shopping, here are 3 key things to consider when choosing what type of DVD is the best fit for your home or the person you’re buying for:

1. Standard DVD’s vs. Blu-ray vs. HD DVD

If you’re new to the scene, you probably have never heard of HD DVD’s because in the last year or so, they have been conquered by Blu-ray.  But for some background, in the early 2000′s, Toshiba created the HD DVD and Sony created the Blu-ray disc. The goal was to take advantage of the new high-definition technology and become the default format that people would go to for their movies. The two options were direct competitors for many years, until Sony’s Blu-ray recently won the battle.

Regardless of which company’s technology you preferred, the fact that the battle has ended is great for all consumers. Previously, people had to guess which format would win, and buy either an HD DVD player or Blu-ray player along with movies that could only be played on one of the players. Unfortunately, for the people that chose HD DVD, they guessed wrong, and their technology has quickly become obsolete. Movies will no longer be made for HD DVD players.

Now that the battle has been settled, the decision now comes down to deciding between your standard DVD, or a Blu-ray disc. There really is no right answer here. If you watch your television in non-high-definition and you’re fine with it, you probably don’t need to invest in a Blu-ray player and Blu-ray movies, which usually cost a significant premium over standard DVD’s. But if you are a high-definition fanatic and think everything else looks blurry, then go for it!

My best advice would be to invest in a Blu-ray player, and then choose on a case-by-case basis, whether to buy a standard DVD or Blu-ray disc. This strategy works because a Blu-ray player will play standard DVD’s as well. So, for example, if you’re buying a comedy movie, it’s probably not worth paying the extra money to get a high-definition version. But if you’re buying a scenic, action movie like Avatar, the experience you get with the high-definition version is probably well worth it.

Lastly, if you’re buying a DVD as a gift, and you don’t know if your intended recipient has a Blu-ray player, stick with regular DVDs.

2. Widescreen vs. Fullscreen

When movies were first transferred to home viewing formats with the advent of VHS tapes, different movie studios employed different methods to adopt the film from the much wider movie screen to the comparatively narrower TV screen.

Fullscreen was frequently used in those days as a way to utilize as much space as possible on the smaller TVs that were available then. This method allows the film to take up the whole screen, usually by chopping off the sides. Fullscreen requires a “pan-and-scan” method in order to be modified for television; when you take off the width, the editor has to keep “panning” across the scene to make sure that the viewer doesn’t miss the important parts that may have been cut off. In movies where the filming doesn’t gradually move from one scene to the next, this method can sometimes take away from the experience of the movie.

Widescreen has become more popular these days with advent of widescreen TVs. This format shows the movie as it originally would have been presented in a theater, with the entire width of the movie as originally filmed. On some older TVs that aren’t as wide, you’ll notice black stripes above and below the film. Newer TVs that are wider will be able to fit the widescreen picture without these black areas.

If your intended gift recipient is a big movie fan and has a big-screen TV, widescreen is the way to go. In some movies, you’ll miss important parts of the action if they’re cut off in a fullscreen format, and many people feel that you just don’t get the director’s original artistic intent if you can’t see the whole picture. When in doubt, buy widescreen. Fullscreen can be appropriate for children’s movies, or anything that would have originally aired on TV such as a documentary. The pricing is similar between the two options.

3. Special Edition Movies

Many movies are often re-released as “special editions.” This usually means that additional footage, such as outtakes, deleted scenes, or interviews with the cast, has been added to the disc. Unless it’s labeled “director’s cut” or something similar, the actual movie itself will be the same. Depending on how much of a movie buff you or your intended recipient is, this extra footage may be appreciated. Sometimes these editions will also include extra posters, downloads, or other paraphernelia. Special edition movies will often cost a bit more than the regular edition DVD’s.

My personal take? I don’t think it’s worth it unless the movie has been lengthened with some previously deleted scenes, or it offers “alternate endings,” which are always fun to check out.

Final Word

Hopefully you now feel like you have the knowledge to get out there and buy those DVD’s! What are your thoughts? Blu-ray, widescreen, and special edition all the way? What’s worth the extra penny?

Kira Botkin
Kira is a longtime blogger and serial entrepreneur who enjoys gardening, garage sales, and finding stray animals. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where football is a distinct season, and by day runs a research study for people with multiple sclerosis. She hopes that the MoneyCrashers team can help you achieve your goals and live a great life.

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