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DVDs -- How And Why You Should Switch To BluRay

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Yep, it's time to make the switch to BluRay. You should buy a BluRay player and/or start buying movies on BluRay instead of regular DVDs wherever it makes sense. If you've got an HD capable TV and a BluRay player, you should also consider replacing some of your favorite movies with BluRay versions. Here's how and why.

You own a regular TV -- Buy a BluRay player today and in the future buy only BluRay titles. BluRay players are now very cheap ($200 is common). It seems like an additional expense but every time you buy a regular DVD when a BluRay version is available for a similar price, you're actually wasting money. It's like buying 8 track tapes when you KNOW you're gonna get a CD player eventually. A BluRay player can let you watch all your regular DVDs and any BluRay DVDs you buy. You won't see any difference on a regular TV, but when you eventually upgrade to an LCD or plasma that's HD-ready, you'll have a library of titles ready to go.

You own an HD-ready TV, either a plasma or LCD -- Why don't you own a BluRay player? The better brands "upscale" the regular DVDs you already own, making them look better than they are. No, they don't look as good as actual BluRay titles, but it does make a difference. Plus, you should only be buying BluRay titles from now on. The difference is that significant, just like it was when you jumped from VHS to DVD or cassette to compact disc.

Replacing the DVDs you already own with BluRay -- Any title you truly love and want to watch over and over again is worth buying on BluRay no matter how much more expensive it is. But in general, I'd say unless a movie is absolutely one of your big favorites, there's no need to replace all your regular DVDs with BluRay. You can watch all those movies and if you have an HD-ready TV, the BluRay player will make them look even better than they do. And naturally, comedies and documentaries and TV shows (especially older ones) don't necessarily need the pizazz of BluRay. Of course, if we're talking a sci-fi spectacle like 2001: A Space Odyssey or a landmark film like The Godfather, those are cases where it will be worth your while to upgrade right away. And you can always re-gift your regular DVD copies to someone because they're great movies and a friend will be glad to own them. But for most of your library, I'd wait until the BluRay versions were really cheap (prices better come down at some point) or not bother at all. Your regular DVDs look great. It just doesn't make any sense to keep buying them from now on.

Buying new DVDs on BluRay or regular DVD -- In general, I'd just stop buying regular DVDs. Buy a movie you want on BluRay, especially when the price is about the same on BluRay, which is quite common when you're comparing special edition DVDs to BluRay versions of new releases. If the regular DVD version is, say, $20 and the BluRay is $40, just don't buy it. Unless it's some incredibly elaborate special effects extravaganza you're dying to get, there's no reason to shell out significantly more bucks for BluRay. If you really can't bear to wait, maybe it's one of the few movies worth shelling out for. But why not just Netflix it and wait? Dont encourage them to think that BluRay can be an excuse to permanently raise prices on DVDs. But again, don't waste your money on regular DVDs any more. If it's an obscure flick that's never been available on DVD and isn't put out on BluRay, sure, make an exception. Otherwise, hold off.

So buy a BluRay player and start building your BluRay library, even if you don't own an HD-ready plasma or LCD TV. And if you do, the format war is over, so what are you waiting for? Here are some recent BluRay releases and whether they make sense to buy compared to the cost of a regular DVD.

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The Dark Knight ($35.99 on BluRay versus $34.98 for regular DVD special edition; Warner Bros.) Sure, you can buy a single disc regular DVD edition for $28.98 but I'm going to compare the standard DVDs loaded with extras to the BluRay since if you're enough of a fan to buy the movie, you probably want all the bells and whistles. So in this case, there is only $1 in difference in the cost. And this movie looks stunning on BluRay -- a real demo disc for when your friends come over, whether you're showing off your new TV or your sound system. Finally, when there's no price difference, you'd be foolish to buy a regular DVD. This is exactly why you need to buy a BluRay player now, whatever home entertainment system you have. You can enjoy the movie right away and then be wowed once you upgrade your system.

Tommy Boy ($29.99 on BluRay versus $12.98 for regular DVD; Paramount) -- Okay, an extra 17 dollars is a huge premium, especially when you're talking about a low-budget comedy that won't gain a huge benefit from being seen on BluRay. If you own it already, I don't see the need to upgrade. Naturally, if it's on your all-time favorite list, any movie is worth getting.

The Cheetah Girls One World ($34.99 versus $29.99 on regular DVD; Disney) -- Okay, the price difference is a minimal $5. On the other hand, there's no need for super great picture or sound on the titles your kids watch, is there? Maybe not, but why buy a regular DVD when BluRay is available and has a few extra bonus features they'll love to check out. When the price is about the same, you should go BluRay, even for kids' stuff.

The Man Who Fell To Earth ($39.95 versus $39.95 for regular DVD; Criterion) -- Criterion always sets the gold standard for special edition DVDs. Here we have one of their first BluRay releases, only to discover that it costs exactly the same amount as their regular Criterion release. One big difference: the regular Criterion edition came with a copy of the book the movie is based on. Otherwise the editions are identical and I imagine the extras will be identical when possible as well. Since the movie matters to me more than the extras, I'm especially glad the price is the same. This BluRay also comes in a flimsier cardboard slipcover, which is either another cost-saving measure or an eco-friendly change. But quality control does't get better than Criterion, so it's great news to see them determined to release BluRay titles at the same price point as their regular DVDs.

Hot Rod ($29.98 versus $19.98 for regular DVD; Paramount) -- Another low-budget comedy and not a very successful one, despite Andy Samberg's appeal. Is there any reason the BluRay version should cost $10 more? Nope. So wait until the price comes down. But you're itching to own it and wonder whether you should pay $20 for a regular DVD? In general, just go cold turkey. If the price is too high to buy on BluRay, don't buy it at all. That's the only way to let the studios know that you're not willing to pay a premium for the pleasure of buying movies on BluRay. They should see BluRay as a reason to keep you buying titles, not as an excuse to raise prices. Remember, DVDs were better and cheaper than VHS and that market took off. CDs were almost always more expensive than cassettes and for a while it worked but when a cheaper alternative came along (digital tracks) the market collapsed. Lower BluRay prices and be glad people aren't just watching these movies for free online!

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Into The Wild ($29.99 versus $35.98 for the special edition regular DVD; Paramount) -- Here's a terrific surprise. The BluRay edition is $6 LESS than the regular DVD special edition and contains all the same bonus features. It's the same price as the regular single disc DVD. It's an acclaimed film that's beautfully shot and looks great on DVD. Just on principal, we should all buy this title to encourage them into pricing BluRays like this.

Lost Complete Fourth Season ($96.99 versus $59.99 for regular DVD; ABC/Disney) -- And here's the exact opposite of Into The Wild, a DVD set that is dramatically more expensive than the regular DVD for absolutely no good reason. (A few modest exclusive extras certainly aren't worth $36.) On top of it, both sets are the same price as previous season sets despite having fewer episodes. Sure, the series looks even more smashing on BluRay than regular DVD -- this is Lost, and not some set-bound sitcom. But this massive price hike is unconscionable. Watch the episodes online and wait for a much lower price point before adding it to your library. Even if the show's a favorite, the gap in prices make this one you should resist. UPDATE: the Suggested Retail Price for this set was lowered soon after it came out to $69.99. That's only $10 more than the $59.99 for the regular DVDs and since this is an entire season as opposed to just one movie, that's a very competitive price. Still, it was a dumb move to put it out even for a week at such a higher SRP. People see that in their heads and get the fixed idea that BluRay will be much more expensive than regular DVDs. Of course what YOU should be looking at are the sale prices and when it comes to that, BluRay is quickly matching regular DVDs. See my update below for more info. And thanks to Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits for alerting me to this price change.

Ray Charles Live at Montreaux 1997 ($24.98 versus $14.98 on regular DVD; Eagle Rock) -- Okay, Ray Charles is a giant but this show comes at the tail end of his illustrious career. It's a fine concert, if not a legendary one for such a riveting, iconic figure. Ten dollars more is a big increase for the BluRay version, especially since it's a low-cost price point to begin with. I'm generally avoiding comparing sale prices, but in this case I'd point out that buying it on sale reduces the difference to just over $5. Still, no need to encourage smaller companies to hike their prices just like the big ones. They should provide better value and gain market share on the big boys that way.

Ghost ($29.99 versus $12.99 on regular DVD; Paramount) -- Maybe this is your favorite romantic movie and you won't mind ponying up. But again, there's no reason a movie almost 20 years old should cost more than twice as much on BluRay as it does on regular DVD.

Death Race ($39.98 versus $29.98 on regular DVD; Universal) -- This is an action flick and so it'll pop on BluRay. And if you're a Jason Statham fan, at least you can tell yourself the extra money is worth the free digital copy the BluRay version offers so you can watch it on your computer or portable device. Still, a 30% increase in price is hard to justify in general.

Death Proof and PLANET TERROR ($29.95 each versus $14.95 on regular DVD; Dimension/Genius) -- Two very fun B movies (though I still wish they'd offer the original theatrical version with these movies as shorter double features). And they look and sound great on BluRay. But twice the price? No way, unless female stunt artists are a source of joy for you.

Old School ($29.99 versus $14.99 for regular DVD; DreamWorks) -- A very funny comedy that isn't going to really improve dramatically on BluRay. And twice the price keeps this off your list unless Vince Vaughn is unmissable. In that case you probably own it already on regular DVD and there's no need to upgrade.

Other recent BluRay releases: The Truman Show ($29.99; Paramount); Event Horizon ($29.99; Paramount); The Women (2008 remake) ($35.99; New Line); Tori Amos Live at Montreaux ($24.98; Eagle Rock); Days Of Thunder ($29.99; Paramount); The Heartbreak Kid ($29.99; DreamWorks); The Strat Pack Live In Concert ($24.98; Eagle Rock); Last Holiday ($29.99; Paramount); and Coach Carter ($29.99; Paramount).

So there you see it. On new releases, sometimes you can pay even less for BuRay and often it's within $5. When it's a big spectacle, that makes BluRay well worth it. On reissues of classic movies, the bigger the flick and the more special effects, the more likely it's worth it. And whether it's a comedy, a TV show or a classic western, unless the title is among your absolute favorite, there's no need to shell out 30% or even 100% more just for the pleasure of BluRay. But do buy a player today, slow down or stop your regular DVD purchases, buy new releases when they make financial sense and carefully upgrade your catalog. BluRay is a major leap ahead and you shouldn't spend any more money on regular DVDs if you can help it.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

Okay, so tons of comments on this post. I first put it up on Friday and today the New York Times has an article talking about BluRay's fuzzy future. They're right and wrong -- I don't expect it to supplant regular DVD completely or even wholly. But with DVD sales slowing (it's a mature format), if they can keep sales steady by introducing improvements like BluRay then that'll be a success. But the NYT is wrong in thinking of BluRay as a whole new format. It's not. You can buy a very modestly priced BluRay player today ($150 and dropping) and watch all your regular DVDs on it. You don't need to get rid of them and buy BluRay the way you did when you switched from VHS to DVD. Here are some responses to the most frequent comments.

1. HOW DARE YOU! THERE'S A RECESSION -- Yes, we're in a recession. But people will still review new automobiles and fancy restaurants and vacation getaways. That's not offensive. Someone will buy a new car this year, even if most people will hold off if they can. People like to read reviews of wildly expensive restaurants even if they never plan to eat there. And DVDs are hardly a luxury item a la yachts and caviar. If you're a family of four, a $22 DVD is a great bargain compared to going to the movies. During the Depression of the 1930s, people went to movies more often than they ever have before or since. But did the fact of the Depression mean movie critics at the time were insensitive cretins for even talking about films? Of course not.

2. NEW FORMAT X IS JUST ON THE HORIZON -- A new format or technology is ALWAYS on the horizon. If you follow that logic, you must be watching a 12 inch black and white TV while listening to your Edison cylindars. I am VERY cautious about embracing a new format. I've actively campaigned against almost every new format in entertainment you can think of, from VHS and laser disc (too expensive and bulky) to Divx and MP3s. (Hate 'em.) The ONLY two formats I've embraced in the last 25 years are CDs and DVDs. And whatever new formats arise in years to come, I'll enjoy the library of CDs and DVDs I have now for the rest of my life, just like some people still enjoy their LPs. New technologies don't mean old technologies become "useless." I'll still enjoy my hardcover book even if you only read on a Kindle.

3. HI-DEF DOWNLOADING IS CLEARLY GONNA STOMP ON DVDS -- I do agree that streaming and downloading movies will be the dominant way people rent movies quite soon. But for many technological and legal reasons, hi-def downloading is years away from being the dominant way to buy movies, even if we do overcome efforts by telecos/cable/internet companies to charge people onerous fees for using a lot of bandwidth. And certainly, worldwide, hi-def downloading is absurd to consider as dominating in giant markets like China, India, Indonesia and Africa for decades to come. Even the US won't be capable of getting it available to a majority of users for a good decade. And so what if it does become dominant and you decide come 2015 that you never want to buy a DVD again? The library you have will still be useful. And if you only rent, the modest $150 you spent to get a BluRay player so you could rent BluRay from Netflix (for an extra $1) or borrow from your local library will surely have been worth it by then.

4. BLURAY IS TOO EXPENSIVE -- I compared the suggested retail price because sale prices vary so much from store to store and even week to week. But when you check out the sale price of new releases, BluRay and regular DVDs are almost neck and neck. The Dark Knight, for example, costs only $1 more on BluRay than regular DVD at Amazon. And it's not a new format -- you don't need two players and you can always buy or rent anything on regular DVD that's a lot cheaper or only available that way.

5. BLU RAY WON'T LAST -- Even if it doesn't, your player can still play regular DVDs and I'm confident that just as you can still buy a turntable you'll be able to buy a cheap DVD player than can play regular and BluRay DVDs for years to come. Again, regular DVDs are the dominant worldwide medium by far and certainly won't fade away in the next decade. Twenty years is quite a good run for any format. LPs lasted about 40 years, 78s even longer but of course as technology improves so does the pace of change. But again, the library you build will be positive and enjoyable for years to come, combining regular DVD and BluRay DVDs, whether or not most of us are watching 3-D holograms via an implant come 2025.

6. I'M SHILLING FOR MANUFATURERS AND MUST HAVE BEEN PAID TO WRITE SUCH A DUMB COLUMN -- Of course, I wasn't paid a penny by anyone to write this column. In fact, I spent years excoriating them for the absurd format war they engaged in between BluRay and HD-DVD. I modestly preferred HD-DVD but called for a pox on both their houses for going to market with both. I'm perfectly happy with my regular DVDs and if the studios thought they could jack up prices via BluRay they've been proven very wrong. This is the make or break year for BluRay and they're reducing prices very fast. IF you own a HD-ready plasma or LCD screen or plan to buy one in the next five years and IF you're already buying DVDs and IF the title you want is available on BluRay for about the same price, I recommend you buy it on Bluray. Does that sound like some crazy, 'oh my gosh BluRay is AWESOME' plug to you? To have this option available to you, you'll have to shell out a modest $150 for a DVD player that plays regular and Bluray DVDs. But hey, even if you're just renting from Netflix, a BluRay player makes sense. If the worst case scenario happens and the studios abandon BluRay in five years, you'll STILL be able to watch and buy regular DVDs using your player and enjoy the superior quality of BluRay for the titles they did release. And I'll bet anyone any amount they want to suggest that DVDs in both or either format will absolutely be around in 2015. To suggest they'll disappear completely is silly. And AGAIN, if they did, so what? You can still enjoy the library you've built for the rest of your life, just like your books and CDs.