The DVD player -- Check out answers to videophiles' questions about the 18-month-old device

By Michael Giltz
Updated September 25, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Okay, so you don’t need every new gizmo as soon as it hits the stores. $10,000 for an HDTV set? No thanks. But how about DVD? The digital video disc, now 18 months on the market, is already one of the world’s more successful new recorded formats — more than 500,000 players sold, compared with 230,000 VCRs and 243,000 CD players in the first two years after their introductions. And the discs are everywhere — about 2,000 titles will have been issued by year’s end, available, in varying degrees, at Blockbuster Video, Tower, chains like Super Kmart, specialty stores, and online services. A lot more stores will soon be offering DVD for rent, too (among them, Tower branches and, in many cities, Blockbusters), something the all-but-dead laserdisc could never claim. So is it time to pony up? Let’s review all the factors.

HOW’S THE PICTURE?
Stunning. It’s even better than laserdisc, with movies like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Fox Lorber) and The Wizard of Oz (MGM) so beautiful you’ll want to freeze some scenes and leave them on your TV the way others hang works of art on their walls. Movies with lots of special effects or ominously murky settings — Blade Runner (Warner) and the CGI-fest Dark City (New Line) fit both descriptions — live up to their reputations on DVD.

HOW’S THE SOUND?
Much better than on VHS. Though it still has some catching up to do with laserdisc (that cumbersome format’s greatest strength), it’s getting better all the time. If you want to wow your friends, A Hard Day’s Night (MPI) and Starship Troopers (Columbia TriStar) will have them singing along and spraying for bugs.

ARE PLAYER FEATURES THAT MUCH BETTER THAN A VCR’s?
Yes. With chapter searches, you can jump to any scene in a movie within seconds. James Bond flicks like Goldfinger (MGM) are worth watching over and over, but who can blame you for jumping to a jaw-dropping action sequence when it’s so easy to access?

ARE THE DISC EXTRAS WORTH THE EXTRA COIN?
They certainly can be. Documentaries that take you behind the scenes, trailers, outtakes, production stills, alternate-language and subtitling options, audio tracks with the director and cast talking about the making of the movie — VHS can’t accommodate all these bonuses, and special-edition laserdiscs can cost $100 or more. L.A. Confidential (Warner) and Boogie Nights (New Line) are outstanding examples, while hearing Jack Nicholson hold court on the commentary track of As Good as It Gets (Columbia Tri-Star) is a rare treat.

DOES DVD MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE FOR OLDER MOVIES?
Absolutely. With DVDs, you’re often seeing the movie in its best shape since it first came out, such as with The Philadelphia Story (MGM). And letterboxing — a DVD mainstay — is just as important as a good print. Letterboxing lets you see a movie the way it was shown in the theaters. For Born on the Fourth of July (Universal), 2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM), and Ran (Fox Lorber) it’s the only way to go. But don’t fret: Many recent movies are offered in both wide-screen and cropped formats on the same disc, so you don’t have to choose.

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