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Goodbye VCD, hello DVD!

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Affordable DVDs and DVD players seem set to transform the way we watch movies

"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello!" sang the Beatles. Right now, it's time to say a simultaneous goodbye and hello to the Video Compact Disk and the Digital Video/Versatile Disk.The DVD looks exactly like the VCD - a plain, uninteresting platter of aluminium, shiny on one side, labelled on the other. But looks can be deceptive. The most common DVD packs in 4.7 gigabytes of information (or entertainment) - that's 4700 megabytes as compared to the VCD's 700 MB. Already available are the double-sided DVDs that can hold almost 8.5 gigabytes, twice as much as a normal one.Just imagine what that means when used to store movies.

More space

Today, the average Hollywood 2-hour movie fits comfortably on 2 VCDs. English epics and almost all Hindi, Tamil, Telugu or Kannada films stretch to about three hours and need three CDs, since one VCD can store a maximum of 72 minutes of video. When it comes to DVDs, which have approximately six times the capacity of a VCD, one movie to a DVD is gross under kill. That's why DVD versions tend to pack in a lot more supporting material - trailers, production notes, stills, multiple language and subtitle options. But more important, the higher capacity of the DVD means the film can be stored at a higher resolution,which means the picture is much sharper and can be seen on larger screens without appearing pixelated or broken up into small squares. There's also enough space to carry a superior sound track: Stereo, Dolby... the works!Anyone who is hooked to DVD versions of his or her favourite films, will never return to watching VCDs. Except of course, those of us who couldn't afford the extortionate prices of recorded DVDs and DVD players. But that is now history. Within one year, 2005, the price of DVD players - has dropped from around Rs. 6,000 to around Rs. 2,000. Foreign films on DVD are still pricey at Rs. 400-Rs. 600, as compared to the average Rs. 199 of a VCD. But Indian movies on DVD have suddenly become affordable and many of the new Hindi films are on offer within 2 months of release for around Rs. 250-Rs. 300. Another quiet revolution that has taken place is the portable DVD player. The most popular types come with an integrated screen - usually an LCD flat display that is 7 inches wide. While the big brands are still scarce on shop shelves, you can find any number of affordable models in China Bazaar. Most of them don't come with a valid warranty but at those prices, many customers seem prepared to live dangerously. Another complication is that those who make DVD movies, particularly the big Hollywood companies, like to localise the product - that is DVDs made for region 1 won't play on players sold in region 2. The `Made in U.S.' English films tend to follow another standard called NTSC and cheap players made in China won't play these DVDs unless specifically stated. Portable DVD playerThe latest portable DVD players to come to India, also have a tablet PC-like feature. You can twist the display around so the player can be handled like a paperback novel, and held on your lap as you lounge in bed. It can also be suspended from the front seat of a car with a convenient plug-in to the car's battery. DVD players and affordable DVDs seem set to transform the way we watch movies. The big 40 and 50-inch plasma and LCD TV screens will continue to have their well-heeled clientele. But for the rest of us, a DVD could well make us feel like we are at the theatre.A. VISHNU

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