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The Gift of A DVD Is A Gift Forever
by: Michael Kabel

Though most people don’t often stop to think about it, practically everyone has a movie they consider their "all time favorite." Since the advent of the DVD market a little more than a decade ago, collecting movies has grown from the tidy pastime of "film buffs" and cineastes to a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, movie studios now routinely rely just as much on DVD sales as box office receipts to make their movies profitable.

A DVD is a wonderful gift to give friends and relatives. They're small, durable, and usually do not cost a lot of money. They can be enjoyed initially and then reused whenever the recipient likes. Finding the right DVD to give presents some challenges, so it's important to know a little about how DVD's are marketed to the general public.

DVD's come in two formats: widescreen and fullscreen.

Movie theatre screens are rectangular, while traditional television screens are square-shaped. For decades, this presented a problem in converting films to fit inside television screens. Many movie studios chose simply to trim about one third of the total picture off each end of the picture's "frame," so that the rest could squeeze inside the television screen.

Over time, a new process known as "letterboxing" allowed television screens to include the film's entire picture frame, but with the (notorious) "black bars" on the top and bottom. Studios began introducing expanded "director’s cuts" and special editions to trumpet the new technique, allowing home audiences to see films in their original size, or aspect ratio.

As television screens shift to a rectangular construction themselves, the difference between widescreen and full screen formats will likely contract. For now, though, widescreen films include the letterbox effect. Full screen films have been altered to fit a square television screen. DVD boxes are usually labeled with their format across the top of the box's front. If not, the technical information is below the film credits on the back side.

Director's cuts and Extended Cuts

Beginning in the 1980s, studios began releasing expanded versions of some cult-favorite films on home video and, later, DVD. The rationale was that fans would appreciate seeing a larger, longer version of films that often were trimmed against the director’s wishes or for the sake of time constraints.

Over time, the concept of the "director's cut" has often been co-opted commercially, to the point that it may not represent the director's true vision for the film. Studios will sometimes release "expanded editions" that include only a few minutes of otherwise deleted scenes. A list of legitimate director's cuts can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Director's_cut.

Buying online presents opportunities, hazards.

There are many Web sites offering sometimes drastic discounts on DVD purchases, including online auction sites. Before completing a purchase, make sure the DVD sold is the correct and genuine item released by the studios. Some disreputable Web sites sell bootlegs and inferior-quality imports under the guise of authenticity. Researching a site’s "About Us" page will usually provide you with their credentials.

While many online DVD sellers offer steep discounts on the suggested retail price, their additional shipping and handling costs may erase the savings. As with all online purchases, make sure you understand their shipping and handling - and especially their exchange and return - policies before finalizing your order.