The DVD, that 5-year-old, 3-letter phenom that has revitalized the home-video industry, is expected again to be among the most sought items on the nation's wish list this holiday season.
Movie studios, for whom the 4-inch digital video discs have been a big moneymaker, have flooded the zone with most of their summer hits and have reissued many of their big name attractions from the recent past -- and some not so recent -- to attract Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers.
What once was geared toward movie buffs and parents who bought animated films for their children is a multi-billion-dollar industry with the rich "stocking stuffer" holiday season still the No. 1 target.
The DVD, as Mike Dunn of Twentieth Century Fox put it, "has reinvigorated the home entertainment business."
Prices meanwhile continue to drop for DVD players, which Consumer Reports calls "the fastest growing consumer electronics product in history."
There is a wide variety of acceptable players in the $100-$200 range. You can pay a lot more, of course, depending on how elaborate your desires.
In a note of caution, Variety said the availability and price of sub-$100 players, shipped in from Asia, could be affected by backlogs and possible further problems at West Coast ports.
While there still are many more homes with VHS machines using videocassette tapes, some estimates put the number of DVD homes growing to 40 million by the end of the year. DVD owners further appear to be buying more movies and such than VHS owners. Obviously, many households have both.
Gleeful studios therefore are anxiously awaiting an anticipated whole new army of customers who will find a DVD player under the tree. Partly for that reason, for example, Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment decided to hold off releasing the theatrical hit "Signs" until Jan. 7, 2003.
The lineup of movies, documentaries, television series and cartoons for the kiddies is impressive with major new releases out every week.
Shoppers will find such recent fare as "Monsters Inc.," the Disney-Pixar collaboration that sold 5 million copies of VHS and DVD the first day, "Spider-Man," "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones," "Men In Black II," an expanded version of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Minority Report," "Scooby-Doo," "Austin Powers in Goldmember," "Stuart Little 2," "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" and "Ice Age," the animated Fox fantasy due just before Thanksgiving that's expected to earn twice its $175 million box office draw. It's not unusual these days for a popular movie to earn on video far more than it did in theaters.
Many favorites from the past are being offered digitally enhanced on DVD for the first time as a new wave of videophiles stock their libraries. That includes this year two of the finest American family films, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," and perhaps the best musical of our time, "Singin' In The Rain." The vintage list seems almost endless, from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "The Thin Man" to "Birth of a Nation." Naturally, there's a new digitalized package of James Bond escapades.
For history buffs there are such entries as Ken Burns' fine nine-part documentary "The Civil War" in a 5-disc set and the Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks collaborative 10-episode World War II mini-series "Band of Brothers."
This is a big season for television shows on video, especially for people without HBO who want to catch up on the first three seasons of "The Sopranos." Same with the first two seasons of "Sex and the City." Others include the early seasons of "Friends" and the first season of "Law and Order," "Buffy the Vampire Killer," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Simpsons" and more "I Love Lucy."
For weightier material, there's the 9-hour adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" with Alec Guinness as John LeCarre's master spy, about half of the 30-hour rendition of Herman Wouk's massive "War and Remembrance" and the complete "Roots."
Kid's row continues its array of pleasing cartoon fare for the small fry, with new adventures of Dora the Explorer, the "Blue's Clues" gang, Barney, SpongeBob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh and a slew of other favorites.
With the DVD revolution running at full speed, video tape has taken the back seat -- just check out any video store -- and many observers predict VHS will be going the way of the Beta format in due time. Not soon, however, for around 80 percent of American homes have VCRs and you cannot record yet on DVD.
It's easy to grasp the lure of the DVD: the picture and sound usually are better, it's far more durable and easier to store and it can hold a great amount of material. Some releases contain hours of extras, deleted scenes, interviews, documentaries, behind-the-scenes stuff, etc. Often there will be two versions of the same movie -- "Beauty and the Beast" had three in its two-disc layout.
Some love the extras, others ignore them, but any way you look at it, for videoviewers, it's a new ball game.