This week marks a milestone in the history of disc media. The first feature movies on DVD were released in the US and included titles such as Blade Runner: Director’s Cut, Goldeneye, Interview with a Vampire, The Fugitive, and Twister (which is noted by some as being the very first cinematic title on DVD in the US).
The 25th anniversary of the DVD occurs not long after the 15th anniversary of Blu-ray last summer and the 5th anniversary of Ultra HD Blu-ray just over a year ago, both of which would not exist if it were not for the invention of the DVD.
The launch of DVD in the US (Region 1) followed several titles in Japan (Region 2) during December 1996 including The Fugitive, Blade Runner: Director’s Cut, Eraser, and Assassins. And, although the last week of March, 1997 brought the first batches of Hollywood hits to DVD in the US there were some documentaries and lesser-known titles released previously on the format.
The new format wasn’t exactly cheap though. At the time, DVD players started at about $600 and individual movie discs were about $25 a pop. With inflation taken into account, $25 would be equal to about $43 today. That’s close to the list price of many Blu-rays and 4k Blu-rays. The price of the hardware (DVD, Blu-ray, and 4k Blu-ray players), however, has decreased substantially.
You can look at DVD today and criticize the quality compared to Blu-ray and streaming (which has come a long way since the dawn of YouTube), but you’ve got to realize the impact DVD had over VHS — an analog-looking, unreliable piece of tape that (like cassette tapes) seem extremely primitive by today’s standards. Some of us may remember adjusting the tracking on a VHS tape so that it wouldn’t fluctuate like an old broadcast TV signal.
You can also look further back at LaserDisc, the 12″ optical disc that offered better audio and video quality than VHS and Betamax but never really became a dominant format due to the rise of the less expensive (albeit inferior) VHS tape. By the time DVD came to market, however, LaserDisc was a thing of the past.
But LaserDisc technology, a combination of analog and digital capabilities, lead to the development of other optical formats including the all-digital CD and all-digital DVD – no longer would an album or movie degrade over time in analog form. As long as the optical disc was not scratched, it would play like new every time.
The DVD would change how movies were watched at home, providing a more stable and durable media that surpassed all consumer formats in terms of image resolution offering 720 x 480 (NTSC) lines of resolution. With the introduction of Blu-ray, HD DVD, and HDTV ten years later, DVDs became known as Standard Resolution (SD) or 480p when comparing to High Definition (HD) offered in 720p and 1080p resolution.
Regardless of inferior video resolution though, DVDs still dominate physical media manufacturing today. A recent top-selling disc chart from Media Play News shows DVDs with a 65.1% market share. Compare that number with Blu-ray at 28% and Ultra HD Blu-ray at only 6.9%.
According to veteran DVD/Blu-ray analyst Ralph Tribbey, there are over 260,000 domestic DVD titles compared to about 33,000 Blu-ray and less than a thousand 4k Blu-ray titles. He says the continued dominance of DVD can be attributed to the ease at which it can be replicated in an industry where “eighty percent of all new DVD releases are manufactured on demand.”
DVDs also redefined packaged media. During the first decade of this century, television studios found it lucrative to package complete seasons of hit shows into multi-disc editions, as well as expensive but beautifully-designed boxed sets with every episode of a TV series along with extra bonus material or memorabilia to sweeten the deal. And, movie studios started boxing franchises like the original Star Wars Trilogy and first three Indiana Jones movies, sometimes making a “double-dip,” a phrase that refers to the repackaging (or refacing) of the same content in order to sell it again. Still though, some of the packaging was found to be irresistible, no matter the cost. You might even call the previous 20 years the “heyday” of packaged media.
Several studios including Lionsgate, Sony, and Universal/SDS still package DVDs in some Blu-ray combo editions along with a digital code, providing three different ways to watch the movie. Where are those DVDs being watched, if, they are even being watched? We can only speculate. However, we know DVD players are still the most common disc players in car entertainment systems (outside of CD players), laptops and desktop computers (although optical disc drives are not as common anymore) are more likely to have DVD players, and, the chances of finding a DVD player (or multiple players) in a home is still much higher than a Blu-ray player.
This website was founded after the launch of Blu-ray in 2006, and we often joked about what to do with old DVDs after purchasing upgraded Blu-ray versions of movies: use them as coasters, frisbees, or to scare away birds from fruit trees. But the reality is the format is alive and well (just look around at supermarket checkouts), and even original DVDs from 1997 will still play just fine on newer disc players.