Wednesday, March 23, 2005

DVDs, VCDs: not the same!

Just bought two of Ingmar Bergman’s lesser-known works - Shame and Hour of the Wolf - both made in 1967-68, both starring Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow, two of the director’s (and my) favourite actors. But if I succeed in watching either of these films before the year is out, it will be an achievement; as ever, DVD hoarding continues while viewing is non-existent. (Damn you, Literature!!)

While I’m this close to the subject, let me express long-cherished annoyances towards:

A) People who don’t know or care about the vast, vast difference between a DVD and a VCD.
DVDs, you cretins, are to VCDs what Groucho Marx is to Adam Sandler. There are some people I know who won’t comprehend this analogy, so I’ll make it easier: DVDs are far superior things. The quality is better (it might have something to do with pixellation which I won’t get into here, mainly because I don’t know anything about it), they last much longer and there are numerous add-ons (see point B).
VCDs, so popular still in India for whatever reason, have been filtered out of the system in most of the civilised world. (I cringed horribly when a friend I’d taken along to the British Council Library cheerfully asked them if they kept VCDs as well.)

B) People who have somehow managed to watch DVDs over several months without being aware of things like special features, audio commentary and even - shudder shudder - scene selection!

I know this happens because a friend who regularly borrows DVDs from the French Embassy complained recently that some of the films don’t have subtitles on them. I’m going to keep this short because it hurts my brain to think about it, but essentially what she’s been doing is pressing the “Play” button on the remote as soon as the DVD has been loaded - so the film starts immediately and she simply watches it through to the end; which means she’s never even seen the “Main Menu” page that allows you to choose your audio track, subtitles, switch between scenes and access the special features if you want to see any.

Now I understand there are people who might be interested only in watching the actual movie - but they should at least know about all the options available. Personally, I’m so fascinated by audio commentary tracks (the good ones can be as useful as a film-study course) that I sometimes watch movies even for the first time with the commentary track on instead of the regular soundtrack. (Yes, I know that’s taking it to extremes.)

P.S. Do VCD enthusiasts actually manage to watch every film all the way through from beginning to end without taking a single break? Every single time? Because if they stop for any length of time midway - or if there’s a power outage - they have to tediously fast-forward the disc to the same point on re-starting. Sounds like such fun, no? (Incidentally, one of my VCD-adoring buddies visits the loo an average of 16 times each day, so I’m wondering how this works.)

P.P.S. My only support on this subject comes from Kamlesh K Singh, former colleague and editor/ideator par excellence, who writes a sporadic column with DVD reviews and technical information for Today. I’ve known the man to weep when people use the terms “DVD” and “VCD” interchangeably. He occasionally writes DVD-related things on his very quirky blog too, this post for instance. Might invite him here to add to my limited knowledge.


  1. Agree with everything but the adjectives attributed to me.

    VCDs are an insult to cinema and human senses. I too started with VCD long ago, but then I discovered a better medium.
    It pains me most when people who claim to be film lovers don't know or don't want to recognise the difference between the two mediums. The Groucho Marx and Adam Sandler analogy says it all.

    DVDs are to VCDs what limos are to autorickshaws, both in space and comfort.

    A VCD has 700 MB space, and normally two VCDs carry a full feature, that's picture and sound stuffed (compressed, technically, literally) into 1.4 GB space.

    A DVD (the popular single-sided dual-layer) has 8.5 GB space. The compression method employed here was developed for the medium and is rightly called lossless. So much so that they are left with enough space to put in the film as many as 8 different audio tracks (the film in a couple of other languages, commentaries), loads of text (don't need much space anyway, 1,000 words is just 1 KB), still pictures, biographies.

    But then, dear Jabberwok, some people will never get it. I have a friend here who insisted, in 2005, on borrowing a DVD. And he insisted it'll play on his VCD (he thinks VCD and VCD player are the same). It didn't. He is an educated man, skilled in the world's ways, knows and loves to discuss Hollywood classics and European films. He in fact spends about the same amount on VCDs as I do on DVDs.

    Problem is he's still trying to figure out how to switch off the subtitles on one of his Chinese VCDs. Haven't told him that he'l have to literally scratch the TV screen, cuz there ain't no button to press.

  2. Thanks to Kamakaze for the exposition. I still rue the fact that I didn't use the opportunity of Jabberwock's pre-occupation with Literature to borrow more from his imported DVD collection nor haul my backside to Kamakaze's dig, despite its proximity, where he often regales cineastes with the latest from his enviable treasure trove. I am also missing Palika's Zone. I was delighted to stumble onto the French Information Centre here. Too bad they don't lend DVDs b'coz people here were apparently ending up destroying the priceless collection. So, it's back to the Stone Age for me and I am again looking for a VCR so that I can at least rent out the VHS cassettes.

  3. Nice rant Jai.

    Anyone who can guiltlessly use the word "cretins" is super in my book.


  4. Amazing that you haven't heard of the 'pause' option, dude.

  5. "Shame" is wonderful. It happens to be my favorite Bergman movie. Its a disconcerting film though and one that will probably leave you with images you won't forget in a long time to come.
    "Hour of the Wolf" is a stunning piece of film but somehow didn't stay with me the same way "Shame" did. That being said, it has wonderful performances by both the leads. Enjoy the films. Waiting to hear how you find the films.

  6. I am actually one of those "cretins"! :)
    I really don't care about special features, main menu pages etc. It's a movie, dude, get over it! :)
    But more power to you for all the education I have recieved in this post..

  7. eM, you cretin.
    jai, i have a new DVD player, so come over and use.

  8. eM
    "It's a movie, get over it."

    I agree with not watching extras and not caring about menu pages, but a movie has at least two basic elements today: Audio and visual.

    If you can see the colours and lights, the director and cinematographer went to lengths to film on Panavision.

    And if you could hear it the way the directors intended you to.

    A movie is best enjoyed on big-screen, but out of cinemas DVD is the closest you can get to them.

    You won't read the best book in the world with missing pages, words, smudged letter, spelling mistakes, and paras all over the place and not in order, because some moron decided to just mess it and sell it cheap to non-discerning cretins.

    A book is a book?

    A VCD is a VCD, get over it ASAP.

  9. Kamlesh saar, I love you.

    (and that's five times now the word "cretin" has been used with a single post - a record for my humble blog)

  10. Black Muddy: you CRETIN, I wrote "if they stop for any length of time midway..."
    I know what the "Pause" button is, your bowels don't.

  11. As far as I know, the "VCD" is an asian invention. The west moved from VHS to DVD directly.
    While DVDs have more features & superior quality, VCDs remain cheaper(both retail & rental). For me that makes a lot of difference. The continued existence of VCDs(and music tapes) is still essential in poor countries.

  12. where do u get cheap dvd's in delhi.....for that matter in blore and mumbai too......any info wld be highly appreciated

  13. my god i had no idea people were so touchy about the right of DVDs to live long and be worshipped! excellent!

    (one reason why vcd's are so popular is that they are much cheaper than dvd's, plus most computers can play vcd's, which again makes them more popular with kids who want to watch bad-quality print movies etc. on their desktop, away from the family lounge and mommy-daddy.)

  14. Oh my God! I'm obviously a bit late because everything there is to be said is said. I never had a VCD player. Rajeev had one of those music systems that had a VCD player as well but it was stolen so when I moved to Chandigarh and wanted to buy a VCD player rajeev's friend nearly forced me to instead pay 15000K which looked like a huge amount for a DVD player. This was 2000. he kept saying you'll thank me and boy was he right. Initially we would pay 100 bucks for a DVD for an English movie and see the Hindi timepass flicks as a VCD sicne that was just 30 bucks. But then I started watching fewer Hindi movies but I would prefer to see them on DVD. It started with Chandni Bar I remember. It is after all a cinematic experience, how can anyone enjoy it with that crass quality of print and sound? Anyone who can't tell the difference between 'V' CD and 'D' VD deserves to watch pirated VCDs with chintu candy ads and Ali Haider videos in them and with subtitles which spray across half the screen. As for cheaper alternatives, I'd say watch fewer movies if you think 100 bucks is too much but watch quality cinema. I've now become so attuned to a good original DVD that I tell the guy on the first day itself that if it's a camera print DVD do not send it to me. VCDs are simply out of the question. Last week I Got Ocean's Eleven and Twelve and Eleven was a brilliant print but the first scene of Twelve I knew it was a camera print. Much against my wishes and curiosity, I returned it then and there. Can't see the crap, it actually hurts the eyes and the ears. Rather not watch it.

  15. Now they're coming out with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs - that hold about 5 times the information as current DVD's do. Am wondering what else is there to cram that they don't already on a DVD. Possibly alternate beginings and endings - a step towards the world of interactive cinema?

  16. I have really loved your blog from whatever I have read till now.

    DVDs and VCDs hmm :D

    Hilarious how you are trying to explain to people the differences.

    I am a huge movie buff myself and DVDs are the way to watch movies for the time being. The fear is, when the new technology coms as Anubhav mentioned above, what do I do with the loads of DVDs I have!

  17. Pratyush: sell them all to me at a discount!

  18. DVD days are numbered! Can you believe it ... there is a new product on the market .. VERSATILE MULTILAYER DISC or VMD - a disc that can store 100 GB ... that's almost 10 times DVD!!!!

    This VMD was successfully demostrated at Cebit recently ... a Hindi movie was actually screened in high defintion.

    VMD is precisely the same size and thickness as DVD. While DVD technology utilizes two layers of a disc, VMD technology has conceived multi-layering, whereby the storage capacity is dramatically increased. Each additional layer adds approximately up to 5 GB of memory over a standard DVD disc. VMD provides the ability to place up to 20 layers on a single disc with no quality loss in the content stored. This means capacity to record 100 GB or more. More info on these links:

  19. VMD - The future of High Defintion Video Discs ...

    Understanding & Solutions, a leading worldwide consultancy in optical disc markets reports, "NME's multilayer disc offers the possibility to achieve capacities equivalent to 'next generation' blue laser based discs such as Blu-ray - i.e. up to 50GB - using the red laser technology employed by today's DVDs. The discs can also be played on standard DVD-R drives with only minor modifications."

    This is the Info that I found on the net:

    VMD Uses existing Red laser technology
    Multi-layer storage increases capacity several fold over DVD
    VM Disc capacity 20 > 100 GB
    VMD Player hosts all standard formats
    Prices comparable to existing products!!!

  20. Guys! Is there a place/library in Delhi where I can rent original Hollywood DVDs? I am looking for a library with both old and new hollywood movies. Thank you in advance.

  21. Good God!!! I can't believe differences between DVD and VCD actually have to explained !!! I mean there has to be something slightly wrong with your eyes if you can't tell the difference. A small addition......DVDs are supposed to have something called Easter Eggs embedded in them. Easter Eggs are sepcial features/footage that are difficult to find. FOr example Spiderman II's DVD has Doc Ock doing a little jig, which can be found only after looking very very hard indeed

  22. there are several options if you want hollywood movies on rent, DVD, VCD, etc :-

    Since I have not really been satisfied with any, I am thinking of starting my own little private club if I can get enough people interested. So those of you in or around the Delhi - NCR area, feel free to email me at for details

    Alternatively you may want to try these:-

    (1). The one I recommend and am a regular customer of is a rental called 3L Library located in the Defence Colony Market (behind Moets), maybe I will post a phone number for this place later on. Basically the guys who run this store are nice, decent, polite etc.

    (2). There are some places in Lajpat Nagar Market, one in particular is Sharada, Tel: 5132 5053 and 5132 5054 located at 6/39 Lajpat Nagar IV (around Amar Colony) opposite this popular eating joint called Nagpal, close to the Ring Road, behind the Heart Institute. I believe the owner is called Rakesh. This is the place where I sell all my used stuff, so I need to promote this :)

    (3). You could become a member of the British Council Library, located in Connaught Place (Kasturba Gandhi Marg), by far the cheapest option, and this is a part of the British High Commission, you may call them at: 23711401, URL:

    (4). Video stores in Pallika Bazar in Connaught Place have this deal where you can buy DVDs and later return them to the store in something like an exchange deal. When you return the first lot, you can buy the second at a lower rate (sort of get a discount). Note, this deal is available only on Pirated movies, they don't have this on company originals. Also you really need to bargain. You can the get the first DVD for something like Rupees 120 and subsequently when you return you can get the others for like 70 each. You really have to be strong in bargaining here.

    (5). Last, (one that I do not recommend) there is this place at Vasant Vihar (Basant Lok Shopping Complex), near PVR Priya Cinema, called Balcony (it is right next to Modern Bazar) , you may want to look for Subway and Nirula's to get here. I hate this place because they have the highest rates , they are expensive and have some pretty weird rules about membership. I really got annoyed with them.

  23. hi, i found this very interesting DVD Rental site, it rent original movies in DVD & VCD in any indian metro city. with free home delivery & large collection

    i just called them...

  24. hey, you may wanna try DVD RENTAL at

    it has got all from old classic to latest hollywood/bollywood..

    free home delivery in delhi, gurgoan, noida, bangalore, hyderabad, mumbai.

  25. Jabberwock:
    Was reading some of your old posts and came across this. I agree with a lot of what you and the others have said. Just wanted to put in one good word for VCDs. DVDs are certainly better than VCDs but the quality of a DVD depends to a large extent on the way it has been authored. I am sure you must have sat through the endless promos of Eros Entertainment DVDs, tearing you hair and wondering when the main menu will come up so that you can watch the movie. In most cases, pressing a remote button merely results in an X showing up on the top left of the screen (translation: Don't even think about skipping our promos). By the time the menu comes up, you have lost all desire to watch the movie. With VCDs you simply fast forward. Alas, most Bengali movies are still available as VCDs.

  26. Rykowolf, west had a brief dalliance with Laser Discs (LDs) between VHS & DVD. I personally love them because they are cheap, & still has some rare titles. The quality is at least as good as VHS. I must have about close to a 100 of them now. They are bloody heavy & take up a lot of shelf space, & look like LPs. The first two reasons probably caused its demise. DVD consumption has overtaken VHS in the US for two years now.

    hjrsingh, I wish I could get more Bong movies on DVD. When I was in Cal this February many Ray, Ghatak & Sen (Aparna & Mrinal) movies were out on DVD, but the quality was iffy. But watching it on VCD takes me back to DD of the 80s (visual quality wise), so some nostalgia points there.

  27. can anyone help me with renting or buying dvds or vcds in ludhiana? pirated or original, prefer original. thanx. email me at

  28. can anyone help me with renting or buying dvds or vcds in ludhiana? pirated or original, prefer original. thanx. email me at

  29. After paying good money for dvd's from EROS Entertainment that were mastered by monkeys, I will no longer waste my money... I can download all the Bollywood films I want from the gigacrew irc network and screw those bastards at EROS!!

  30. I remember reading in a article long ago, that the picture quality of a VCD is like that of a DVD, only covered with a mist of water droplets....

    i had friends who thought that they can play DVDs in the cd rom of their pc only by using a DVD software... imagine that!!!