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Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 12:30 p.m. ET

DVD and Blu-ray holiday gifts

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Jen Chaney
Washington Post DVD columnist
Tuesday, December 8, 2009; 12:30 PM

Trying to decide what to give the sci-fi geeks and the cineastes on your holiday shopping list?

Send your questions to Jen Chaney, Washington Post DVD columnist, during an online discussion on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 12:30 p.m. ET. She'll recommend great DVD and Blu-ray gifts -- including items from our 2009 DVD holiday guide and more -- and answer other questions you may have about what's happening in the home entertainment realm.

Chaney has been writing DVD reviews for washingtonpost.com since 2003. Her DVD reviews also appear every Friday in the Post's Weekend section.

Submit your questions before or during today's discussion.

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Jen Chaney: Hey, everyone. Hard to believe it's already time to talk about DVD holiday gifts again; the year of watching/purchasing non-holiday-related DVDs and Blu-rays just flew by.

Send me any questions or comments, would love to hear them. (I'll also allow for the airing of Festivus grievances.) I'll do my best to answer everything.

Oh, and don't forget to check out the DVD holiday gift guide if you're looking for more ideas.

All right, let's get started.

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Falls Church, Va.: Jen,

I'm a classic movie kinda guy, and the genre makes up 95% of my movie watching. I've had "The African Queen" (1951) with Katharine Hepburn & Humphrey Bogart in my Netflix queue forever, but the ever-present "unavailable" tag never changes. Indeed, this is a DVD I would buy in a heartbeat, but it does not seem to be available. What gives? Can you shed some light on why this fantastic movie is not available for rent or purchase?

Jen Chaney: This is indeed frustrating and puzzling considering some of the utterly random movies and TV shows that get issued (and reissued) on DVD and Blu-ray.

I believe "The African Queen" is coming to DVD soon, though (finally!). I heard Paramount will release it, although I don't know a date off the top of my head. If someone has more up-to-date information or knows the date, by all means, share it with the group.

The film also is available in the UK, on region two DVDs. Which, of course, is only helpful to people in the States who have region two DVD players. But figured it was worth mentioning.

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Help! "Nice" White Elephant: My family this year has decided to do a white elephant gift exchange, but instead of a silly gift, I've been instructed to bring something "nice" and around $50. I love the idea ... but, wow, help! I have no idea what to bring! Ages in the group the group range from 24 yrs to 89 yrs. We have a vet tech, lawyer, video game programmer/business owner, university administrator, two professors, public health trained stay-at-home mom, NGO staffer, two artists and a grandpa. I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to bring??? The pressure is on -- I don't want to be the one who brings the "lame" gift!

Jen Chaney: Wow, that is tough. That's a pretty wide age range.

I also think white elephants that involve nice gifts are too hard. It should be all tacky, all the time.

In any case ... trying to choose a box set that appeals to so many potential people might be tough. If you want to stick with the movie theme, though, you might try putting together a movie lover's gift; package together some popcorn, big boxes of candy, maybe a little movie trivia book and a gift card to Netflix or a place that sells DVDs (whether it's Amazon, Best Buy or an independent seller -- remember those?).

That way you give something DVD-related but the recipient can still choose the movies/TV shows/etc. he or she is really interested in watching.

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Newark, Del.: Jen,

I asked on Facebook, so I'll ask here too.

Which version of the Lost season 5 box set?

Regular? Dharma box set? Best Buy set with the extra disc and "luggage tag?"

Jen Chaney: I tackled this very issue in my "Lost: Season Five" review this morning (or tried to, anyway).

If you are not a big collectible type and really just want to watch the episodes and the extras, go with the regular version. It's more affordable and I suspect there will be another massive, memorabilia-laden box set released after next season, once the whole "Lost" she-bang has ended. (So in denial that that's actually happening...)

If, however, you are a super-"Lost" geek and you have the cash (or a loved one in need of something to give you for the holidays), go for the Dharma one. It's fun and just a beautifully packaged set. But it won't reveal the actual ending of the show or anything, so it's not like you're paying extra for special "Lost" secrets.

Also, if you go with the Dharma Orientation Kit, make sure your VCR is in working order. It took me longer to get mine hooked up again than it did to watch the enclosed orientation video in its entirety.

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Cleveland: Hi Jen,

I'm finding that buying DVD collections is kinda confusing, as so many types exist! So, do you have any advice for buying the Harry Potter movies (all up to this point, so 1-6) and The Bourne movies? I don't need blu-ray, and I don't necessarily need any extras/bonus features, though I think I would be more inclined to get those with HP if they're worth it (I'm a big fan). Thanks for any direction!

Jen Chaney: Hi, Cleveland! When you say you don't need Blu-ray, I assume you mean that you don't have a Blu-ray player. If you do have one, I might advise you to get Blu-ray on both of these since all of the films are available in high-def and look particularly shiny and pristine in that format.

If you don't have Blu-ray and have no plans to get it, then regular DVDs obviously will work just fine. All six of the Potter movies are available as a gift set, but I think -- if you do some price shopping -- you'll find that you may be able to buy each one individually for the same amount or less. Most of the Potter movies come with some extras (the special editions have more features, if memory serves), but if you just want the movies at a reasonable price, look into buying them one by one and do the math to see if it works out to less than the gift set.

I'd suggest you do the same re: "Bourne."

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Philadelphia, Pa.: FYI, Lost seasons 1-5 are on sale today on Amazon for $73.

Jen Chaney: Indeed they are! A colleague mentioned that to me this morning; he was debating whether to buy them or not, and leaning toward yes. (The Blu-rays also are available for around $109).

I think this is a case where the bundled version definitely saves the consumer some money. And it's clearly a way to make sure the masses consume the entire series before that last season starts.

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Pendleton, S.C.: What's the best DVD recorder for our needs? We have a 14 year old Panasonic TV which works well. Our 4 year old Panasonic dvd recorder is failing. We are considering a Panasonic DMR EA18K or a slightly more expensive Panasonic DMR EZ28K. All we use a recorder for is recording TV shows. When we replace our current tv, will these dvd recorder models be compatible with a new tv set? Price is really not a consideration. Simplicity and convenience is our primary concern.

Jen Chaney: Hmmm ... DVD recorders are not my area of expertise. Let me ask you a question, though: are you recording the shows to watch them once, then get rid of them? Or are you recording them to hang on to them for a bit?

If it's the former and not the latter, then I honestly think you should get a DVR and buy a regular, less expensive DVD player. DVRs are much more convenient, in my experience, than any VCR or other recording device. And you won't have to worry about the compatability issues.

That said, I would imagine any recordable DVD player would be compatible with a new TV. As far as a make and model, though, I am at a loss, so I'll throw that out as a question for the group. Anyone have recommendations for a good DVD recorder?

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Arlington, Va.: Will Blu-ray players be going down in price in the near future or should we wait for "the next big thing" in DVD delivery?

Jen Chaney: Blu-ray players already have gone down in price, as have Blu-ray discs. Given the situation with the economy, the studios and manufacturers seemed to realize there was no way they could attract any new consumers unless they made some cuts.

Now it's pretty routine to see Blu-ray discs that cost about the same as a special edition DVD (around $35) or even less. And you can get players in the $100 to $200 range.

I have a PS3, and those recently dropped down to $299 from the previous $399. So while Blu-ray isn't exactly dirt-cheap, there has definitely been movement toward the more affordable end of the spectrum.

As far as whether to plunge ahead or wait it out, I believe we're a little ways from being able to download or stream everything directly. So I think the Blu-ray/DVD market has a few years left in it. There are differing opinion on this, of course, but I think Blu-ray is generally worth it for people who already have invested in high-def TVs and decent sound systems.

The experience of watching a movie is most definitely sharper and more impressive, as Mr. Shales mentioned in his column today. And I also think there is potential to do even more interesting, interactive things with extras that the studios have yet to tap.

BD-Live, for example, is such a cool thing and the industry isn't fully taking advantage of it yet. I hope to see more risk-taking in that department in 2010 -- and, incidentally, risk-taking that allows reviewers to actually preview the functionality ahead of the Blu-ray's release date.

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The Bada-Bing: What's the best box set display/container you've ever gotten? I remember "The Sopranos" one, which was hilarious.

Jen Chaney: "The Sopranos" complete series set, the one that came out last year, was pretty insane. In terms of sheer weight alone, it could easily crush a small subdevelopment in your average suburb.

So that one would probably rank up there. The "Futurama" Bender head that I mentioned in the DVD guide -- along with the Dharma Kit -- are high on the list of utter wacky sets for this year.

And I still harbor a special place of affection for the "Freaks and Geeks" yearbook, which was put together with such obvious care at a time when it wasn't clear that very many people would even buy the thing.

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Harrisburg, PA: RE: DVD Recorders I have several of the Panasonic units and they're fine. The only difference I can see between the two models mentioned is that the more expensive one plays DIVX discs while the cheaper one doesn't. I doubt that this matters to most people, so they should go with the cheaper one.

Jen Chaney: Several? Good lord, Harrisburg, how much recording onto DVD are you doing?

Thanks for the tip, though. Consider it passed on to our reader in search of a new DVD recorder...

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Your opinion: What is the "best" DVD of "A Christmas Carol" for viewing by whole family? I know it's subjective, but where do you weigh in?

Jen Chaney: Oh, I gotta go Mr. Magoo. Hands down.

But seriously ... I would probably go the traditional route and opt for either Alistair Sim or Albert Finney. I honestly have not watched either on DVD (always on TV), so I can't speak to the quality of the discs themselves, though.

"Scrooged" starring Bill Murray also has a certain '80s-era charm.

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Jen Chaney: I have to say goodbye, unfortunately. Not sure how helpful this particular holiday chat has been, but at least we got that DVD recorder problem semi-resolved.

I am hoping to do another chat in a couple of weeks, pegged to my annual unconventional holiday movie list. Keep your eyes open for it. And thanks again for your questions.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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