Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Tech in China: Bootlegged DVDs

Most people, at one point or another, have heard about how easy it is to buy bootlegged DVDs in China. I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard is true – sort of.

Almost anything is available, if you know the right places to go, but quality is something of a mixed bag. I’ve had some DVDs that I purchase work perfectly, while others make a horrifying rattling noise for minimum thirty seconds when my laptop’s optical drive tries to spin up. I think perhaps they’re unbalanced, but I’m not positive. Anyway, the dumb drive is persistent and makes a valiant effort, I’ll give it that, but it doesn’t know when to quit.

Below are some examples of the movies I purchased and (attempted to) watch thus far, as well as a description of the viewing experience. Obviously not every single copy of a title will play poorly just because mine did, but the various problems will give you some hint as to the overall experience.

The Wrestler: I was surprised to find this so quickly after it’s release in the US, but really happy because I’d been wanting to see the movie and didn’t before I left. Overall the quality was excellent, and the movie play nicely up until the final fifteen minutes. Then the generic DVD Player that comes packaged with OS-X began giving me “Skipping Damaged Area” messages and jumping to the credits. After ten minutes of battling to see the final scene, I gave up and watched it online on YouKu (Chinese rip-off of YouTube).

Slumdog Millionaire: The best of the bunch. I absolutely loved the movie, and playback was nearly flawless, the only problem being mediocre-quality audio.

Milk: Another great one that, like The Wrestler, kept trying to quit without giving me the final moments of the film. Ever tried to fight DVD Player over whether or not it’ll let you watch damaged areas? You have to be sneaky. Let it skip as far ahead as it wants, then just move playback to a few seconds after the part you were on. 90% of the time your problem is solved, at least until it finds another “damaged area.”

The Watchmen: This DVD was clearly hurried into production, having so recently opened in theaters, but I couldn’t resist picking it up. The video was from someone’s camcorder in a theater, and only had 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning the left and right edges got cut off. Also, for some entirely unknown reason, the audio went from decent and in English, to horrible and in Russian for the scene on Mars where Dr. Manhattan’s big glass thing slash fortress of solitude knockoff was destroyed. Rather ironically, the final scene of the movie (45 seconds or so in that comic book shop) was also in Russian, giving the ending a decidedly different feel for me. I guess the Soviets took over the US in my version.

Defiance: Not bad overall. It was a critic’s copy, though, and as such flashed ‘For Your Consideration’ on the bottom of the screen every ten minutes or so. Video quality was mediocre. The translation on the DVD cover were absolutely horrific – “Freedin begubs with an act of defiance.”

Crank: No picture, sorry. This was the strangest purchasing experience of the bunch. It took five minutes of arguing with the clerk in the DVD shop for me to realize that it was for rent, not for sale. It actually turned out to be a great deal at one yuan per day (about 15-16 cents US depending on the exchange rate). Unfortunately, the menu was in Russian, as was a bit of the audio. Fun movie, though, and I think the ol’ ultraviolence shocked/terrified my Bangladeshi roommate.

So there you have it. Chinese bootlegs are by no means a great viewing experience, and sometimes the audio isn’t even all in English. I would stick to downloading torrents, but my school seems to be blocking P2P content. Most of the time movies are 5-10 yuan, which works out to around $.75 – $1.50. It’s cheap price is pretty much the only redeeming factor, but everything’s cool as long as you don’t have any particularly high expectations.

On a side note, I discovered that oftentimes a movie that is labeled as Blu-ray is really just DVD-9, or dual-layer DVD. That being said, China’s also got two or three home-brewed HD formats that are trying to compete with legitimate Blu-ray, so examine packaging carefully before trying to buy Blu-ray movies on the cheap


March 23, 2009 - Posted by | Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Well here in the Philippines bootleg DVDs are almost in all sidewalks, sold mostly by Muslim traders. With its price of 45-50 Pesos ($1 = P46)it takes only a highly principled individual not to buy one from that Muslim guy around the corner. The nice thing here, you can exchange it with another copy or another movie if you are not happy with the quality or just you dont want the movie.

    I am not a techy guy but the quality is even better than the legits sold in legitimate shops. If legit DVDs are registering 4-5 mbps, these bootleg China DVDs have 7-8 mbps normal vid resolution. Moreover,Mostly are in 5.1 DD and DTS audio. Besides, the packaging is topnotch.

    Yes these are DVD 9 or dual layered DVDs labeled as Bluray. One piece DVD 9 disc here costs 50 pesos or one dollar.

    Comment by samvoy | February 21, 2010 | Reply

  2. I found a reliable guy online that sells bootleg anime, and you can’t even tell it’s not retail. The packaging is exactly the same and the audio/video is crystal clear. Bootlegging is unfortunately the only way you can get out of print anime, unless you like blowing 300 bucks or more for used copies.

    Comment by Robbie | March 16, 2010 | Reply

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