The home-video landscape sure has changed. No one still buys discs, right? Well, wrong -- mostly.
A surge in the sales of Blu-ray discs actually pushed home-entertainment spending up in the third quarter to $3.9 billion, an increase of 5 percent over 2010, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. So even though DVD sales continue to decline, consumers are still buying physical media -- along with watching movies on-demand, downloading TV episodes and renting discs rather than buying.
For gift-giving, discs are still the main choice, partly because they offer something physical to wrap and are more thoughtful than a gift card.
Blu-ray is definitely the way to go, as long as gift recipients have a player and a high-def TV. But if they don't have a player, why not get them one? Decent models that not only play the high-def discs but also DVDs and streaming movies from Netflix, Amazon and more can be had for less than you might think, such as the LG BD630 ($68 at Amazon) and the Sony BDP-S580 (about $100 from various sellers).
Among the big Blu-rays this holiday season, there's something about Harry -- as in Harry Potter. Now that the final film, "Deathly Hallows, Part 2," has come out, fans can get sets of the entire series. The boy wizard is conjuring up amazing deals, too. For example, Amazon has sold the "Part 2" Blu-ray for $10 with a set of the other seven films for only $47.
Other hot new theatrical releases on Blu-ray ($10-$25 on sale from many sellers) include "Super 8," "Bridesmaids," "Thor," "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Water for Elephants," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Cars 2" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Coming soon are "Cowboys & Aliens" and "The Hangover, Part II" on Dec. 6 and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Midnight in Paris" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" on Dec. 13.
Many come in editions that include a regular DVD -- for that old player in the rec room or the cabin, maybe -- and a digital copy for computers and portable players.
The previous seasons of most current TV shows are available on DVD and Blu-ray, including "The Walking Dead," "Modern Family," "Mad Men" and "Glee." Recently released older shows that deserve a special mention, because they might get overlooked, include complete-series collections of the sci-fi series "Farscape" on Blu-ray (less than $100 on sale) and DVD-only sets of the late-'60s thriller "It Takes a Thief" (also less than $100) and the cartoon bumbler "Mr. Magoo" (less than $60).
High-profile classic films that are new to Blu-ray (with approximate sale prices noted) include "Star Wars: The Complete Saga" ($90), "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Editions" ($50), "Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy" ($30) and "The Lion King" ($25).
Cinephiles will be thrilled with high-def makeovers of hallmark films. These stunning new Blu-ray editions include "Citizen Kane" ($37), "West Side Story" ($20) and the 1925 silent "Phantom of the Opera" ($25) starring Lon Chaney. DVD-only sets that will appeal to serious cinema buffs include "Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938" ($35), a 40-film collection of historic westerns, and the exhaustive 10-disc comedy blowout "Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" ($65).
Blu-rays (and DVDs) from the venerable Criterion Collection (www.criterion.com), packed with extras, continue to be a can't-miss choice for lovers of classic and foreign films. Noteworthy new releases include "12 Angry Men," "Island of Lost Souls," "Three Colors: Blue, White, Red," "Orpheus" and "The Four Feathers" ($25 and up).
But Criterion releases also can be a gift for those who have moved on from discs. Much of the collection is available to watch on any video-streaming device, from Hulu Plus (www.huluplus.com), where gift subscriptions for a month to a year of service cost $8 a month.
Hulu Plus streams thousands of other movies and TV shows, too. So do Amazon ($79 a year via Amazon Prime, www.amazon.com/prime) and Netflix ($8 a month, www.netflix.com). You can even give the gift of pay-per-view movies to customers of Comcast cable TV ($20 and up, www.comcast.com/giftcards).
You'll have to think creatively to wrap those virtual gifts, though.