Are you paying too much for DVD movies?

Online DVD retailer DVDplus has accused the high street stores of exploiting customers with inflated prices.

UK retailers are charging too much for DVD movie titles and exploiting consumers, according to DVDplus managing director Bryan Welsh.

The three main film studios -- Warner, Polygram and Columbia -- recommended prices of between £15.99 and £22.99 for discs. Welsh claimed retailers hiked up prices as much as £5 over this. "I believe this is a combination of greed, exploitation of early adopters and misinformed pricing strategies," Welsh said.

Describing retailers' attitude to DVD as "alarmingly lukewarm" Welsh believes high prices and apathy are preventing take-up of DVD. "All in all, the DVD customer is not being served and the technology is being held back," he said.

DVD movies started to appear in the U.K. in May 1998, with Virgin and HMV the first to stock titles. Initial take-up was slow: after six months only 20 movie titles were available and only 10,000 DVD players had reached the UK.

Since the technology was relaunched in October the number of movies available has increased to around 300, with another 300 expected by the end of summer. By the end of 1999, the U.K. should have around 1,000 movie titles available on DVD. Experts predict around 200,000 set top boxes will be shipped to the U.K. this year.

A spokesman for Virgin dismissed the claims: "Virgin was a pioneer in DVD technology," he said "It doesn't surprise me he (Welsh) is in online and doesn't have the store and staff costs we have."

An HMV spokesman denied the store was lacklustre about the new technology. "We are embracing DVD in all our stores and have invested more in DVD than any other high street store," he said. He claimed falling manufacturing prices has led to a "dramatic change" in pricing over the last month with benefits being passed on to the customer. A DVD disc bought from HMV now retails at around £16, a drop of around £4 on previous prices he claimed.

Backtracking, Welsh admitted high street prices are coming down. "It is changing and retailers are getting more responsible," he said.

ZDNet News did its own investigation, taking a random sample of central London high street retailers and online sellers. We found that new titles like Armageddon are cheaper across the board but there are still discrepancies (see below). According to a London branch of Dixons, "the prices seem to change from week to week..."

Consumer Association researcher Simon Liss admitted some of the prices we found sounded expensive. So are consumers getting a fair deal? "Not a fair deal but compared to VHS prices I wouldn't say prices were exorbitant and remember DVD does provide a lot of extras." He remained sceptical retailers would drop prices. "They said the price of CDs would come down but they never did."

Liss recommended people shop around, especially in independent stores and online, pointing out that many consumers are bypassing regional coding by getting their machines altered to play any DVD. "It is not illegal to alter the machine and there are some great prices from the US," he said.

ArmaggedonLock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Virgin£15.99£20.99
HMV£15.99£20.99
Dixons£15.99£17.99
Currys£15.99£19.99
DVDplus£14.99£16.99
HMV online£17.78£22.78

Take me to the DVD Basement.