If you see a bargain box set of a US TV series (and I've also seen a Bond collection) and think it's too good to be true, it probably is. These are most likely Asian imports. I have to make it clear that I have no evidence that these are pirate copies - in fact I'm pretty sure they're not. The point is that they are poor quality. There are two specific issues I have experienced:
- Low quality video - MPEG-2 standards set a minimum of 4Mbit/s, but these are well below that. The consequence is that pixelation often occurs on scene transitions. I also found that watching the DVD on a PC showed up the video quality even more - the quality is similar to that of a VHS tape copied to DVD.
- Disc errors - some will not even play, while others stick and jump. I assume it's due to the manufacturing techniques. This seems to be recognised by ebay sellers and their wholesalers, as they advertise free replacement of faulty discs. That's not very reassuring when you think that a boxset could have over 40 discs - who's to say they will still honour that promise when you get to disc 40? The ebay seller may not even be a member anymore!
Many UK ebay sellers list these boxsets with a UK location. Some make a reference elsewhere to the true location, but some don't even bother to even refer to their Asian origin. Giving an incorrect item location is against ebay policies, and you can report any items that breach this rule. When I ask sellers whether an item is being shipped directly from Asia, they normally confirm it.
Buyers should remember that importing goods attracts customs duty & VAT on arrival. But don't worry, as the wholesalers in Asia automatically mark all shipments as 'gift' to avoid this. This is pure and simple tax evasion. Having to pay duty is a pain, but no one really wants to break UK law, do they? Ignorance might save you, but reading this guide has just taken your ignorance away.
There are quite a few wholesalers in Asia. I found hsshopping.com quite useful as they have pictures of the boxsets I can check against ebay listings, and I now know how cheap the boxsets are - another testament to the poor quality - so I know how much profit ebay sellers are making. Some even set the starting price at double the cost to them! The Asian versions are often not in the same packaging as US/UK versions although I've noticed they now do have US/UK-style packaging for some boxsets, so even the appearance is no longer a good indicator of origin.
I tried to confirm the quality issues with hsshopping, but they unsurprisingly wouldn't acknowledge them. They did seem willing enough to talk about illegal importation (although were unclear on whether they do it) and that DVDs cannot be exported for commercial purposes, and admitted that DVDs from Asia sometimes have (unspecified) problems. They also suggested that ebay have stopped Asian DVDs from being sold outside of Asia, but sadly this does not appear to be the case.
In summary then, ebay sellers offering Asian boxsets are cheating in a number of ways - they cheat you on price and quality, they cheat the UK tax authorities, and they even cheat other honourable sellers who have the real thing on sale. I don't know if my experience is typical, but I have seen other buyers leave bad feedback for Asian DVDs. BUYERS BEWARE!