Getting pirated DVDs in Shanghai is as easy as buying some fruit. On the street there are vendors who have a wooden tables with small boxes full of DVDs in both English and Chinese (and perhaps some in other languages as well). The second type of vendor is the one that has a store front, which normally stocks a full selection of music as well as DVDs (including the complete Simpsons, CSI, or Desperate Housewives collections for example). Depending on the locality of where the vendor is, the selection will vary to be targeted towards locals (more Chinese DVDs) or foreigners (more English DVDs). In my neighborhood, Xujiahui, it’s more of the latter while Old Town (like the Yuyuan area) is more of the former.
The quality of DVDs largely depends on when you purchase them relative to their status in the States. If they’re still on the screen, you’ll undoubtedly get a screen capture, which is probably a guy with a video camera in a movie theater somewhere. They’re of surprisingly good quality, I have yet to get one that has a voice or a body interrupt and they sometimes include subtitles in multiple languages as well as potentially dubbed tracks as well. If the movie is in DVD in the States, then they’re mostly exact replicas of the originals. Sometimes some special content may not be available or they may have mixed language (English and Chinese) titles when, I assume, the copy source was the legitimate Chinese version. Otherwise, they’re perfect replicas.
Cost? Well, as far as I can tell, it’s one of the few things here that’s fairly fixed. DVDs by and large cost 7 RMB per disk, which is about $0.87. Thus Harry Potter will cost 7 RMB and a season of the Simpsons may cost 35 RMB if there are 5 DVDs. You can sometimes get a discount if you buy many, but the pricing (at least for a meiguoren) seems fixed.
[update on 2006-01-11: fixed a grammer error found by reader]