An argument for physical over digital media

While our entertainment is primarily digital, many physical forms with better quality are slept on

· Nov 9, 2020 Tweet

Carly Foy

There is no question that streaming services have become a cultural zeitgeist of the time — mostly for good reason.

Streaming services are far cheaper than cable, have large libraries of both recent shows and films and classics, and can be viewed anywhere there is a signal. As services like Netflix have risen, businesses like Blockbuster fell, and DVD sales have dropped by 86% in the past 13 years. Why purchase something that you may already be paying for, or at least can buy immediately to watch? Many consumers are unaware of the advantages of physical media.

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Collectors of records often discuss the difference in quality to an MP3, and this applies to DVDs as well. A critical aspect of the Blu-ray disc is high resolution, which is possible due to the amount of storage on a disc. Many streaming sites can brag about their own high resolution, but if you compare it to a Blu-ray disc, the quality would fall short.

The explanation lies in the compression that occurs when a piece of media is formatted for online streaming. In order to allow thousands of viewers to stream on a standard, or even weak internet connection, the media is compressed to a small size — reducing the quality of the image and even affecting the frame rate. While many cinephiles will crave watching something on film, a Blu-ray is the best at-home quality available.

DVDs also come with bonus features that are often excluded from digital purchases and are rarely, if ever, present on streaming services. Often, the prices for DVDs are only slightly higher but come with more features. With the existence of boutique distributors like The Criterion Collection, Arrow Video and Kino Lorber, new restorations of older films, special limited editions and features and more, owning a physical copy has more material and does justify the price.

A recent recurring problem is the refrain by digital companies that your digital purchases do not belong to you. Amazon recently said that you are actually paying for a “limited streaming license.” Other problems have occurred when a person moves to another country or the company that hosts the media goes out of business.

If you own a physical copy, there is no question that you own it. This copy can also be resold, loaned to friends or regifted. This opens up opportunities for buying used copies at cheaper prices, and while it may shock some, DVD rental places still exist.

In Madison, Four Star Video Rental has a large library of DVD and Blu-ray discs to rent. While browsing in person is limited due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, curbside pick-up is available. They also rent out VHS and DVD players if you do not have one.

DVD and Blu-ray players have become more affordable since their initial release. In addition, many people may own DVD and Blu-ray players without even realizing it. The Xbox and Playstation for a long time have built-in disc reading. The new PS5s and Xbox Series X will be able to read 4K discs.

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None of this is to say that streaming should end. Some things are only available through streaming or are just worth putting on in the background. Purchasing something that may soon get pulled from streaming, deserves the appreciation of its stunning images or simply is an all-time favorite does seem worth it.

Finally, consider trying the peace of browsing the stacks of a rental place in person. It truly is not comparable to scrolling through rows of images.


This article was published Nov 9, 2020 at 9:00 am and last updated Nov 10, 2020 at 10:57 am


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