My film collection is now almost 800 movies strong, with 135 of those being 4K UHD discs, 524 Blu-rays, and 133 DVDs. Now, why do I collect? Why stay with physical media when Netflix has been broadcasting some content in 4K since 2014 and Amazon, Apple, and HBO Max now offer 4K content too? The reason is how the video and audio components are affected by streaming. In theory, these streaming services offer picture quality that is comparable to discs the latest in digital video disc technology. However, when the same movie compared on that versus a Blu-ray disc and a 4K disc, A/V enthusiasts at WhatHiFi.com found that the 4K streaming experience was actually more in line with watching a traditional 1080p Blu-ray—and that Blu-rays had a clear advantage in terms of contrast and color. However, 4K discs looked far better than either. They even compared audio quality and they found that streaming would get compressed Dolby Digital Plus.
Dolby Digital Plus has been around since 1992 and it has been on televisions since 1998. More advanced surround sound formats encode discrete sounds on different channels.This audio technology was mandatory on DVDs and is now mandatory to have at least this on Blu-rays, though, obviously at a higher level. When we watch movies at home either via streaming or disc, this audio can be experienced or lost either by your television speakers or your streaming service (dependent on your internet). This can reduce the movie watching experience. How this is prevented is through a number of lossless audio compression formats Dolby and DTS. While there are many out there who would state their preference, in turn have found they are fairly interchangeable. DTS Digital Surround is comparable to Dolby Digital, DTS HD Master Audio is comparable to Dolby TrueHD, DTS-X is comparable to Dolby Atmos. The latter two audio are currently the two best audio formats out there. The problem is that streaming reduces the high level audio down to the old technology.
This is due to compression as the picture and sound information have to be processed in a way to send it over the internet. On top of that, the content has to be there. To get authentic 4K content on Netflix, one must pay for their premium subscription ($17.99/month) and then your internet needs to be able to handle it. Both Netflix and Disney+ say that at least 25 megabits per second is needed to stream UHD (ultra high definition) content, and Amazon needs at least 15 Mbps to watch videos in UHD. The two cheapest high speed internets for the most bandwidth in the US are Verizon and Comcast at $40 and $35/month, respectively. This will get you download speeds of 100mbps for Comcast and 200mbps for Verizon. However, this is only if the streaming device is hooked up directly to the router and wifi is about 70% as fast, at maximum. Additionally, there are more confounding factors such as the type of router and how many other devices are on the wifi–even if your streaming devices are up to speed and your internet is the best possible, there will still be some information lost along the way. Compression is inevitable. That’s not to say that streaming services aren’t useful and don’t have some real advantages. Streaming services do provide a deal when it comes to price, selection size, and ease of use.
Ultimately, the streaming experience is more like channel surfing through many channels, especially now with almost everyone having their own streaming service. Using these services may be nice for the selection but that selection is determined by someone else. Netflix constantly removes content depending on the month and so does HBO Max. It all depends on licensing similar to that of cable channels running movies during the day. In the past, cable became so expensive to get access to movies and tv shows. This allowed Netflix to become popular. People didn’t enjoy having to pay for movies so this company created a way to only pay a monthly fee and you get as many movies as you wanted but one at a time. This led to their streaming services which had all people’s favorite shows. You could find everything on Netflix which was a game changer. Now, it may not be called “cable” anymore but it’s essentially the same thing.
On top of that, Netflix announced in August 2020 that they were going to rencode all 4K, HDR and HFR titles in its catalog. They claim to be able to deliver the same quality 4K video at half the bitrate. They stated, “For members with high-bandwidth connections we deliver the same great quality at half the bitrate on average. For members with constrained bandwidth we deliver higher quality at the same (or even lower) bitrate.” Other advantages of the new approach include “higher initial quality,” and “fewer quality drops while streaming,” less buffering, and a reduction in “initial play delay by about 10%.” Also in October, Disney revealed that in order to further accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy, it would be centralizing its media businesses into one entity that would be responsible for content distribution, ad sales and Disney+. This move was obviously done in response to the global coronavirus pandemic which crippled the theatrical business and pushed more viewers to streaming services. As of August 2020, Disney had over 50 million subscribers to Disney+ alone.
So with Netflix compressing their content and Disney moving towards streaming services, films have the potential to become less impactful due to streaming limitations. This makes physical media more and more important. Physical media has been shown to be the better, more pure way to view movies for a number of reasons including the audio and visual components. While there are some who disagree and say that physical media is a fad and that streaming is the more modern way to go, the questions about internet speeds, the content, and the technology surrounding streaming still remain. When Wonder Woman 1984 was released on HBO Max, director Patty Jenkins stated that it would be the first film on HBO Max to be in 4K Ultra HD, HDR 10, Dolby Vision and have Dolby Atmos. However, Warner Bros. hadn’t released any information about what internet speeds were needed for this. On top of that, some devices that should get 4K content such as the Xbox Series X were not able to get 4K; it was only on certain devices. This again shows that most likely the high end video and audio components of the movie are being limited by these streaming services and their technology. Even if you have the highest and most consistent bandwidth available, physical media holds the upper hand. The compression still happens, and thus streaming limits viewers from getting the true aspects of the film and seeing what the filmmaker intended. Furthermore, having the movies in the palm of your hand can give a more direct connection to the movie itself that can last a lifetime. Even if you hate the idea of physical media, you have to admit at some point that you are okay with getting a lesser quality film experience. Streaming may be cheaper and more convenient, but physical media is a more premium experience; which is why I support physical media, and you should too.