Does it still make sense to buy DVDs?

With services like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon offering a wealth of on-demand viewing options, do DVDs still have a place in the world?

20th Century Fox

I'm on vacation for the next couple days, so I'll see you back here on Thursday. In the meantime, I have a nice, meaty topic to tide you over.

A few weeks ago I asked if it still made sense to buy CDs , what with so many download and streaming options.

Today, let's turn our attention to those other silvery platters of goodness: DVDs (and, by proxy, Blu-rays). Do they still have a place in the world?

Despite the physical similarities of the media, music and movies aren't quite the same thing. I think people tend to buy a lot more of the former, or at least they did when CDs ruled the music-distribution roost. Personally, I probably own 10 times as many audio CDs as I do DVDs.

On the other hand, I know folks who have massive movie libraries, who don't think twice about plunking down $20 for their own copy of "Napoleon Dynamite." And don't forget parents, who are very likely to spring for movies that the younger kids will watch repeatedly (which explains why many of the movies I do own have Pixar on the label).

But that was then. Today we live in a world where iTunes slings movies to our iPhones and iPads, Amazon Instant Video provides on-demand rentals for those outside the Apple ecosystem, and Netflix streams to nearly every device known to man. How can the DVD compete?

With simplicity, for starters. It doesn't get much easier than dropping a disc into a tray and pressing Play. Granted, Netflix isn't exactly complicated, but it does require a certain level of tech competency--along with a fast, reliable Internet connection. Many of us take the latter for granted, but plenty of people in this country (and others) barely have Internet at all. DVDs require no connectivity, and their image quality isn't dependent on bandwidth.

(Ironically, Blu-rays do require Internet access, at least if you want certain online extras. And don't forget the seemingly endless player firmware updates required to accommodate the latest DRM protections. Did I just say discs were simple?)

Of course, as with CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays offer advantages their digitally delivered counterparts can't match (not yet, anyway). The most obvious: outtakes, deleted scenes, director commentary, and other extras.

Even more important for some viewers: image and audio quality. No video stream or download comes close to the razor-sharp picture and 5.1-channel sound afforded by Blu-ray. Even upscaled DVDs look better than a lot of what you can stream.

Still, just as a 256Kbps MP3 is "good enough" for many listeners (myself included), I find myself satisfied with what I'm getting from the likes of Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. Recently I've been rewatching "Battlestar Galactica" via the latter, and to my eyes it looks terrific--especially considering that I watched much of the series in standard definition when it was first broadcast.

And in my house, we rarely fire up the Blu-ray player anymore. Occasionally we'll rent something from Redbox, which makes up for its two-trip hassle with change-under-the-sofa-cushions prices, but mostly we're done with discs. Even the minivan's DVD system has largely gone dark in favor of iPods and iPads.

So that's the trend in this cheapskate's world--and, I suspect, the world at large. What do you think? Are DVDs soon to join laser discs and VHS tapes in three-for-$5 garage-sale obscurity, or will they survive in the way print books will--marginalized by electronic alternatives, but still treasured and coveted by the faithful?

While you're prepping your comment on that, answer me this: What's your all-time favorite DVD that you own? My pick: "Firefly: The Complete Series." And be sure to check out Scott Stein's excellent, related piece, "I regret selling my DVDs."

 

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