Do you stream movies or play DVDs or Blu-rays?

Streaming is more convenient and cheaper, so why would anyone play discs?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
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LPs and Blu-rays might well be the last surviving physical music and movie consumer formats. 

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When I recently posed this question to my Facebook friends, "Do you stream a lot more movies than play Blu-rays or DVDs?" the responses were not surprisingly all over the map.

One streaming friend isn't looking back "I'm not even sure how I would play a DVD -- I think I have a Blu-ray player in the garage. I know I'm not getting the best quality except when I stream 4K but I'm living with it (and my son just took all my DVDs and Blu-rays to be resold!)." Another friend who streams exclusively acknowledged she wasn't seeing movies at their best, she just accepted lowering her standards.

Sadly, the video compression used for streaming services is sometimes barely acceptable compared to the compression used for Blu rays, and audio quality is not up to Blu-ray's.

People shunning streaming are on the opposite side of the quality fence. Some dropped wads of cash on a great display and want to get their money's worth, and one guy put it this way, "For anything with a unique surround soundtrack and/or spectacular graphics-imagery, I play Blu-rays." Of course a lot of folks stream and play discs, "Blu-ray is my preferred format, but I watch Netflix on an inferior playback system in the bedroom, not in my home theater."

As for me, I stopped streaming Netflix mostly because so few of the movies I wanted to see were available streaming, but were on DVD and Blu-ray. I never felt waiting for a movie to arrive in the mail a few days after I ordered it was a hardship, or that choosing from available streaming movies just because I could watch them instantly was all that attractive an alternative. When I really like a movie (or concert) I'll watch more than a few times I buy the Blu-ray.

It's funny, the Blu-ray purists have more in common with LP buying vinyl fanatics than I would have thought possible, but both groups are willing to pony up cash to get what they see as the highest quality format, and they refuse to be seduced by more convenient or lower quality streaming music or movie alternatives. Some are collectors, who still want to touch and hold physical media, and take satisfaction in owning the music or movies they love. 

Convenience trumps quality, nothing new about that. I remember all too well when people gladly gave up on CDs in favor of wretched sounding MP3s. Or before that time when dull as dishwater cassettes started eating away at LP sales, because cassettes were portable, and LPs were strictly a stay at home format.

So sure, most folks go for the more convenient, lower quality format, so as far as popularity goes it's game over, video streaming wins, even when its picture quality falls short of Blu-ray's. My friends on the video side assure me that in the next few years all or most of streaming's compression picture degrading artifacts will be eliminated, and I'm sure they will, eventually. Blu-ray, or even 4K Blu-ray's future doesn't look all that bright. But in the here and now, the masses are perfectly happy with less than stellar video.

As for vinyl, it's looking like it will be the last surviving physical music format, and outlive the CD. So if you're just starting to get into vinyl, affordable turntables sound quality has never been better. Audio Technica, Crosley, Fluance, Pioneer, Rega, and U Turn's entry-level 'tables are all pretty terrific.

If you've already given up on Blu-rays or never went there Geoff Morrison's recent article can help make your Netflix and Hulu streamed movies look a lot better, right now.