Video streaming continues to surge in 2020, and it’s easy to understand its continued growth. COVID-19 has seen many movie theaters close, so more people than ever before turn to the internet for their entertainment. For roughly $10 to $15 per month, you can access vast film and television libraries from Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, Netflix, and other video streaming services, with each offering a host of classics, middling fare, and new, trending content. Streaming is easy, and doesn't cost much money.
Building a Blu-ray library is not inexpensive, as you must purchase a standalone player (or next-gen game console) and individual discs that cost at least the price of a monthly streaming video subscription. Still, if you're a person who loves movies—a person who loves film—the Blu-ray and Ultra Blu-ray formats are the best ways to enjoy your favorite flicks. Here's why.
Blu-ray Has Superior Audio/Video Quality
If you own a HDR-compatible, 4K television and a good surround sound system or soundbar, you’ll want to experience the highest quality audio-visual content possible. Blu-ray, particularly Ultra HD Blu-ray, lets you do just that. The formats deliver the best possible picture and sound that’ll fit onto the disc, provided the source material is top notch. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, Blade Runner 2049, and Pan's Labyrinth (the Criterion Collection release, not the mediocre 4K transfer) have some of the best pictures you'll see at home.
Unfortunately, video streaming’s holes are readily apparent. Hulu’s 4K support is spotty, and its HDR support is non-existent. HBO Max doesn’t currently support 4K or HDR, but that’s going to change starting with Wonder Woman 1984, a movie that debuts this month. NBCUniversal’s Peacock doesn’t support 4K or HDR at all, but likewise says that those features are coming in the future. CBS All Access supports 4K and HDR, but only on certain platforms.
On the upside, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Google Play, Netflix, and YouTube do offer video streams containing these eye-catching features. That said, there’s no promise that they'll deliver best-in-class video and sound quality. These features require additional internet bandwidth, because the services must send streams with higher bit rates.
Each video streaming service works around this in a different way. Apple TV+ and Disney+ tend to stream at higher bit rates than their rivals, according to third-party testing(Opens in a new window). That analysis determined that this higher bit rate is “1.5-2x” that of a vanilla Blu-ray disc, but roughly half that of a Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. Netflix recently announced that it switched to new, optimized encoding(Opens in a new window) that halved its 4K streams’ bit rates without changing the quality. Despite that contention, some people did notice lower quality 4K streams(Opens in a new window), something Netflix says is an outlier.
Blu-ray Doesn’t Require an Internet Connection
With video streaming services, you can access programs as long as your internet is working. Sure, your internet connection may be fast and dependable right now, but everyone has experienced (or will experience!) a network outage. This is a particularly important issue as you move away from urban and suburban environments where the internet is stable. Some areas have poor internet connectivity; some don’t have internet at all.
Beyond that, some people deal with internet providers that have established bandwidth caps, something that streaming 4K video easily devours. (It’s a problem with game streaming services, too.) If you’re streaming 4K video with HDR and surround sound, you’ll be pulling a pretty hefty stream. Depending on your bandwidth limitations, you may need to upgrade your internet service plan.
Blu-ray discs shine in these situations, because they let you watch a film or television show when the internet falters. As long as your place has power, you can pop in a flick and not worry about outages or smashed data caps. Plus, a Blu-ray disc's picture quality isn't tied to your internet connection's speed.
You Can’t Find Everything on Streaming Services
There are many movies and shows that you won’t find on, say, Netflix. The Super Mario Bros movie from 1993 is horrible, but it’s worth at least seeing once. You can’t find it on streaming. Kevin Smith’s 1999 film Dogma isn’t available on any video streaming service, because the rights sit with Bob & Harvey Weinstein(Opens in a new window). The Basketball Diaries, one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s early films, is also missing from video streaming platforms. All of them are easily purchased on Blu-ray.
In addition, many video streaming services suffer a recency bias. You’ll find the best black-and-white films on services like Criterion Channel or in HBO Max’s TCM section, but the other films from that era are missing in action. Good luck firing up Netflix to watch On The Waterfront. Netflix and its ilk would rather push their own, original programming as they don't have to pay licensing fees for content. It’s a major problem in terms of film preservation.