The death of physical media is a growing conversation piece in film circles. It seems that a lot more people, including hardcore cinephiles, are opting to acquire films digitally than continue to take up shelf space with DVDs and blu-rays. In fact, some folks are not only converting to digital, but they are actually selling off their DVD collections. I personally do not see myself fully converting to digital. Part of this comes from how I have always been a holdout when it came to changing home video formats. I didn’t begin switching from VHS to DVD until the summer of 2002 and I did not get a blu-ray player until the spring of 2010. While I have taken baby steps into the digital frontier, such as subscribing to Netflix, renting movies from Google Play, and buying a Chromecast, I do not plan on going fully digital, unless I have no other choice. Let me explain why.
There’s More on Physical Media
With very few exceptions, it will likely be quite difficult to find films made prior to 1970 digitally. While practically every new movie gets made available digitally these days, often a few weeks before the physical release, there are many classic films that haven’t even made it past the DVD or even VHS stage. Users of digital services are limited to the films that have been licensed. While this might be fine for the casual viewer, a cinephile like myself would like to occasionally watch a film that is not as readily available. I have been renting films from Bay Street Video here in Toronto since I was a film student and there has been very few occasions when they didn’t have the film I was looking for.
While I do use VOD services, if I want to quickly rent a film without leaving the house, the selection online is no where close to what you can find physically.
Watching films on Physical Media often go Uninterrupted
While there are many disadvantages to DVDs and blu-rays, such as unwanted trailers and ads and damaged discs that skip, I usually know that when I pop on a disc, the film is going to play from beginning to end with no interruptions. For me the biggest annoyance with streaming a film online is when the internet connection unstable and the film has to keep stopping to re-buffer. While this probably can be solved by actually downloading the film, this creates another problem of the film taking up precious hard drive space, which I will talk more about later.
The Collector Mentality
There are some people who might just treat DVDs and blu-rays as merely a way to watch a film. However, to me this is a collection that I like to proudly display. Not counting many old VHS tapes that are still kicking around, I own over 400 DVDs and blu-rays, all of which are logged into the great My Movies iPhone app. There are many discs in my collection, which have specific memories and stories associated with them. There are are discs that have ticket stubs from screenings tucked in to them, as well as a growing number of discs that are signed by the filmmaker or lead actor, most recently Karen Gillan signing my blu-ray for Oculus at Toronto ComiCon.
It is these little things that makes me proud to have a physical collection, none of which can be replicated through a much more passive digital collection, which is truly merely just a way to watch movies.
A Physical Collection Lasts Longer
While there is an ongoing debate about how long DVDs and blu-rays last before they deteriorate, it can still be can still be generally agreed that a physical collection is more likely to last than a digital one. It has been nearly 13 years since I bought my first DVD, which has lasted through four versions of the Windows operating system. Computer technology evolves at a rapid pace and there is no guarantee that the current digital technologies will still work in five years, let alone thirteen. On the flipside, as long as I own a working player, I can still play my discs.
Also, a digital collection can be incredibly unstable. I’ve heard of people that are planning to go digital by ripping their entire DVD and blu-ray collection and storing it on their hard drive. However, not only will this require countless gigabytes of storage space, but it is also subject to hard drive crashes. Generally speaking, the question is not if a hard drive will crash, but when and an improperly backed up digital collection can disappear overnight. Now, most purchased digital collections solve this problem somewhat by offering the option to have the films stored in the cloud, with you only downloading the film when you want to watch it. However, that requires the service to keep the film in their library and there is always the chance that the film’s license would be lost and that it would disappear from the cloud as well.
Physical Media has Better Quality, with No Bandwidth Restrictions
While the quality of digital media has gotten better, it isn’t quite the same to the quality on blu-ray, particularly if special care was given during the mastering process, such as the films in the Criterion Collection. Also, many internet service providers have caught on to the fact that more people are streaming HD video and have added more charges and restrictions to monthly bandwidth. While the ongoing net neutrality debate fights against this, it is still likely going to be a problem for the foreseeable future.
I will not say that I am entirely against digital distribution, which has become a major help for independent films that don’t get wide theatrical releases. However, I do not want to see digital media outright replace DVDs and blu-rays. There is just something about physical media that digital files on my computer cannot replicate and, for as long as they are still being produced and sold, I will continue to purchase physical copies of films.