4K blu ray vs streaming movies: Are discs still relevant today?

Posted by joel schwartz on

Streaming may be in but Blu-ray is still king!

Well, the facts are in, and the verdict is: Yes, Blu-Ray is better than DVDs. It's better than streaming, too, providing cleaner, crisper imaging, more room for movie "extras," and overall a much-improved movie-viewing experience.

When it comes to picture and sound quality, even the best streaming lags behind physical media.


Slowly but surely, streaming services are improving the quality of their video streams, with the likes of iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and others all offering video-on-demand titles at a 1080p resolution which is found on most standard Blu--ray players. But wait for it… Blu-ray can upgrade your resolution and viewing experience to 4k!!!

 

Blu ray 4k upscaling

Let’s break this down. 4K is known as Ultra High Definition (UHD), 1080P is simply High Definition. As their names imply, 4K UHD has almost double the resolution than 1080P HD video. 4K resolution is exactly 3840 x 2160 pixels, whilst 1080P consists of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

blu ray color

However, resolution is only part of the story. These services may offer the same resolution as some Blu-ray players, but they have to use a lot more compression to deliver the content over the Internet, and compression artifacts like banding and softness will hinder picture quality. Ultimately, a large part of the image's quality will depend on the quality of the compression scheme that's used, and that varies for each service.

Blu ray vs streaming video

For streaming services, the provider needs to compress the file enough to send it at a bit rate that's equal to or lower than your broadband speed. Here in the United States, Internet speeds can vary wildly all over the map. Just another reason why video-on-demand services try to keep file sizes and bit rates reasonably low. Even Netflix's top-quality Super HD 1080p service aims for a recommended target of just 7 Mbps for the best quality, 5 Mbps for good quality. A 1080p movie download on iTunes is generally under 5 or 6 GB - a fraction of the size of a Blu-ray movie.


Physical media offers added features and consistent access. Streaming doesn’t.

Despite not having to deal with resolution and more specifically bit rates - possessing a physical copy of your media content gives you consistent access - a huge advantage over streaming.

Buffering

You don’t have to deal with breaks in service. Is your wifi down? Is there a temporary problem with your cable or internet provider? They are sorry for the inconvenience and technicians are working to fix the problem. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the popcorn is popped, warmed and buttered and the kids are ready to go but lights camera action is paused due to technical difficulties.

technical difficulties


Even if your network is connected and working and your speed is above the recommended standards, there may be instances during heavy traffic times when the speed falls, fails or glitches and thus so does video quality. You might even see the quality shift halfway through a film. Quality may vary based on whether you use a wired or wireless connection. There's also the fact that, if you're streaming a lot of video and using too much data, some ISPs will throttle the speed to limit your usage, which again will hurt video quality.

It’s pretty simple. Even though compression techniques are getting better and streaming companies are working hard to improve overall video quality, a lot of factors are currently beyond their control...and therefore beyond yours.

Blu-ray has much better audio quality.

dolby sound

A picture is worth a 1000 words… but even said picture isn't everything. Even when you are getting excellent video quality through a streaming service, you're not getting the uncompressed multichannel audio that you could get through Blu-ray. A large number of new, big-ticket Blu-ray movies offer either a Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. These higher-resolution formats allow for up to 7.1 channels of uncompressed audio!! To get this type of awe inspiring, transformative audio would require a lot of bandwidth to stream that way.

dolby

Although the audio soundtrack offered by a streaming service will depend on the service, the device it's playing through, and the movie you're watching - often times it’s limited because of, again, bandwidth and compression issues.

Connecting with your content

Blu-ray discs are often loaded with bonus content -- such as making-of documentaries, commentary tracks, BD-Live interactive content, and games -- that you don't get when you purchase or rent a movie through a streaming VOD service. This is slowly starting to change: Services like iTunes have started to offer some bonus content with certain movie purchases, but it doesn't apply to rentals, and it doesn't come close to what you can get on the Blu-ray disc.
Blue-ray often offers a digital copy of the movie for use on a portable device or a “digital locker” to access through a streaming platform if having access on the go is a must.

Don’t have a smart TV - no worries. Many of the Blu-rays out there can turn any TV into a smart TV and allow you to stream all of your favorite shows access apps and games. My personal favorite is the Samsung BD-J5900.

Samsung bd-j5900 blu ray player

It gives you so much bang for your buck (only $89 at Photo Savings). I know that sounds cliche but you won't mind the poor literary prose when you are enjoying the built in Miracast.

Miracast

Miracast allows you to watch your favorite TV content on your mobile devices, connect wirelessly and instantly enjoy your favorite shows, movies, and sports in the palm of your hand.

Not only having more consistent access to a better product and more content through enhanced bonus features - having a physical object that you can see, touch, hold, and display on your shelf can add a lot of value and allow us to connect to the movies and content on a deeper level. It means connecting with the thing itself, knowing that it is yours, and it means knowing that you can watch a movie whenever you want, as many times as you want, in the highest possible quality.

Samsung UBD-M9500 HDR UHD Upscaling Blu-ray Player ($29900)

Samsung UBD-M9500 HDR UHD Upscaling Blu-ray Player

 

Sony BDP-S1700 Wired Blu-Ray Disc Player ($7999)

Sony BDP-S6700 3D Smart Blu-Ray Disc Player ($10400)

LG Electronics BP550 3D Smart Blu-Ray Disc Player  ($10999)

Sony BDP-S3700 Wi-Fi Blu-Ray Disc Player ($9900)

Sony BDP-S6500 3D Smart Blu-Ray Disc Player ($11900)

Samsung BD-J5100 Curved Blu-Ray Disc Player ($7995)


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