Why you should buy movies on shiny discs

I don’t remember the last time I went to the video store and rented a movie. I suspect you don’t either. Why should we? It’s so much easier to stream them from Netflix, Criterion, Kanopy, or other services. And if the movie you want to see isn’t on a service to which you subscribe, you can probably watch it for $4 over one of the pay-per-view streaming services.

You can’t rent discs anymore, but you can still buy them. And I still do. Here are four good reasons to keep your favorite movies on physical media:

They can’t take it away from you: If you don’t own a movie on physical media, the studio or streaming service can’t take it away from you. Sure, you can probably watch a favorite movie on most of the pay-per-view streaming services. But keep in mind the word probably. According to Vulture, Disney, which now owns the 20th Century Fox library, is not renting these films to for-profit theaters. That means no Die Hard, Alien, The Grapes of Wrath, The Princess Bride, My Darling Clementine, Sunrise, Fight Club, and Young Frankenstein on the big screen. As I write this, all of these except Young Frankenstein are available streaming, but what if Disney changes its mind about that?

Better and more dependable image quality: Your Blu-ray player has the bandwidth to handle any DVD or Blu-ray disc you own. But you can’t depend on that with the Internet. Both the disc and the Internet use lossy compression that compromise the image quality, but the streaming services compress much more, hurting the picture. To make things worse, when you stream a video over the Internet, the bandwidth is at the mercy of every server between Netflix and your home – and your awesome gigabit connection won’t help because the bottleneck is elsewhere. When the bandwidth can’t manage a near Blu-ray level quality, the compression gets higher and the image quality plummets.

Extras: If you love a movie enough to want to own it, you probably want to know about it. Discs usually come with commentary tracks, documentaries, and all sorts of interesting stuff. Some even have alternate versions.

Saving for posterity: Right now, the studios find it profitable to keep older titles in good condition, but it hasn’t always been that way, and it may not be that way for long. Many silent films survived because people stole prints. We don’t have to steal copies of films now; we can buy them. And the more copies in existence, the more likely that one copy will survive. A Blu-ray isn’t a camera negative or even a DCP-quality digital master, but you can still see the movie. And someone could copy it into whatever media they have 30 years from now.