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Are Discs Really Better than Streaming?

Streaming is now the primary way most people consume media. Disc sales have been steadily declining in recent years. Of course, there are those that will claim that discs will always be better than streaming. If you own a disc and also had access to the same content on streaming, you may have tried to compare them. Do discs look and sound better? Usually, but not always. Why? What’s the difference and why might streaming be better than the disc? Let’s discuss.

Objectively Discs Should Be Better

If you look at the numbers, discs should always be better than streaming. Netflix says that you need an Internet speed of 15Mbps for UHD (Ultra High Definition or 4k) content. DVDs can output around 10Mbps, Blu-rays can do over 40Mbps, and UHD Blu-rays will output 128Mbps. More data means less compression, more colors, and fewer artifacts. If you have a UHD disc, you should have access to uncompressed audio, the highest possible video quality, and HDR and Dolby Vision.

Where Will You Notice the Differences?

It is very hard to notice what you AREN’T seeing or hearing. When we talk about the differences, we will stick to things that are there, not things that aren’t. When you are watching content on stream, you are at the mercy of your Internet connection. You can experience not only speed fluctuations but lose all connection. Aside from very obvious service interruptions, there are other issues you may experience. We often see banding in similar colors. Most often this will be noticeable in a night sky where there are obvious artifacts between two very similar colors. On the audio side, you may notice that the dialogue is harder to understand. Many streaming services will have different versions where the audio levels are adjusted differently than on the disc.

When you switch to a disc, the main difference that most people report is on the audio side. Yes, there are many times differences on the video end as well, but streaming services know that people will notice video problems very quickly so focus on that. This means that the audio suffers. The most common thing that people notice with discs is that there is much more bass. They will often report that the audio sounds deeper and more convincing. We’re not sure how true that is, but there will be much less compression of the audio tracks.

Why Didn’t You Notice a Difference?

There’s the million-dollar question and we don’t really have an answer for it. There are a lot of reasons that you might not notice a difference (or actually prefer the streaming version). First, and most importantly, the two versions might actually be different! Disney, with their Disney+ service, has walled off access to the IMAX Enhanced versions of movies. You can’t get these on discs. In general, however, the two versions (disc and streaming) might actually be different with the streaming version being superior. Thor: Ragnarok had a terrible disc release (no bass) that could have been fixed in the streaming version. But there are lots of reasons why you might not have noticed that the disc version was superior to the streaming version:

At the risk of sounding like an audiophile, you have to have a system that is able to show you an accurate picture and recreate all of the sounds. If you are rocking a soundbar or just your TV’s speakers, you aren’t going to hear the differences. If your TV doesn’t have accurate colors to begin with (or is improperly calibrated), then banding and other artifacts might be an everyday experience. In such cases, the disc versions may sound and look worse on your system. At that point, even if the disc version is better, does it really matter if it is worse on your system? No! If the streaming version is more optimized to your equipment and looks and sounds better, then put the disc away and enjoy the better version!

Wrap Up

There are few absolutes in this world. Saying that discs are always better than streaming isn’t one of them. There are very real examples out there where people could and should prefer the streaming version over the disc version. If you find yourself thinking that you like one over the other. don’t think that there is something wrong with your system or you. It may be that the streaming version is objectively better, or that it looks and sounds better on your system. Either way, as long as you are enjoying it, that’s what’s important!

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