News & Opinion

Disc or Digital: Which is Better?

Recently it was revealed that there is DRM (Digital Rights Management) on the PS3 and PS4 that can block you from your content. In the case of the PS3, some of your legally purchased games can become unavailable. In the PS4, it can block you from playing games on discs that you own. There are lots of explanations for this, but it brings up a question that we often get. Should I buy the disc, or buy a digital copy of a movie?

Is Disc Safer than Digital?

The obvious answer should be that the disc is superior to digital. You buy the disc, you own the movie. Except that’s not the way the studios see it. When you purchased that disc, you bought a license to play the content. You don’t own the content. Not only that, you only own the right to play that content in that format. That’s why when they release a new version (director’s cut, 4k version, etc.), you don’t automatically get a disc in the mail. But the fact is they can’t really control what you do with a disc. It’s in your possession and they don’t have the ability to control how you use the content.

So does that mean that discs are safer than digital? If you want to only view that content in that specific format, probably. There are online aspects to Blu-ray but nothing that should have the ability to restrict playback. But this isn’t the only considerations. If you plan on moving or are a consistent traveler, DVDs and Blu-rays are region-encoded. This means that the players sold in a particular area of the world will only play discs with the correct region. If you have Ultra HD Blu-rays, they are region-free. They should work with any player.

But they aren’t as convenient as the digital copies. You still need a disc and a player. With the digital copy, all you need is the app. I can watch Netflix in my home theater, on a number of computers in my home, or on my phone. I can’t do that with a physical disc.

What About the Digital Versions of Movies?

Digital is certainly convenient. But they also have other advantages. When 4k started to become a thing, Apple upgraded all your HD purchases to 4k when available. That’s pretty huge. Now, depending on your connection speed, you may not realize those upgrades. But we’ve had tons of people remark that they can’t really tell the difference between the streamed version of a movie and one that is on a disc. So is there a place for digital copies?

We think so. Digital copies are extremely convenient. No hunting for a disc when you want to watch something. Don’t stress out that your kids scratched the disc and now it skips. No Thor Ragnarok Ultra HD Blu-ray releases with no bass. If they mess something up, they can fix it.

Which isn’t always a good thing. If you are a purist, you hate what George Lucas has done with Star Wars. When he finally sold to Disney, we all thought the manipulation of his movies was done. Until we discovered that they weren’t. As we as a society deal with a legacy of stereotypes and racism, there is a push by some to edit or censor older movies and problematic episodes. Currently Hollywood has chosen to put disclaimers and warnings on most problematic content. But if they wanted to edit content, none of us could stop them. As has been witnessed by some content being removed from streaming services.

Lastly, while a digital copy doesn’t have regions like physical discs, if you do change countries, you may find yourself locked out of your content. Each country (for the most part) has its own storefront with many services. These countries all have different licensing deals with the studios. You may find when you switch countries, that all or some of your purchased content may be unavailable.

Longevity Is Problematic for both Disc and Digital

When considering which format is “best” for longevity, it becomes hard to answer. Provided that you can take pristine care of your discs, they should last forever. Assuming your streaming service of choice doesn’t shut down, you should have access to your digital content forever. And it might get upgraded over time. Or it might get edited or removed, or otherwise changed. Your physical disc might last a lifetime, but how many of us are still playing VHS movies these days? Do you really still want to watch an SD version of a movie when you can stream a 4k version with Dolby Atmos?

Best of Both Worlds

There is no real right answer to the “which is best” question. Discs have their benefits and drawbacks. Digital copies are the same. But the simple answer is that most disc purchases these days come with a digital code to access the digital copy. This way you have access to both. If you find yourself using one version more than the other, then you know how you should purchase in the future. Find yourself streaming because of convenience? Maybe you opt for the digital copy of the next movie your want to purchase Grabbing the disc because your Internet is slow or you want more bass? Buy more discs. Either way, just enjoy what you enjoy. There really is no best. Except in the case of Thor Ragnarok. The Ultra HD Blu-ray sucks.

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