Why You Should Still Buy 4K Blu-rays in 2022
With streaming reigning supreme, has the time finally come to eject the Blu-ray disc from our lives? Is there a good reason to buy one of the best 4K Blu-ray players these days?
There’s no doubt that the vast majority of movie purchases now come from digital downloads and keep sales going. Between that and the ubiquity of streaming services, you could be forgiven for thinking that physical media is, if not still obsolete, at least on the way to retirement. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to movie ownership, people still love physical discs for a bunch of reasons.
4K and regular Blu-rays – and even old-school DVDs – still sell in huge numbers and are essential to the home entertainment success of movies.
4K Blu-ray discs vs streaming: availability
In terms of convenience and value, streaming services can’t be beat. A flat rate, coupled with a constant stream of content to watch, is irresistible.
The catch is that the content on many streaming services is largely transient. Unless it’s an original production, the broadcast rights will expire and the titles come and go from those services. If you plan to catch up lady bird Where The Exorcist on the weekend, you may have missed your chance. If there’s a movie you want to see, a disc guarantees your ability to watch it.
And then there’s the lure of special editions and restorations. Sure, most of your viewing might be streams or downloads, but a limited-edition disc release in luxury packaging, or a fancy steelbook, still has massive appeal.
And if you’re serious about movies, the work of specialist archive labels like Indicator and 88 Films is very appealing. These labels invest huge amounts of time and money in researching obscure prints or films, and lavish them with 4K restorations, along with all-new interviews and additional commentary. You’ll only find these features on these discs, and in some cases it may be the only way to watch the 4K HDR version of these films – that’s right from the cult classic Tremorsfor example.
The costs of restoring these films means that the high price of 4K Blu-rays is really the only way to pay for themselves, so if we want to prevent great older films from being lost in obscurity, Blu-rays -ray 4K remain vital.
If your jam is obscure Italian thrillers from Giallo, Hong Kong martial arts films or grindhouse horrors, the records will scratch your collectors far better than any of the major streaming services.
4K Blu-rays deliver better picture and sound
The question of disc quality versus streaming is currently quite clear, but the future is less certain.
Blu-ray, whether 4K or HD, delivers a consistent experience. You’ll typically see the best of a movie every time you start playback, and your experience won’t be dampened by unpredictable network speeds or adaptive streaming.
Most streaming services recommend 15 Mbps for a decent 4K picture, so your connection should always be above that. However, data is flowing from disk at a much higher rate than any streaming service can offer – up to 128Mpbs, so almost 10 times higher, potentially.
Therefore, the images have more detail and present more texture despite the same resolution. This is because there is less data compression, so more information can be devoted to each pixel, meaning a disc can store more subtlety in color or display more natural sharpness.
Long story short: disc replay has the edge over streaming. But (but, but, but…) in the real world, the differences can be subtle and less than obvious, depending on the size and quality of your TV. The best TVs all apply some degree of processing to the picture anyway, so it’s not just about how the disc/stream looks anyway. And you’re much less likely to notice streaming imperfections on something more compact like one of the best 40-inch TVs, than on something huge like one of the best 75-inch TVs.
If you have a widescreen 4K projector setup, you’ll probably prefer disc clarity, as there’s nowhere to hide image issues – although again the gap isn’t huge and the price you’ll pay for the experience might dampen your enthusiasm for the records.
So yes, Blu-ray is better, but not to the point that it’s essential for everyone – and for how long will it boast the advantage?
Blu-ray disc quality, the whole encoding/decoding process, is set, but streaming keeps evolving. Companies like Netflix and Amazon control both the encoding process and the rendering application, and their product is constantly improving. Both Sony and Samsung have been working on next-gen streaming technology to directly integrate their TVs to match or beat what 4K Blu-ray can do. Streaming will be able to catch up, if the services choose to support it.
When it comes to audio, discs and streaming services offer Dolby Atmos and can claim the high level of immersive audio. Dolby Atmos is delivered from disc in a True HD container (meaning it’s delivered in lossless quality), while streaming services use an advanced Dolby Digital Plus wrapper (which uses lossy compression). We could venture down a rabbit hole with or without loss, but life is too short.
If you’re listening on one of the best soundbars, you’re unlikely to notice the difference. And there are also anomalies. Disney’s Immersive Atmos Blu-ray mixes are often oddly non-dynamic, but shows on Disney+ can feel more expansive. Dolby Atmos on Apple TV+ is even better – so go figure. It’s not black and white.
4K Blu-rays definitely have their place
If this little talk tells us anything, it’s that Blu-ray discs (4K and HD) and streaming have an important role to play in any home entertainment system. The value and quality available from Prime Video, Netflix and Disney+ will satisfy the most, but Blu-ray remains the ultimate AV collectible, and using it to support the movies you love most makes a vital financial contribution to a time when creative work is becoming undervalued.