Bonfire of the Digital Vanities

Regular readers may have noticed that more and more of my reviews are of tv shows and movies watched via streaming rather than on disc. Its something I’m becoming very aware of. Ever since the start of 2017 I have tried to limit my spending on discs, if only to try get control of space issues and to stop buying discs that sit on the shelf unwatched. To some degree I’ve succeeded in that (and yes, failed too, as so many anime series boxsets will testify to) and the fact that so many posts are about streamed films etc must be a mark of some kind of success. Certainly 2018 has seen a big change and me subscribing to Netflix now as well as Amazon Prime can only mean its a trend that will continue.

This year I have bought the following on disc- BR2049, Thor Ragnarok, Indicator’s Hammer Vol.Two box, Charley Varrick and Experiment in Terror. That’s all, and we are fast approaching April now.

But I would hate to see the physical disc format fading away and I do much prefer owning my favourite films on disc. I think the inevitable future of ‘streaming only’ is a pretty dark one for some of us- I read recently of rumours that Apple are intending to discontinue music downloads and go completely the monthly subscription route. Don’t know how true it is, but it does have a ring of truth and inevitability to it. Where music goes, film and tv are sure to follow. Imagine having to pay a monthly subscription in order to watch your movies- I suppose we are already halfway there- instead of watching them on disc whenever you want. Some may argue there is no difference but I’d contend that there is one, certainly regards extras (although even on-disc that’s something studios are bothering less and less with), picture quality, and even just the ownership and ease of access issue- what happens when the Internet goes down? I’ve had a few experiences in the past where the digital copies of films that came with discs seem to have disappeared from my digital collections, so it would seem that digital license doesn’t necessarily last forever (drok it, even my Blade Runner: Final Cut, which for some reason shows in my collection but will not play).  Now, these digital copies are just bonuses really that I never watch but the fact that they can disappear is just more wood for the bonfire of the digital vanities, surely.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my films and tv shows on disc in just the same way as I still buy music on CD. But it’s getting harder all the time. If you want to watch The Man in the HIgh Castle without prime, forget it- there’s no disc option so no way, even if you watched it on prime, that you can add it to your cherished tv box-set physical collection no matter how much you may love it. Even the old habit of buying your favourite sitcoms/comedy shows on dvd (Frasier etc) is getting impossible with more recent stuff- I love The MIddle but there’s no disc release of that show anywhere. Increasingly the only way to access stuff is via subscription.

We’ve been so spoiled by VHS sell-through, DVD and Blu-ray it’s hard to fathom going back to the bad old days, but it all may well come back. Will the time one day come when you will never be able to buy a Star Wars movie?  Man, thats so 1970s.

6 thoughts on “Bonfire of the Digital Vanities

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    It’s funny how each of us (or rather, each of us who don’t simply pirate everything/download low quality versions of everything as though there were no other option) finds a different balance.

    I tend to rent a lot more movies now, as I tend to miss a lot of them in cinemas. That generally applies to most new mainstream movies. It gets a bit tricky with smaller movies that I’m likely to want to buy. Do I rent first? That means an extra £5-6 outlay, so I might as well buy it and sell it on if I’m not impressed. Which happens quite a lot. Maybe I should rethink that one. Though I’m happy to buy a disc version of something I’ve watched digitally if it really impressed me. I recently bought The Crown and The Deuce on Blu despite having seen them on Netflix and NowTV. Silicon Valley, also.

    I do still buy a lot of discs though. This year has been a heavy one so far, and looks to continue that way. I tend to keep my library fat-free, as I’m trying to rid myself of the curatorial urge: you can find yourself buying whole filmographies if you don’t set yourself limits.

    I give my digital copies to my wife. She likes watching things on her iPad and phone, which I never do.

    I also dread the tyranny of the subscription, if only because at the moment it means you’re only going to get the most expedient, heavily compressed version of whatever you want to watch. Whereas I’m a quality freak, and want as high a bitrate as possible.

    However, we’re also living in a world where you can start to buy films like. Blade Runner and Close Encounters in full cinema resolution, and as things progress I’m sure that that’ll apply to everything sooner or later. And studios seem to be pretty happy to remaster films at 4K now because it’s the last time they’ll have to do it – we’ve reached the picture quality event horizon. So it’s not all bad.

    1. Yeah, I already play the maths between a £18+ trip for Claire and I at the cinema and waiting for a £15 disc purchase. The expenditure of buying a disc copy on top of the initial cinema visit just grates on me these days, I must be turning into a miserable old git or something. Or maybe its just the morons in cinemas winding me up.

      Hope you’re right about 4K being the last theoretical format for home viewing- I’ve already seen word of 8K screens, but am well aware that even 4K would appear to be largely redundant for me as the largest screen I can envisage in my house is 49″ (unless I decide to mount a screen on a wall, which I am loathe to do).

      Standard HD is perfectly fine for me at present, though HDR is clearly the biggest improvement from 4K over Blu-ray and is a tantalising tease in reviews that reminds me its more than just screen size and resolution. I’m sure when my current screen gives up and I invest in a new 4K tv that I’ll be wowed by Blade Runner and others in 4K. In the meantime, I’ll buy a few films in 4K/Blu-ray editions (like I did BR2049 and Thor: Ragnarok) and have some films ready and waiting.

  2. Star Wars is an interesting one to bring up, because properties owned by Disney are surely most at risk if home viewing does go the “subscriptions only” route. I remember when they tried to carry the Disney Vault concept into the DVD era, only for second-hand sales and piracy to make it completely untenable. But now they’re forging ahead with their Netflix-rivalling streaming service, they must dream of a future where all Disney content is only available through that — and they can take individual titles away as desired.

    Some people seem content to just toddle along with their Netflix subscription, but for those of us who like having access to particular movies whenever we want them, or to niche or obscure titles, a streaming-only future (if it continues just like the present situation) is a chilling notion. But then, I also watch way more on streaming than on disc nowadays, so…

    1. Yeah, every time I choose to stream a movie rather than buy it, I feel like I’m being naughty and that we’re all going to be punished for ushering in a new dawn of rentals and subscriptions. Strange to think that owning a physical disc of a film might become a thing of the past, when its seemed in the 198os to be ‘The Future’. I rather miss the glory days of DVD special editions.

      1. “Glory days” is definitely the word. I happened to pull out a box set from DVD’s heyday recently, just of a BBC natural history series, and the amount of effort in the design and presentation of the packaging… Almost everything’s just bunged in regular plastic boxes now, which I know some people prefer, but I kind of miss the days when owning a box set felt special and like an event.

  3. Matthew McKinnon

    As a timely footnote to this discussion, OPPO have just announced they’re no longer making disc players. They’re not going bust, as they make a fortune off of mobile phones. There’s just not enough demand for their high-end AV products.

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