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Movie Streaming Quality vs Physical Discs

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With media streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple giving you the ability to consume so much content, why are more and more people choosing to stream their own media with the help of Plex, Emby or even Infuse 6 media servers and players?

Well, apart from convenience, or a preference to own your own media and watch a new blockbuster before the VoD services gain access, the most essential reason comes down to quality. Yes, that's right, the quality of video streaming subscription will for a long time fall short when compared to physical media. A similar tale for a reason behind the vinyl revival!


It is widely reported that physical disc sales such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs is a dying industry and will soon become obsolete, but the reality is very different since Blu-ray, and now 4K Ultra HD sales are in actual fact growing. This trend could be because we're adopting larger and more quality defined screens, such as a 4K 65 inch or 75 inch TV, and the growth in home-based cinema rooms with screens averaging 120inch. The larger the screen, the better the quality we need.

Video Quality.
Don't get us wrong, this piece is not about bashing VoD subscription services. On the whole, they provide an excellent service and a vast forever changing catalogue of content which appeals to the masses. But that considerable library often comes at a price.

Compression.
The quality VoD providers give you is always improving, with several now offering Ultra high definition 4K content on select tiles. But even though they offer you the same 1080p resolution as a Blu-ray or 3840 for 4K, they must compress their content to get it over the internet. Compressing video over the internet does reduce image quality and creates a loss of depth and overall sharpness.

A loss of colour is another consideration with streaming. Because streaming must be compressed to fit a defined file size, the loss of tone can create a banding effect. For example, a movie sunset scene can become steps of colour rather than a smooth merge of colours. Physical discs and physical-to-digital with no compression is less likely to give you this problem.

Internet Speeds.
Because speeds differ from villages to towns and counties to countries, VoD providers need to go with the one glove fits all solution to provide content to as many people as possible. The streaming video, therefore, must be compressed to keep the movie file size and bitrate speed low. For example, most streaming videos average file size of 4 to 6 gigabytes and play at a rate of 5-7 Mbps, which includes 1080 HD content. And these rates can vary as their systems adjust and apply further compression by measuring your network speed.

Blu-ray and 4K (UHD) discs get a large amount of storage to work with. A Blu-ray disc can hold 25 to 50 gigabytes of data and 4K up to 100 gigabytes, so if you convert that to a digital file without compression, and consider bitrates of up to 120 Mbps over your home network when streaming your physical-to-digital media, it's not hard to see why the quality remains 1:1 and uncompressed, the same as a physical disc.

VoD internet playback speeds are also subject to traffic to their site. During heavy traffic times, the video quality will likely reduce and having a wired or wireless connection can affect playback speeds and quality too.

Audio Quality
Soundbars are reaching new heights, and more and more living rooms, not to mention the dedicated cinema rooms are enjoying a fantastic sounding 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound stage, as well as the latest object audio configurations such as Atmos and DTS-X.

We see some of the 4K streaming content with Atmos, but again, it's compressed, and if your set up is your pride and joy, you will likely notice the difference.

Streaming services offer Dolby Digital 5.1 and some Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, but Blu-ray discs are equipped with Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. These two provide a more fabulous, uncompressed sound experience.

If you consider a Blu-ray movie coming in at 30GB, at least 40% of that can be audio... so when compressed and squeezed down to 4-6gigabytes, something gives!

Conclusion.
So if you want the highest possible quality (think Physical), but with convenience of a digital library, beautifully displayed on your screen and available at the push of a button, or voice command, then converting your physical media to digital and incorporating a media server such as Plex or Emby is your only choice.

Whatsmore, with the right set up, you can also access your content remotely wherever you have internet. And offline content can be downloaded to your mobile device, great for the plane journey.

Wish to explore our physical-to-digital back up service further?
Checkout out our Home Theatre page with images showcasing the powerful feature-rich Plex home-media streaming server >