Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Video: Discs vs. Downloads

We're in a dry spell for new video releases, so I'm using this week's column to discuss the future of home video.

A lot of very smart people think the video market is moving away from a physical object you keep on a bookshelf and insert into a player -- aka DVD or Blu-ray discs -- and toward all-digital libraries you store on a hard drive or stream whenever you want.

They've got some good evidence: DVD/Blu-ray sales were down 7 percent in the first half of 2010, while video rentals shrank nearly 5 percent, according to The Digital Entertainment Group. Meanwhile, downloads and on-demand were up 23 percent.

While there's no doubt hand-held devices like smart phones, iPods and iPads are a great match with downloaded movies, for the home theater aficionado who wants the biggest and best picture possible, discs still have the upper hand.

In order to squeeze file sizes down so they don't take a day and a half to download or stream, a movie's image suffers tremendously. A film that looks great on a four-inch iPhone would look horrendous on a 50-inch LCD.

Then there's the question of video extras, which are almost never included with downloaded and streamed movies. For many like myself, getting a behind-the-scenes peek at the filmmaking process or deleted scenes is an added value we've come to expect with Blu-ray/DVD.

And, more and more discs are including a digital copy to load on your personal device -- so you get the best of both worlds.

Personally, I'd rather pay $15 or $20 for a disc that looks great anywhere, comes with extra goodies and is hard to destroy, versus paying a few bucks less to download some ephemeral cloud of bytes that's only viable on a tiny screen, includes no extras and could get zapped by the next electrical storm or computer virus.

Not to mention: With discs, you can borrow a movie from a friend. Try that with iTunes' proprietary noose.

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