Streaming services like Netflix have probably become a ubiquitous part of your routine, whether you’re viewing a b-list horror movie with a rowdy group of friends or watching something a little more romantic with your significant other. So it’s difficult not to wonder whether the DVD or Blu-ray player that’s collecting dust on your entertainment center or TV console is already obsolete. (For the record, you could easily ask the same question of the stacks of DVDs or Blu-rays that a younger you was proud to collect and display, back in the days when you relied on a DVD shelf or the section of favorite movies on your Facebook profile instead of a well-curated Netflix queue to display your good taste. But you’re probably a little less sentimental about your DVD player.)
The answer is that, yes, your DVD player or Blu-ray player is probably obsolete, since there are already better options on their way for people who want the highest video quality, and there are some pretty great streaming services for people who value convenience. Would we recommend spending lots of money on a new Blu-ray player or a giant collection of DVDs? Absolutely not. But would it be advisable to throw a completely functional Blu-ray player in the trash, simply because it’s technically going to be obsolete? Probably not.
The question of whether your Blu-ray player is obsolete is influenced both by the ubiquity of streaming services and the arrival of 4K televisions and Ultra HD Blu-ray players. If you’re trying to determine the fate of your Blu-ray or DVD player, and figure out what’s next for the television setup in your living room, here are the things you need to consider.
Why would you watch a DVD or Blu-ray when you can stream instead?
Objectively speaking, watching a Blu-ray is still better than streaming a movie from Netflix or any of the other popular streaming services. Which might explain the surprising fact that even as physical media sales decline and streaming revenues rise, some people still use Netflix’s DVD service. Their reasons for doing so vary (and in some cases probably have a lot to do with the quality of their Internet connection), but by opting for Netflix’s DVD service, they get a number of benefits.
The first of those benefits is access to a larger library of content than what’s available on Netflix’s streaming service. The licensing for the physical renting of DVDs and Blu-rays is significantly simpler than the licensing for adding the same titles to a streaming library, and the most recent releases are often available only on DVD, not on the streaming service. But an even bigger benefit is the video quality you get if you opt for a Blu-ray disc instead of finding something to stream.
If you’re used to streaming your favorite movies and TV shows instead of watching them on a DVD or Blu-ray, you may not realize that you’re missing out on the best video quality. The video and audio quality of a Blu-ray is much higher than what you can stream. That’s because even though you can stream a movie at the same resolution that you’d get when watching it on a Blu-ray, the streaming service needs to use more compression to deliver the movie than the Blu-ray disc, since it has to compress the file enough to send it at a bitrate that’s either equal to or lower than your broadband speed. Netflix has to optimize even its Super HD 1080p streaming service for internet speeds as low as 7 Mbps, so you get better picture quality and audio quality by watching a Blu-ray instead of streaming.
How does your internet connection factor in?
Another consideration to keep in mind if you’re thinking about retiring your Blu-ray player, or simply not replacing it when it gives up the ghost, is how your internet service impacts your streaming habit. If it’s important to you to be able to zone out in front of the TV despite network slowdowns and outages, then you’ll probably want to keep your DVD or Blu-ray player around. You can watch a DVD or a Blu-ray even if your internet is down, which explains why many of Netflix’s DVD service subscribers live in rural areas with lackluster internet access, and some don’t have internet service at all. (Yes, perhaps more surprising than the fact that people still use Netflix’s DVD service is the fact that there are plenty of places in America where there isn’t high-speed internet access at all.)
Even if you have a reliable connection, your network may not always be moving fast enough to stream a movie without annoying lags. And as internet service providers like Comcast implement frustrating data caps, living in a household with other people who stream lots of movies or TV episodes can put a damper on your streaming habit. If you’re approaching your data limit for the month but still want to zone out in front of your favorite movie, it can pay to have a way to watch a DVD or Blu-ray instead of streaming the title for the umpteenth time.
Additionally, as 4K content becomes available on Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services, you’ll need to think about how fast your internet service needs to be to stream that content. Because real-world broadband speeds fluctuate, you’ll need a connection of somewhere between 25 to 50Mbps in order to stream a movie at 4K quality. In reality, few homes actually get that speed today.
What if you just want the best video quality?
If you bought your Blu-ray player in order to get the best of the best when it comes to video quality, you may be considering moving on to the next innovation in TVs: a 4K television set. While there are plenty of 4K TVs on the market, even including a few under $1,000, there isn’t a huge amount of 4K content available yet, with the exception of a relatively small number of titles from Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. That means that it’s probably a good idea to wait at least a year or two before springing for that pricy 4K TV, which will give content providers some time to catch up and start making more movies and TV shows in the higher resolution.
But back to the fate of your Blu-ray player: streaming a 4K movie is going to take even more bandwidth than streaming one in high definition — so you may just end up considering the purchase of one of the next generation of Ultra HD Blu-Ray players to go along with your 4K TV. At which point you’ll be able to conclude definitively that yes, your current Blu-ray or DVD player has absolutely become obsolete — but only to be replaced by a newer, better Blu-ray player that can handle Ultra HD Blu-rays and take full advantage of a 4K television.
Ultra HD Blu-rays and Blu-ray players, a couple of which are already on the market, will offer much higher resolution than standard Blu-rays and Blu-ray players. Taking advantage, of course, will require a 4K TV, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. But if you’re serious about getting the best quality and upgrading your setup to do so, there will certainly be options in 2016 and beyond that make your current Blu-ray or DVD player very, very obsolete.