Mid-Week Poll: Physical Discs vs. Cloud Streaming

Recently, Warner Bros. announced its Disc-to-Digital initiative, in which the studio will encourage consumers to trade in movies on disc for digital copies stored in a virtual cloud and streamed to internet-connected devices. The program will start with DVDs and eventually move to Blu-rays as well. Do you think this is a good idea? Would you give up physical disc ownership for cloud streaming?

From the consumer perspective, the advantage of cloud streaming is the ability to eliminate the clutter of owning a lot of physical discs while still being able to purchase movies for unlimited viewings (as opposed to one-off rentals from services like Netflix or VUDU). It will also allow those movies to be viewed on a number of different platforms, from mobile devices to a full home theater system.

From the studio perspective, the transition from disc to digital will hopefully help to clamp down on piracy and steer more consumers toward purchasing movies rather than renting. Warner even plans to offer the option of upgrading certain movies from standard-definition DVD to high-def quality streaming for an upcharge fee.

Of course, internet streaming has plenty of downsides as well. A viewer will need a fast and reliable internet connection. In these days of internet providers imposing bandwidth caps on users, that may be a real problem. At this point, streaming still cannot match the quality of a good Blu-ray disc. Perhaps worst of all is the looming fear that the studio could shut down or block access to the server with your movie purchases at any time, for any reason. Netflix users already know the pain of losing movies they had planned to rent when they’re removed from the stream. Imagine how much greater the frustration would be if you had actually paid to purchase that movie. When you own a physical disc, you know that you’ll be able to play it whenever you want.

Where do you stand on this? Would you consider trading in your discs for cloud streaming?

Physical Discs vs. Cloud Streaming

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[Note: According to the latest information, the Disc-to-Digital program is not exclusive to Warner Bros. Several studios are participating.]


  1. HuskerGuy

    Physical all the way. That said, I do enjoy the ability to enjoy my movies digitally as well, but I’m not going to give up a physical copy to get that. I would a little extra to have both though.

  2. Jean-Denis

    Streaming is great for “renting”. Instant gratification, and no late fees.

    When it comes to movies I want to keep, I wouldn’t rely on distributors holding the film for me indefinitely. Or Not blocking it because their rights have expired. Or not changing it with a different cut on some filmmaker’s whim

    As far as downloading digital files, I’d want to back them up in some way, anyway. Why not… a physical disc?

    Have we become so lazy and indifferent to quality that we consider sticking a feather-weight disc in a player inconvenient?

  3. I love physical media but I do enjoy streaming as well. Unfortunately, I think the studios are kidding themselves if they think that this will cut down on piracy in anyway. Streaming will remain a popular alternative but it won’t even have the possibility of becoming the norm especially in the U.S. until internet providers get with the program and update their capabilities and lift these ridiculous broadband caps.

  4. Honestly, I’m not sure. In theory, I love streaming, but I don’t trust Hollywood to come up with an unobtrusive solution.

    I’m also genuinely concerned that movies I’ve bought for streaming might get edited or removed at any time. We’ve seen this happen to Kindle books already, and it’s much easier to do it where the customers doesn’t have their own copy of the movie.

    So, I guess I’m going to stick with what I do today for quite some time. Buy discs and rip them to a local fileserver.

  5. JM

    Walmart’s plan to let you keep your discs and give you a Vudu copy for $2 seems tempting. I wouldn’t mind shifting my TV-on-DVD to Vudu HDX.

  6. JM

    What comes after 4G wireless?

    5G wireless with unlimited data?

    Will it be fast enough to stream 4K?

    • Nothing comes in 4K so it’s pointless to even worry about it until some service or disk base media supports the resolution. Not to mention that it takes a very powerful machine to run 4K video play back. The amount of pixels in 4K is mathematically quite a bit more than that of 1920×1080.

      So enjoy HD for a while, because 4K will probably take as long (hopefull not after another format war) before we’ll be able to get any amount of content in that format.

  7. Alex

    So I love in when my BD comes with an iTunes digital copy, but these Ultra Violet are garbage. Lpve being able to get the HD copy at the store hand still have the digital copy for my phone or what ever. More so now that apple offers there movies in the cloud, but I do wish I could upgrade them to HD for a small fee.

  8. Bryan

    I don’t even like the concept of the cloud for music – let alone movies. Why would I want to pay to access files (my own or ones I’ve purchased from some kind of distributor like Apple or Amazon) rather than have a copy in my hand. I don’t have that much of a problem with the “cloud fees” themselves – storage costs money (although as time goes by, those costs keep going down) but I don’t want to use up bandwidth to repeatedly access files that I “own”. Data usage/caps are going to be a bigger issue than a lot of people realize in the coming years. Most people don’t really download/stream enough right now to worry, but every month I wonder if I’m going to squeak under my alloted bandwidth. For that reason alone, there’s no way I’d ever want to store my files in the cloud.

  9. CK

    With the caps on data and unreliable imternet service, I’ll stick with physical media. Plus, I don’t trust them to not start charging for each viewing. It probably wouldn’t happen at the beginning, but in time they would have us paying every time we watch anything.

  10. I am actually up for what Wal-Mart is doing – take your DVDs in, pay $5, and get the HDX version on Vudu, and they let you keep the discs. That is why I chose “Both”

    However, if I had to give my discs up, I would be like, “Hell no!”. I like my physical discs!

  11. I can’t give up physical discs for the reasons stated above: I don’t trust the corporations or the reliability of and my connectivity to the cloud. I trust my disc’s permanence and availability.

    I like that I can lend someone a disc (though I wish Steve would return Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider). I’m sure I there will be a system for that on the cloud, but it wouldn’t be so easy if someone were on a different cloud.

    Also, I like packaging, either the blue cases and their error-riddled slip covers or the deluxe editions with superfluous fold-out box art and illustrated books.

    By the way, terrific, apropos graphic for this story. That is the Warner Bros. screen before the logo appears, right?

    • Josh Zyber

      Now that you say it, the banner image does kind of look like the Warner logo. But no, I just Googled some photos of clouds, and that was the one I liked best. Perhaps I was making an unconscious connection with the studio logo, though.

  12. A typical Blu-ray disc has a video bitrate in the low 20s of Mbps. A typical streaming service has a video bitrate in 2s for SD, and 4-6s for HD.

    If you want quality on your front projector, stick with discs.

    Of course, Warner Bros is notorious for using relatively low bitrates on its Blu-ray discs.

    As for anti-piracy, the more you accustom people to a low quality streamed image, the more they’ll be happy with crappy pirated versions.

  13. Hmm… Let’s see, at approximately 20 – 30 Gb per movie – Wow! I’ve exceeded my “(Un)Fair usage policy” in less than 24 hours.

    I have, and will always be a fan of physical media; friends buy stuff fom “(Sh)i(te)-tunes” often recommending me to do the same; I personally run my HTPC through my nice little old Sony DA1200ES, bi-wired and bi-amped to a pair of Mission M33i floorstanders (OMG yes it makes a difference!), compressed audio just doesn’t cut it on my setup.

    The same can be said for the video element; I watch most of my movies on an Epson TW3200 3 LCD projo @ 92″ 16:9, at this size my own ripped and mkv compressed HD DVD/ Blu-Ray (average file size 4 – 5 Gb) look great but not great enough to exchange my near perfect hard copies for!

    It is almost like saying “Here you go Sirs and Madams, why not give us your beautiful hi-res art in exchange for these lovely lower-res prints!” – Madness, lol!

    Btw – This is my first post, so hi everyone 🙂