4K Blu-ray vs. Streaming | Rapallo
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Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming

Written by Deano Lambert, Posted by Deano Lambert

March 16, 2022

This week we look at which is the best way to watch movies? Is it worth investing in 4K Blu-ray or will 4K streaming do the job just as well when it comes to watching movies?

This is a question that’s been asked for quite some time and the answer keep changing as services improve (we get it a lot when we are building home theatre solutions for clients). So should you shell out on one of the best Blu-ray Players or is your money better spent subscribing to one of the best movie sites?

There are quite a few factors to consider when deciding if solid state media is still worth investing in, or if you should go down the streaming route. At a minimum, you need to consider:

  1. Picture quality – this is also influenced by the TV or the projector you are using, or about to use.
  2. Sound quality – do you have a 2 channel or a full multi-channel setup? Then sound becomes a priority.
  3. Convenience – are you a channel surfer, or like to just sit and watch one movie. Plus have you got the time to find a disc and buy it?
  4. Price – multiple streaming platforms cost a decent amount each month, but so do a lot of discs (plus the time to find them).

Thankfully we’ve done that all for you below so you can decide if there’s more to 4K Blu-ray than just that satisfying feeling of loading a disc into a player as you excitedly wait to watch your latest movie purchase.


4K BLU-RAY VS STREAMING – PICTURE QUALITY

The most important and clear difference between 4K Blu-ray discs and streaming in high-quality has to be picture quality. Both services now offer 4K meaning you get a picture resolution of 3840 x 2160 which is going to push your 4K TV to its limit for image resolution. So, what’s the difference?

The difference comes in based on the amount of data sent to the TV. The amount of data sent to your TV each second is called bitrate and this varies since streaming services must heavily compress data so that it can be passed over your internet and Wi-Fi  / Wired connections.

Since internet speeds vary, even on the speediest of lines, streaming services can drop data from frames to ensure your movie keeps playing seamlessly, even if at a slightly lower quality. Sure, it’s not going to mean a loading screen or even a granular image like in the early days, but it can drop slightly. What do I care about if I don’t even notice you might ask. We’d argue that just because the quality drop is subtle doesn’t mean you should settle for a less immersive experience than you could have, esp if you have a large 4K / 8K TV or screen projector combo. This is where 4K Blu-ray comes in.

A top-end streaming service like Netflix typically streams at a bit rate of around 17Mbps. This drops as not only your internet connection varies but as demand goes up (a type of throttling). With more people at home in 2021/2022 the bitrate of Netflix dropped globally as a result of demand. Apple offers a higher bitrate with its Apple TV service, which tops out at 40Mbps. By comparison 4K Blu-ray discs run up to 128Mbps.

There is one exception to streaming, in the form of Sony Bravia Core which is a Sony movie streaming platform that offers 80Mbps. However, it’s limited only to Sony Bravia Core 2021 & 2022 TVs, for now.

Another area to consider is HDR. Both streaming services and 4K Blu-ray offer HDR but the type varies. HDR10 is pretty much available on all discs and streaming services but this doesn’t have the frame-by-frame adaptation tech that HDR10+ and Dolby Vision offer. Amazon Prime Video supports HDR10+ (10-bit color) while Netflix and Disney Plus use Dolby Vision (12-bit color). 4K Blu-ray varies but there are lots of titles with Dolby Vision and plenty with HDR10+.

Lastly there is frame rate, with 4K Blu-ray able to support up to 60fps where most streaming services are still limited to 30fps. Of course, we say limited, but in reality, as broadband connections get better and the streaming compression becomes smarter this will only get better and better with no real limits.

Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming


4K BLU-RAY VS STREAMING – SOUND QUALITY

Audio quality is an area that varies across 4K Blu-ray and streaming services. While Netflix now offers Dolby Atmos sound and some 4K Blu-rays will do the same, for DTS:X you’ll need to go solid state. While there are discs with Dolby Atmos and discs with DTS:X, you won’t find both on the same disc, it’s one or the other. At the time of publishing all streaming services only offer Dolby Atmos.

While Dolby Atmos requires up firing speakers to bounce audio off the ceiling, or ceiling mounted speakers, for an immersive, above-you-sound experience, DTS:X does not. This uses virtual sound delivery and software smarts to take advantage of your current sound system to offer immersive virtual surround. DTS:X also uses a higher bitrate meaning the quality of the sound is better.

Whichever option suits you better, be sure that you have the right sound system to support that audio setup if you want to get the best out of your audio feed.

One thing that makes DTS:X really attractive and earns 4K Blu-ray another point, is the ability to adjust virtual objects. This means you can pick out voices and turn that up, for example, allowing you to follow dialogue more clearly even when in an action packed and noisy scene.

Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming


4K BLU-RAY VS STREAMING – CONVENIENCE

This is a tough one as streaming can be very convenient. If you’ve already got a service paid for and installed, it can be as easy as a single button click and you’re browsing the latest movie library. This is where streaming wins out and many people will gladly take a hit on picture and audio quality for its convenience.

However, since you can buy 4K Blu-ray online and have it delivered to your door, this is also easier than ever. Pop the disc in the drive and you’re up and running right away with the highest quality end result. Yes, you have to store those discs and indeed it does require getting out of your seat to load in and remove that disc – but the ritual of that can be part of the movie watching magic.

Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming


4K BLU-RAY VS STREAMING – PRICE

Some 4K Blu-ray discs will cost you as much as an entire month of subscription for a streaming service like Netflix, which gets you way more content. Then, of course, you also need to factor in the purchase of the 4K Blu-ray player itself. You might not need one though if you already own a console with a drive built in, like a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X.

One of the positives about investing in solid state discs is that you then own that movie and can watch it whenever you like. Streaming services generally have films coming and going as licenses allow. That means you might want to watch a certain movie but won’t be able to since it’s not on your streaming service at that time. Or, if you pay to buy a digital download of a movie, you may not own the rights forever so could lose that too.

For 4K Blu-ray purchases you can use the digital bridge feature, which allows you to copy the movie to a drive, phone or tablet as part of your purchase. Most also have digital versions available for you to stream on any device, whenever you want.

Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming


4K BLU-RAY VS STREAMING – WHICH SHOULD YOU BUY?

Across the four categories we have a tie, 4K Blu-ray gets two points for image and sound quality, while streaming gets dual points for convenience and price. So, right now, it comes down to how you like to view your movies.

If you can appreciate the highest image and sound quality – want to take full advantage of your home cinema setup, and enjoy the ritual of playing discs – then 4K Blu-ray is the way to go.

If you can forgo the best quality and still get into your movies, with a streaming service, then you could stand to save money and access everything more easily.

So… you need to make a choice based on your future requirements.

Rapallo | 4k Blu-ray Vs Streaming

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