Answerman
Is It Safe To Replace My Discs With Streaming?

by Justin Sevakis,

Will asked:

With most of the anime I want to watch being on Crunchyroll or another streaming service these days, it's harder and harder for me to get excited about buying Blu-rays or DVDs. Is it worth buying everything I like? Will these shows disappear from streaming?

Even as someone who makes Blu-rays for a living, I have to admit that buying movies on discs is not quite as exciting as it once was. In fact, it's a common refrain that, should a movie or TV show I want to watch be streaming on one of the major streaming sites, it's usually easier to watch it off of one of those than dig through my (huge) disc archives to try and find what I'm looking for. Especially if I'm upstairs.

As I often tell people, our relationship with physical media has changed. It was once important to have a big collection of discs, just to have options for stuff to watch. But in an era of all-you-can-eat streaming, you always have options. In fact, it's quite possible that, at this very minute, every TV show or movie you want to watch is available to stream, right now. In that case, you don't need discs, or a player. In fact, you don't need any collection of your own.

But for most of us, there's almost always SOMETHING missing, something that just isn't available online anywhere (legally). In cases like that, a disc is likely your only option, just to watch the thing at all. And of course, just because a show is available streaming today doesn't mean it will still be there tomorrow. Licenses disappear. Subscription and ad-supported streaming services like Netflix, Crunchyroll and Funimation Now are just temporarily borrowing content. They don't own it, and can't make it availble forever. In fact, they can't guarantee the service itself will be around forever!

This is true across all services where you don't actually control the media itself: advertising-based or subscription streaming is the riskiest -- shows disappear from them all the time. But even paid "digital locker" based services like iTunes, Amazon and Google Play occasionally delete content. Usually everything that's up there stays available, but as all of those services will tell you, there's no guarantees.

Blu-rays are better quality than streaming, it's true, but to be honest, with a lot of anime it's hard to tell the difference. Most digitally made anime (which is to say, pretty much everything made in the last 17 years) compresses really well. Classic anime with a lot of film grain has a harder time with the bitrate limitations of streaming video, and in that case the difference can be much more noticeable. Blu-ray also supports much better (lossless) audio and full graphical subtitle options, which most streaming services simply can't touch.

I still believe in Blu-rays. I also still believe in buying and downloading music that I like. I'm a media hoarder. It's who I am. But with that comes the peace of mind that no matter what happens to my internet connection, publishing companies, and the rights to the shows and movies I love, I will always have them available. I don't buy as many discs as I used to, but for the shows that are extremely important to me, having them in a physical form is simply irreplacable.

For me, Blu-ray is for the stuff you love. The shows that you want to revisit in the future, and know that they'll be there. The ones that you're proud to have on your shelf, like a great book. The ones where you want bonus features. The ones you want to pass on to your kids. The stuff you want to show support for. The stuff that you absolutely must have in its best, highest quality. With some shows and movies, I am simply not willing to take the chance that it might not be available some day.

And that's what physical media is ultimately about: being in control of your own collection. Some people don't need that, and are happy to give up some control for the convenience and portability of streaming. I'm not one of those people. I need to know. I need to have control. It's that important to me. The good news is that having streaming services AND buying a few Blu-rays every couple of months isn't too expensive, so it's not like we have to choose here.


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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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