Home Theater

Are Blu-ray or DVD players still worth buying?

In the age of streaming, on-disc media has gone the vinyl route

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It used to be if you wanted to watch your favorite TV shows or movies at home, you'd need to own a DVD player or Blu-ray player and buy or rent the disc versions. As streaming subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have gained traction over the last several years, however, the mainstream practice of watching on-disc media has slowly gone the way of the landline phone, point-and-shoot camera, and Friday night visits to Blockbuster.

It seems like these days, there are really only two groups of people who still utilize DVD and Blu-ray discs: people who perhaps begrudgingly made the laborious changeover from owning a VHS player and VHS tapes, to owning a DVD player and DVDs, and haven't yet (or refuse) to hop on board the streaming media bandwagon; and more particular cinephiles who buy Blu-rays not just for their superior picture quality when compared to streaming media, but for all the on-disc extras you simply don't get from services like Netflix and Prime Video—director's commentary, deleted scenes, and so on.

The only manner in which on-disc media has gained any kind of ground (compared to streaming) over the last several years owes to the advent of TVs that offer major upgrades to the standard home viewing experience, via 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range.

But with more and more 4K and HDR content available through both streaming subscriptions and standalone media boxes, even that advantage is waning. So why would anyone buy a DVD or Blu-ray player in 2019?

Reason #1: Quality versus quantity

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Chances are if you're looking to buy a Blu-ray or DVD player in 2019, you're doing so with the intent of watching Blu-ray discs or DVDs.

For film and TV enthusiasts—the kind of people who follow actors' or directors' careers, who pay particular attention to cinematography or whether the score is or isn't diagetic—owning a DVD or Blu-ray (or 4K/HDR Blu-ray) is more than just owning a way to consume a particular piece of media.

It's the only way to "have" that media in a tangible, physical form that's also the best rendering, from a quality perspective, outside of seeing it in a theater. Whether that's as an expression of sincere fandom or a general distrust of the reliability of streaming platforms to deliver, it's one reason to buy disc media, and therefore one reason to own a DVD or Blu-ray player.

It might make sense to own a DVD or Blu-ray player if you're already inundated with a library of discs.

It's the same as owning vinyl, CDs, or tapes of artists and musicians you like: the better quality is certainly a factor, no matter how imperceptibly improved analog or laser-based file formats may be, especially as these audio-visual experiences of quality tend to be measurably subjective and even psychological.

It might make sense to own a DVD or Blu-ray player if you're already inundated as such with a library of discs you need to play—but getting started in 2019 seems like a slightly oddball move.

Even still, it's not unheard of to delve into an older technology in search of capturing the feeling of "quality" when the horizonless tundra of streaming sometimes feels like choices run amok. Just look at the resurgence of vinyl in 2018.

Reason #2: A better home experience

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The reasoning for owning a dedicated disc player for DVDs or Blu-rays definitely comes into play when you're setting up a home theater. While most people are content to buy a good-enough TV, set it up in the living room, and call it a day, more enthusiastic viewers may want to take things a step or two further.

You don't need to spend $10,000 or more on a home theater—though people certainly do—to justify the presence of a disc player. Even if you've only decided that your TV's built-in speakers aren't good enough and have upgraded to an affordable soundbar, you've taken a step toward improving the general quality of your home viewing experience.

While content on Netflix might look better than a DVD, Blu-rays are almost guaranteed to look better.

If it makes sense to "equalize" the disparity between your TV's picture quality (which is likely very good, especially if it's a newer 4K or HDR TV) and its audio output, doesn't it also make sense to equalize the disparity between your TV's picture quality and, say, Netflix?

The latest TVs use enhancements like "quantum dots," OLED panels, LED dimming and "blasting," full-array backlights, and quad (plus) core processing to produce the best images possible, especially the High Dynamic Range sets. Even entry level name brand sets utilize many of these technologies.

While plenty of people have zero bones to pick about the quality of the content delivered by services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, a dedicated DVD or Blu-ray player is simply better. Even a wired ethernet internet connection results in compressed content when streaming.

While 1080p content on Netflix might look better than a sub-1080p DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray discs are guaranteed to look better, especially for detailed, filmic content. If you've dipped a toe into things like light-blocking curtains or better speakers, investing in a disc player isn't that far out of your wheelhouse.

Reason #3: Actual ownership

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Another reason to buy (or upgrade to) a DVD or Blu-ray player is if you intend to collect DVDs or Blu-rays (or 4K/HDR/Dolby Vision Blu-rays).

While this is definitely a larger overall investment than paying a monthly price for Netflix and Hulu, it's also "permanent." Licenses for movies and TV shows rotate out from streaming services all the time, and at the end of the day, you don't keep anything tangible from your time with streaming services.

And this isn't just a concern for enthusiasts and collectors! It's also a concern for parents, babysitters, or anyone who's got younger viewers. As you may know, toddlers and young kids tend to find one movie they love and watch it over and over and over. But what happens if your kid loves "Coco" and Netflix decides to knock it out of the roster one month?

While it's impossible to put a hard value on the reliability factor of owning media that you know you can watch your favorite TV shows or movies whenever you want—without worrying about "losing" a digital copy or having your purchased movies expire.

One thing is for sure: disc media isn't dead just yet.

While most pay-to-own digital services are reliable enough, they're not as reliable (nor as robust) as a DVD/Blu-ray copy—and that's not even considering the quality differences, availability of options for closed captions or alternate languages, or support for more robust audio formats that on-disc media makes available.

It's hard to say whether DVD or Blu-ray players are definitively "still worth it," but one thing is for sure: disc media isn't dead just yet, thanks in part to the advent of the High Dynamic Range video format, the AV enthusiasts who collect DVDs and Blu-rays the same way that many people collect books, and the picture quality purists who want their RGB signals decoded in full, rather than compressed qualities.

Just remember that if you are thinking of buying a disc player, make sure it's HDR capable. Anything less is absolutely obsolete in 2019.


Blu-ray players we recommend

This upscaling 4K model from Sony is a great choice. It supports DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K Blu-rays, and HDR/Dolby Vision formats. It's also 3D/DLNA compatible, has a separate audio output jack (for use with surround or AV receiver based systems), and offers built-in WiFi.

We recommend this one primarily for disc playing (video and audio). however, as many users have reported issues with the built-in streaming apps (Netflix, etc). It's fairly boxy and heavy and not the most aesthetically appealing player you can buy, but for the price it delivers the nitty gritty components and format supports that matter the most.

Get the Sony UBP-X700 from Amazon for $168 (Save $81.99)

If you want to invest in a very forward-facing product that checks off a huge range of boxes beyond just disc playing, your best bet is probably the Xbox One X console. This is Microsoft's most powerful console ever, and it's meant to be the "one" thing you need plugged into your TV.

While it delivers a rather sizable price tag, it gives you access to all of the latest disc media formats, supports most audio pass-thru formats, and works with most of the popular streaming apps, to boot. It's also a video game console, if you're into that kind of thing.

Get the Xbox One X from Amazon for $420