Netflix is great and all, but Blu-rays aren't dead yet.
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If you recently picked up a 4K TV, or just have your eye on one, you’ve probably given some thought to what you’d actually watch on the thing.
For that, you’re going to want to scope out some 4K content, ideally 4K movies with High Dynamic Range (HDR). While you can find some 4K/UHD and HDR movies on services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Vudu, there’s also the old standard: Blu-ray discs.
While existing Blu-rays will still top out at just 1080p, there are already dozens of movies available on 4K/UHD Blu-ray discs. Most of these are also in HDR (if your TV supports it), and you can expect generally higher quality than a typical Netflix stream.
The one issue? Watching 4K Blu-rays means owning a compatible 4K Blu-ray player—older Blu-ray players won't work. And because the format is still so young, most of these newer players cost at least $300. That's a buzzkill when you're already shelling out hundreds on a new TV.
But if you have your heart set on playing 4K content from discs, there’s a new—and unexpected—contender in the 4K Blu-Ray player race: the new Microsoft Xbox One S.
The One S is an updated version of the Xbox One. The S launched earlier this month with a slightly faster processor, a more compact design, and the ability to play 4K content from both streaming services and 4K/UHD Blu-ray discs.
The Xbox One S still starts at $299, but you can often find it bundled with games. And the fact that you’re getting a brand-new game console and a box that can play back 4K Blu-ray discs definitely helps soften the blow—especially compared to the top players on the market, which only play discs (or give a few 4K apps like Netflix and Amazon Video) for the same price.
Of course, there’s still a large chorus of naysayers who think that physical media—like Blu-ray discs—are dead. But frankly, we’re not so sure.
For one, streaming services routinely compress their video to help save bandwidth during peak hours. It’s entirely possible that your uber-expensive new TV is going to be stuck playing compressed, junky-looking content because all of your neighbors are binge-watching shows, too.
There’s also the thorny issue of actually owning the movies you love. Netflix and the like are great, but movies routinely leave the rotation due to licensing issues. Just because the new Mad Max movie looks stunning streamed from Vudu now doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be there in a month, or a year, or five years.
4K Blu-ray discs also have the benefit of generally offering superior sound quality, including formats like Dolby Atmos. You’ll need a compatible sound system—like this Samsung soundbar—to take advantage of that, but across the board a 4K Blu-ray disc will give you a high quality picture that doesn't rely on your WiFi.
Ultimately, if you’re going to invest heavily in a 4K- and HDR-compatible home theater setup, it pays to make sure you’ve got the kind of content to really let it stretch its legs. Streaming is a lovely bonus, but we’ll take good old fashioned discs any day. And if that happens to come with a second helping of games, then that’s just gravy.