Like it or not, the future is in streaming. Buying physical copies of movies seems to make little sense these days (except for those who buy a DVD and use a tool like Handbrake to avoid being locked into a proprietary format by creating a DRM-free digital file). It all boils down to selecting a method of media distribution that fits your digital lifestyle (and wallet).
A year ago, I canceled my Netflix subscription. I have not had any regrets moving to the Blockbuster @Home (formerly Blockbuster Movie Pass) option provided by Dish Network, which I am a subscriber. We get one DVD a week in the mail that we watch on the weekend (Saturday Movie Night). A great service that we have been pretty happy with.
Now for a dose of reality. Physical DVDs and Blu-ray discs are a dying media. Blockbuster’s (as well as Netflix’s) DVD-by-mail service will eventually go away. Maybe not anytime soon but it will eventually happen. Don’t believe me? Remember video rental stores? The current generation no longer sees the need to put a physical disc into a device connected to your TV when you can buy newer devices (e.g. Roku and Apple TV) that can stream movies to your current TV. You can even buy newer TVs with built-in Internet streaming services. It’s a natural evolution of home media entertainment: VHS player to DVD/Blu-ray player to Internet streaming.
It has become widely acceptable that streaming a movie will not give you the same picture and sound quality as watching it on Blu-ray disc. However, the advantage is that you can watch what you want, when you want, how you want without having to deal with any physical media. In our house, there are very few movies that we will watch more than once or twice that warrants buying it on a physical disc. If it is a movie that we really, really like then we may buy it on Blu-ray for subsequent viewing. Pretty much the only time that I buy a DVD or Blu-ray is if it’s a rare, old-school kung-fu movie to add to my collection. Our daughter has all the classic Disney movies on DVD. She watched them all the time when she was much younger. They are gathering dust now.
The confusing aspect of streaming versus watching a movie on a physical disc is that it requires you to pick a method of distribution and pretty much stick with it. To further add to the confusing (or frustration), each method of distribution relies on a proprietary form of encryption in order to prevent illegal distribution of the content on the Internet. You pretty much have to choose a method of distribution that you like and stick with it or it can get as cumbersome as keeping up with physical discs. Thank you very much Hollywood (I’m being sarcastic of course).
Then there is UltraViolet. UltraViolet is intended to allow people to stream and download purchased content to multiple platforms and devices. Basically it is a digital proof of purchase that you get when you buy a movie on DVD or Blu-ray. While the platform-agnostic, “buy once, play anywhere” approach grants you greater flexibility with how and where you watch your content, it can be a bit confusing when you first try to redeem those digital copy codes because you want to make sure that it will link to the distribution service that you use (and they can differ from DVD to DVD based on the studio…again, thank you Hollywood).
At this moment, we currently use CinemaNow for movie purchases and rentals (cost between $2.99-$3.99 a movie) in our household. Fortunately, CinemaNow is a service that does link with your UltraViolet account. In addition, we subscribe to Hulu Plus and Crunchyroll for TV shows and anime. Crackle and EPIX are also used for other miscellaneous programs. We are able to use these services through our Xbox consoles, Roku 2 XS, WD TV Live Hub, iPad Mini, Nexus 7 and Sony Blu-ray player. The big plus for CinemaNow and Hulu Plus is that they allow you to purchase gift cards to use instead of having a credit card tied to the service (something that Walmart is missing with their VUDU service).
From what I’ve seen comparing services, the one that Amazon provides is probably as close to cross-platform as digital streaming will get. Even though you have to purchase/rent and manage your digital media through Amazon, their service is pretty much available on every popular platform out there, from Windows to OS X to iOS to Android not to mention game consoles, streaming boxes and smart TVs. Even though we don’t use Amazon’s service at the moment, I have been exploring it as a possible future option especially since getting my wife an Amazon Kindle Fire HD for Christmas.