Physical Media Vs Digital Media

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Physical Media Vs Digital Media

In this picture, a CD and a computer are shown as a way to represent Physical Media Vs Digital Media

Physical Media Vs Digital Media, a clash of two multimedia titans. The first, having been around since what seems like forever, and the latter, somewhat of a newcomer in the entertainment world.

While things like records and CD’s dominated most of the industry for years, the advent of the digital age was nothing short of revolutionary.

This coupled with new services like streaming made content delivery effectively instant. In today’s day and age this is especially true.

Even in the music business, one of the largest industries in the world, digital media is absolutely crushing the physical format.

However, this in turn raises a few questions; the first revolving around staying power.

Will there be a day will come where the physical format is no more?

With how fast it’s seemingly become popular, it’s beginning to seem like an increasingly likely scenario. Now the second question sort of stems from the previous one.

Would there actually be any caveats if such a thing ever did happen?

This would obviously leave a lot of power to content providers, which could be a good or bad thing depending on their intent.

No doubt, there’d certainly be a great deal of variability at play there; further complicating things. So my answer to both of those questions lie with the very benefits that each provide.

I feel it’d be smart to first go over these to really get a good idea of whether this will ever come to pass.



The Benefits Of Streaming

#1 Ease Of Access

In this picture, an iPhone playing a movie is shown

A huge benefit when it comes to streaming has to do with the very premise of the format itself. Being that users are able to simply log on and play a piece of content via desktop, tablet, or even smartphone; this introduces a certain level of accessibility that the physical variant simply can’t match.

I mean think about it, having the ability to play any of your favorite movies and shows without even having to leave the comfort of your own home definitely constitutes as a huge perk in my book.Better yet, you technically wouldn’t even need to get up to change what you’re watching.

All of that, and you don’t have to go to the movie store either! (do they even have those anymore?)


#2 It’s A Space Saver!

Nothing more inconvenient than having thousands of movies and random CD’s scattered all around your house. I can personally vouch for that statement. I can’t even recall the amount of times I was looking for a specific Blu-ray to put on, but couldn’t find it.

With digital media, you don’t have that issue; just press play and that’s it. No more clutter, no more headaches.


#3 You Can’t Lose It

This one is kind of obvious but a huge advantage of this option is that you really can’t misplace it. It’s definitely not fun when everyone’s ready to watch a movie, and you happen to suddenly realize you have no idea where it is. So losing it is sort of an impossibility with this one.

Then again, you could of course always lose your phone or PC, but that’s another story for a different time.


The Disadvantages Of Streaming

Now everything in the world of digital media isn’t all sunshine and rainbows since there are definitely some real disadvantages present as well.

#1 Bandwidth Limitations

In this picture, a data tower is shown

Well the first obvious drawback with streaming has to do with internet. Not only is an internet connection usually required, you also need one that’s fast enough. If you have a connection that doesn’t have sufficient speed, the video will buffer for what seems like every 5 seconds, and in many cases, won’t ever play at all.

What proposes an even bigger issue is that in many countries, there are still no internet connections at all; which effectively renders streaming anything there an impossibility.

Even when there is internet, a lot of these places aren’t at the adequate speed where this could be normalized, further complicating any attempts at mass adoption.  

However if you happen to be using using wifi, there are devices called wifi repeaters which work by extending your signal in a sense, so that you get a more uniform connection.

Here’s a good resource that goes into detail on those as well as one that shows you how to improve the wifi you have now.

If you just so happen to speak spanish by the way, here’s another article that goes into it with even more information.

All of this leads into the next caveat…


#2 Data Throttling

With the whole net neutrality topic becoming such a prevalent means for debate, this does lead to the possibility of companies deciding to throttle user data at their discretion. With companies having full control over internet speed, it’s very possible that you could begin to notice slowdown that was not present before.

And with no certainty as to whether or not this may or may not happen, it’s definitely something that you’ll likely want to remain aware of.

On that same topic of data altering, there’s also been suggested instances of media companies altering the original source material when offering its content to customers. This includes things like changing the aspect ratio of wider screen movies to fit a more square scene.

Now whether this is definitively true or not is up for speculation, but it does further reinforce that sentiment that users aren’t as in control with their content when it comes to receiving it through this medium as they’d like to be. Especially when things can be changed behind the scenes without their knowing.

While things like that may not necessarily be as big a deal for some, for others who are cinema purists that want to view their content exactly as the director intended, it can be a little concerning; especially considering our inevitable move toward more streaming.


#3 Storage

This is a picture of a hard drive

Sure being able to watch whatever you want is nice, but it is likely you’ll still need somewhere to store all those movies. You’ll typically get an allotted amount of storage that’s fine for the short term, but not enough down the road. When this happens, you do have the option of acquiring more, but there’s usually an added fee associated with this.


#4 You Don’t Actually Own it

While there’s definitely a satisfying feeling of being able to physically hold a movie, it helps to further reaffirm the fact that you’re the owner of it. With digital media, this simply isn’t the case. The company that you’re streaming from is the owner of the that piece of content.

If you cancel your membership, then you’ll no longer be able to view whatever it was that you were watching. Then, if they randomly decide to pull that show or movie for whatever reason, you’re out of luck (it’s happened to me before on more than one occasion)

What’s more, digital releases often lack a lot of the extras that use to often come with a tangible release like extras and behind the scenes looks.

These allow fans to learn even more about their favorite actors and shows, and connect with them even more.

Whether this changes remains to be seen, but this current trend of often omitting those may be somewhat of a disappointment to more hardcore fans.


The Benefits Of Physical Media

Now with physical media, there’s certainly a few noteworthy benefits over digital that’s worth pointing out as well.

#1 You’re The Real Owner Of It

This is a picture of a CD in the disc tray of a CD player

Remember how with streaming I stated that you don’t really own that piece of content?

Well with the physical you do. You can watch it as many times as you want without worrying about any sort of subscription service or it magically disappearing.

You’re even free to resell it down the road if you chose to do so.


#2 No Data Limitations

This one’s especially important for the people with slower internet connections. By purchasing physical multimedia, there aren’t any arbitrary limitations imposed; meaning you’re able to play it anytime you want.

You won’t have to worry about hitting any data caps or throttled connections since it would be done the good ol fashioned way.


#3 Better Quality/Sound

Until data transfer is made so advanced that things like compression and artifacting (distortion) are minimized, physical media will always be the better choice in terms of better picture quality and sound.

Now mind you, while the technology is improving and getting respectably close, it’s still not there. For now, you’ll always have the best experience on a disc.

Here’s an article that goes over this along with some of the newer formats.



The Disadvantages of Physical Media

There are of course drawbacks to going this route, so it’s only fair that we cover these as well.

#1 Breaking/Losing It

If you’re a clumsy person (trust me, I am) then you do always run the risk of breaking it. Once it’s broken, that’s really it until you buy another one.

The same could be said for losing it. If you have a lot of movies, then it makes finding a particular one especially difficult.


#2 Clutter

The more DVDs, CDs, and Blu-rays that you purchase, the more of them you’ll be tasked with finding space for.

Now at first this won’t be an issue of course, but as the years go by and your collection increases, you’ll likely find it difficult to keep up. This is another reason people tend to go digital as it avoids this all together.


Will Physical Media Ever Become Obsolete?

This is a picture of a DVD

Here is an interesting thought that really makes you wonder. Even though technology is advancing at breakneck speeds, will there ever come a day where things like CD’s are no more?

Now this is purely speculative since I can’t see into the future, but in my humble opinion I think it will.

However, the catch is I also think this won’t happen for a very long time.

With a good portion of the world still not even having access to basic internet, it would make no sense for companies to no longer support CD’s since they would lose huge portions of market share. This due to those same people not being able to really use it.

Couple this with the fact that as things like 4K and HDR become standard, data rates are likely to go up since it’ll take faster speeds to transfer these gigantic files over the network.

There’s enough trouble as is trying stream these newer formats with modern connections, so if we were left with this as the only option so soon, it just wouldn’t work logically.

Plus, with the better experience still technically on a disc, I don’t foresee it going away any time soon. Until industries figure out how to allow for better quality even on slower speeds, this switch is still at least a couple decades away.

Heck, could you imagine trying to stream 8K?


Final Thoughts

So in terms of Physical Media Vs Digital Media, the physical definitely wins, at least for now. It’s the most stable, and still offers the best picture quality all around.

However way down the road, this may change and perhaps we’ll be singing a different tune.

But that’s it for now, if you have any questions, you know I’m always there. Like always, make it easy, keep it simple. ?


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6 Comments so far:

  1. It’s sad but the truth is, my CD collection is collecting dust. I really like the feeling of having “ownership” of my media which I think is the reason people are still buying them. However, as you noted, the initial convenience of digital media is attractive: I don’t have to worry about losing my CD or it scratching which results to my songs skipping. I just recently bought a new car and haven’t used my CD player once, I Bluetooth my songs on the radio from my phone. I think this will also affect your predictions on the longevity of physical media. What do you think? Really nice post and I look forward to seeing where the future of media will end up!

    • Yeah I definitely agree. I don’t know what it is, but the feeling of actually owning a CD is just so unique compared to simply streaming it.

  2. I’m a bit old school and love having physical media. Even if its on a harddrive, I can watch it whenever I like without internet.

    In saying this, I haven’t bought much on physical media in the past couple of years and I think we’ll be forced to move this way whether we like it or not. Just Wait till they make 8K content. We’ll need some serious bandwidth to stream that.

    • Yeah I definitely feel like that’s the way the industry is heading regardless. But 8k, man that’s going to be crazy! Could you imagine 8k cable? haha

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