STREAMING OR BLU-RAY: WHAT’S THE BEST CHOICE FOR HOME CINEMA?

There are multiple ways to deliver content to your home cinema, but what’s the best choice for movie buffs: streaming or Blu-ray?

Until recently, Blu-Ray was the undisputed choice for home cinema.  With quality of the image and sound far surpassing broadcast and streaming media, Blu-ray was the automatic choice for home cinema installations.  But as streaming services continue to expand their range and improve the broadcast quality, the decision is no longer clear cut. 

So if you’re unsure whether to opt for 4K Blu-ray, or a streaming service such Sky Q, here’s a look at which medium wins in a series of categories.

Best for variety and range of content
Winner : Blu-ray

The fragmented nature of the streaming market means that Blu-ray is the clear winner here.  Almost every major TV or cinema release will be ported to Blu-ray at some stage (even those released exclusively on streaming services) so if you don’t want to miss anything, Blu-ray rules.  In comparison, the streaming specialists have to make do with a limited range, meaning that viewers need to subscribe to multiple services, or miss out.

The next best for variety is Sky.  It has content deals with most of the major movie studios and US broadcasters, meaning it is able to show the largest range of shows and films.

Although Sky continues to dominate the content race, rival services such Amazon Prime and most noticeable NetFlix, are fighting back by grabbing the rights to certain movies, alongside a growing library of original content.  While this competition helps create some brilliant content, it makes the sourcing of media tricky, meaning that physical discs wins here.


Picture/sound quality
Winner: Blu-ray (for now)

Buyers of 4K Blu-ray discs currently get the best deal in terms of picture and sound quality.  However, Sky has recently upped its game and as part of its Sky Q service, is offering selected TV shows and films at the same resolution (2160p, 60 frames per second) as 4K Blu-ray.  Netflix HD is boasting similar stats, meaning that Blu-ray’s monopoly on quality is clearly under threat.

These services are very new, and reports are mixed so far, with some users complaining the ultra HD services don’t stack up against their 4k setups.  While this does tip the balance back in favour of physical discs, it’s worth noting that the quality of Blu-ray is itself inconsistent, dependent on the quality of the transfer and disc itself.   

The conclusion is that while Blu-ray takes this category for now, its position may be short-lived. 

Convenience
Winner: Streaming services

This is one area where Blu-ray is floored by the newer services such as Sky Q and Netflix HD.  Not only is there no need to store physical discs, but streaming services have huge libraries (especially Sky) meaining home cinema viewers have an almost endless choice of content to choose from.

Added extras
Winner: Blu-ray

This is clearly a minor category, but it’s worth noting that Blu-ray discs come full of extra scenes, documentaries, commentaries and other goodies for movie fans.  Whether this is important or not is totally subjective.

Reliability
Winner: Blu-ray

Streaming has one potentially fatal flaw – the requirement for an internet connection.  Should this connection fail or stutter mid-viewing , then the whole concept falls down.  Yes, you can download content, but the point of streaming is that you don’t need a library because you watch on-demand.  Yes, internet connections are far more stable than they used to be, but they are not infallible.  The only way to guarantee a seamless viewing experience is use physical media such as Blu-ray.

Conclusion: streaming or Blu-ray?
Blu-ray is currently the best choice for home cinema fans.  It offers the best combination of quality, reliability, and choice, with the added bonus of extra material.  But the gap is closing fast, and if Sky Q and Netflix HD deliver on their promise of improved picture and sound quality, the choice will become harder.  Internet connections are becoming faster and reliable all the time, and the fact that you forego the need to physically purchase and store Blu-ray discs means that streaming is catching up quickly.  The tipping point is likely to be convenience: if home cinema watchers can get the same viewing experience as Blu-ray, with on-demand access to an ever growing catalogue of content, we may soon reach a point when physical discs become resigned to history.