Audio Advent 2021 Day 6: 4k Streaming vs 4k Blu-Ray

Which is better?  4K streaming or physical media?

This is a bit of a controversial question that has been asked lots of times, but can sometimes be put down to a simple matter of convenience versus performance.

Now don't get me wrong, I use a video streaming service almost every day as the convenience and variety of media is huge, but when it comes to plain old performance it just has to Blu-ray.

With internet speeds continuously improving, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime stream at something between 15.6 and 25 megabits per second (Mbps) when playing 4k HDR content, whereas a Blu-ray player via HDMI will transmit video at between 72Mbps and 125Mbps per second on 4k HDR, which is a massive performance difference. 

This difference is apparent in both video and audio. In video terms 4k streaming is still excellent and way better than HD days, but it always looks a bit grainy and muted in comparison to Blu-ray because the streaming companies have to compress it more to get it streamed to you than the Blu-ray disc manufacturers have to do to get it on the disc.

One of my bug bears with streaming content has always been audio formats. The majority of Netflix's own content and some of Amazon's has full bandwidth Dolby Atmos soundtracks on board, although they do still compress them to get them into your stream, but many of the films they store in their catalogue are only put on with Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 tracks, whereas you know if you bought the disc you would get the complete best soundtrack on board with the disc. As an AV enthusiast this leads me to only one choice: if it's a film I want to watch and keep to watch again, then I have to get the physical media.

In my lengthy service in the industry I have had numerous cases where customers have come back to me and said my system doesn't sound as good as when you set it up or showed it to me in the shop, and recently a good customer of mine came to me with exactly this problem. As it was a system that I had installed and set up, I knew there was nothing wrong in the way it was running, so I asked him what media he had been using. He said he had been streaming from Amazon, but that he also had the 4k disc version of the series of films he had been watching on Amazon Prime.

I asked him to do a comparison, and he came back to me within a day to confirm the difference was significant in terms of video and enormous in audio performance terms, and that the system really was showing its true potential from Blu-ray material. He now only ever uses streaming for easy access content and Blu-ray disc for anything he wants to watch seriously.

The concept of owning a large disc library, or even of owning a disc spinner, is thought of to be a bit archaic now, but I challenge you to test something you know well from your streamed library versus a Blu-ray disc and find out if you can see and hear the differences for yourself.

If you fancy doing the comparison with us, feel free to visit our Lincolnshire showroom or give us a call or an email

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