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4K Blu-ray isn't dying despite Disney and Best Buy's efforts - it's more important than ever

 Blu-ray disc in player drive.
Blu-ray disc in player drive.

4K Blu-rays have been a hot topic in recent memory. In 2023, Disney announced it would no longer sell 4K Blu-rays in Australia and we here called it a crime for movie fans. Next, Best Buy announced it would no longer stock DVDs or Blu-rays after the holiday season (via Forbes), and from what we can tell, that includes 4K Blu-rays.

Over the past couple of years, people have made the switch to the best streaming services for the large libraries of tv shows and movies available at their fingertips, all for a monthly fee. This is admittedly cheaper than buying a single 4K Blu-ray, which on average costs about $30 / £25 / AU$39 for a mainstream release and more for rarer or lesser-known movies from smaller publishers. It does seem unsurprising, in that case, that 4K Blu-ray is perceived to be falling out of the mainstream.

Having tested some of the best 4K Blu-ray players on the market, such as the fantastic Panasonic DP-UB820, I am a fan of the quality 4K Blu-ray disc delivers. There is an extra performance layer Blu-ray can give you, and that’s something I verified when I tested Blu-ray vs streaming.

But, I understand that not everyone wants to have that extra box attached to their TV or they prefer the convenience of jumping in and out of streaming services to loading up a disc. There’s also that added cost I mentioned before, as buying movies individually each time will be very expensive. Admittedly, there is a strong chance 4K Blu-ray may become less popular as time goes on.

Does this mean that 4K Blu-ray is really dying? The answer is no. In fact, I believe there’s an exciting future on the horizon, especially for cinephiles and movie fans.

The Warriors 4K Blu-ray on brown carpet
The Warriors 4K Blu-ray on brown carpet

A breath of fresh air

Although mainstream 4K Blu-rays may be declining in popularity, there is a growing number of smaller and specialist companies, such as Arrow Films, The Criterion Collection, Shout Factory, 101 Films and more releasing 4K Blu-rays and quite often they are 4K restorations of niche, lesser-known or older movies. This breathes new life into these oft-forgotten titles and gives movie enthusiasts a chance to experience them again at a quality level not before possible.

Even A24, a distributor and slightly more ‘mainstream’ company than the ones mentioned above, is joining the restoration efforts with a 2023 4K remaster of Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads’ 1984 concert movie.

Recently, I had an experience with a 4K restoration myself, one that brought me a lot of joy. I am a fan of The Warriors, Walter Hill’s gritty movie about a gang that must make its way across New York back to Coney Island through a swarm of other gangs with a bounty on their backs after being framed for a murder. I owned this movie on DVD and loved it. Years later, it was released on Blu-ray and I rejoiced as it meant a better quality picture.

However, I was dismayed to find that the Blu-ray version included a new cut of the movie, which introduced strange comic book panel transitions throughout that quite frankly ruined it. But, if I wanted the better picture this would have to do.

Cut to November 2023 and I read that Arrow Films was releasing a 4K remaster of The Warriors, and it wouldn't just be the Blu-ray version, but also the original 1979 theatrical cut used for the DVD that I loved! Needless to say, I ordered it from the US as soon as I could, and I’m pleased to report it was everything I hoped for.

I know I’m not alone in experiences like this. Other movie fans the world over have been in the same situation, where the efforts of these specialist companies allow them to rediscover a loved movie that may have otherwise been lost, or enable them to see it with a quality level never before possible.

Panasonic MZ1500 with The Batman on screen
Panasonic MZ1500 with The Batman on screen

Why 4K Blu-ray is better

Aside from giving new life and homes to vintage masterpieces, there is another reason why 4K Blu-ray is king and that is sheer quality. Looking at the numbers, 4K Blu-ray offers a higher bit-rate than 4K streaming. A 4K disc can transfer data at 128Mbps, whereas 4K streaming on services such as Netflix and Disney Plus tends to max out at 16-25Mbps. Simply put, this means that 4K Blu-ray can present a movie in a less compressed format, resulting in not only better picture but also better audio.

Audio was the main area where I noted a difference when I tested the same movies on both Blu-ray and streaming, even with my TV hooked up to the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), a budget example of the best soundbars. During my test, the sense of audio immersion from the 4K Blu-ray was levels above streaming, and that’s because 4K Blu-ray carries soundtracks in the lossless Dolby True HD format rather than the lossy Dolby Digital Plus one used for streaming.

This is important for all 4K releases, not just classic or rarer restorations. When we see a movie in the cinema that captures our imagination, we want to take that feeling home with us, and based on what I’ve seen and experienced, streaming doesn’t hit that same feeling the way a 4K Blu-ray disc can.

Panasonic DP-UB820 on brown stand hero image
Panasonic DP-UB820 on brown stand hero image

Final thoughts

There may be articles all over the web saying that 4K Blu-ray is dying, and Disney and Best Buy’s decisions have helped to fuel that sentiment. But, there are still glimmers of hope for 4K Blu-ray, as the Oppenheimer disc sold out just one week after release (as reported by Variety). Now, that may have been because Christopher Nolan, the director himself, said Oppenheimer was meant for Blu-ray because streaming sucks, but people still  listened! So, take it from me – and the director of Oppenheimer – movies at home are best experienced on 4K Blu-ray.

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