boxes of DVDs

Streaming vs DVDs vs Downloads: What is the best way to watch movies?

Back in the day, watching a movie meant sticking a tape in a VCR or taking a trip to your local theatre.

In 2017, movie lovers are spoiled for choice with streaming services, digital downloads and good old fashioned physical media.

But what is the best way to watch movies? Here’s our assessment…




– Cheap if you watch a lot of movies

– Good selection

– Available across lots of devices


Movies and shows removed overnight due to licensing

You don’t own anything

You’re at the mercy of your internet connection

Netflix has become such a cultural force that you’d be forgiven for assuming everyone uses it.

The service actually has around 80 million subscribers, at least a quarter of which are based overseas. That’s obviously impressive (it’s more than the population of the United Kingdom), but it also means a lot of people aren’t streaming their movies and TV shows yet.

Of course, Netflix isn’t the only streaming service on the block. Amazon Prime, its main competitor, boasts around 63 million customers, while Hulu has around 12 million.

Streaming is popular for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s cheap: you pay a monthly fee (usually less than $10) and in return, you get access to a whole library of movies and TV shows. A lot of that content is exclusive too; Netflix and Amazon both produce original programming, some of which is critically acclaimed.

Streaming is also incredibly convenient as you can watch movies and shows across multiple devices, including your phone and tablet (although some services restrict the amount of devices you can stream on). It’s a lot easier than carrying around a laptop and a bag full of DVDs!

That brings us onto the next plus point of streaming: it doesn’t take up any space, physically or digitally. You don’t need to put up new shelves to accommodate new movies and TV shows, and you don’t have to delete precious photos and videos to make room for downloads either.

Amazon Prime

Streaming isn’t perfect though. That library you pay to access can change dramatically over time depending on what licenses your chosen streaming service holds. Your favorite movie may disappear overnight, or – worst case scenario – that TV show you’re addicted to may be removed while you’re in the middle of a season.

The competitiveness of the streaming market means that services battle over licenses all the time too. You may find that a TV show you’re watching doesn’t just disappear but ends up on a totally different service. You’re then faced with a dilemma: cancel your current subscription, pay for the rest of the show or join two streaming services.

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t used the word ‘own’ anywhere in the past few hundred words either. That’s because you don’t actually own anything when you subscribe to a streaming service; instead, streaming is more like paying for an unlimited rental card.

As soon as you stop paying, you lose access to everything and have nothing to show for your investment. Whether that bothers you or not depends entirely on your philosophy when it comes to money, but it’s a dealbreaker for some.

And finally, perhaps the biggest problem of them all: streaming leaves you entirely at the mercy of your internet connection. If you live in a rural area or your bandwidth suffers at peak times, you may end up watching a lot of movies in low quality potatovision – if they load at all!


DVDs & Blu-Rays



– Pretty cheap

– Look good on a shelf

– Collectible

– Reliable quality


– They only work on certain devices

– Take up space

– Wear and tear

For a short time, DVDs ruled the home entertainment roost. Launched in 1997, the format quickly overtook VHS thanks to its convenience and substantially less bulky packaging – although to be honest, it would have been hard to make anything less convenient and bulky than VHS!

It’s time at the top was relatively limited, though. Digital downloads and streaming became major competitors, eventually making more money globally in July 2015. Home disc sales are still an important revenue stream for entertainment companies, however, so the format is likely to be around for a while.

There are plenty of reasons to choose DVDs over their digital alternatives. For one, you actually own the content; even if the internet goes kaput or Netflix loses a license, you’ll still be able to watch your favorite movie.

DVDs are still the best way to boast about your excellent taste in movies to your friends too. They look great on a shelf and are super easy to browse through too, which makes them the ideal format for impressing dates with your appreciation of French arthouse cinema.

As with all physical formats, there is a burgeoning market for second hand DVDs too. You can usually pick up a few DVDs for less than $10 online or at a yard sale, so it doesn’t cost too much to build a collection.

Finally, Blu-Rays remain the most reliable way to watch high definition movies at home. You don’t have to rely on your internet connection remaining stable and -as an added bonus – Blu-Rays often come in ultra-exclusive-collector’s edition packaging.

Now for the negatives. The big one, of course, is that DVDs take up a lot of space. We’re talking entire walls and shelves here. This is fine if you regularly watch the DVDs in your collection, but its wasted space if you only watch movies once.

DVDs aren’t that convenient if you watch movies and TV shows on the go either. Usually, you’re limited to watching DVDs on your TV, computer or games console. Some new releases include a digital download code, but your viewing options are fairly limited when it comes to older movies.

DVDs, like all physical media, aren’t immune to the ravages of time either. This isn’t really an issue if you look after your DVDs, but you may have to eventually replace a couple if you’re rough with them.

Digital Downloads

Digital Download


– Convenient

– Watch across multiple devices


– Can be expensive

– Not as collectible as physical

Digital downloads feel strangely outdated in the modern era, even though they only really took off 10 years ago.

For many, they’re a symbol of the difficult transition between physical and digital; a time when entertainment companies did their best to offer digital media while retaining all of the copyright controls associated with physical media.

The good news is that most digital downloads aren’t subject to the same levels of DRM as they were 10 years ago. You can view most across multiple devices these days, although you may still be restricted to watching them using a certain service.

When they first launched, legal digital downloads were oddly expensive too.  It often cost more to download a movie than it did to go and buy it in a store (conspiracy theorists, don your tin foil hats now), and some people undoubtedly still think digital downloads cost more than their physical equivalents.

The truth is that digital downloads are a lot cheaper than they used to be, especially if you pick up a couple of movies in a sale. They aren’t the cheapest, but they don’t cost that much more than buying a brand new DVD (second hand is a different matter).

The main advantage downloads have over streaming is that you actually own something, although the files you purchase will take up storage space (unless you leave them all on the cloud, like your own mini-streaming service).

Unless you’re willing to stick with one service, your movie collection may end up spread across multiple providers. That’s fine if you only own a few movies and TV shows, but not so great if you’ve bought 1000s and can’t remember if you bought Robocop on iTunes or Google Play (although it’d only take five minutes max to search!).

So, what is the best way to watch movies and TV shows? It really depends. If you want to save money and don’t mind not owning your entertainment, streaming is the way to go. If you want to build a collection, own your entertainment and have physical space, go for DVDs. If you want to own your entertainment but don’t have much space (or travel a lot), try downloads!

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