Streaming vs. Blu-ray: What Are Your Friends Seeing?

A couple of weeks ago we mused on the qualitative audio experience offered by Blu-ray, and whether our friends family and neighbors know or care what they’re missing with the lossy audio options available from streaming applications. Today, I want to get your lively thoughts on the video quality of streaming applications. Before Netflix, Apple TV or Vudu we’d been preaching that not all high-definition content is created equal. The high bitrates and advanced compression used on Blu-ray is superior on large screens to critical viewers. It’s the gold standard. While I’ve not found the video quality of streams from Cable on-demand, Netflix or Apple TV to be impressive my question is whether you have? Do you find that the difference in video quality between streaming and Blu-ray is definitive on your video setup? What about your friends and family? When they come over and see Blu-ray on your system do they seem interested in going Blu? Or if they notice, do they shrug, and not want to spend the money on a player and discs? Or are there other barriers?

And here’s another complication on the issue. My Internet download speed is good, but my cable company only commits to 2MB downloads and I’m sharing bandwidth with my neighbors in peak evening hours. I don’t totally live in the boonies, and yet Comcast doesn’t offer higher speed Internet packages in my area (I’d pony up if they did). Do you have enough bandwidth where you live to get good video quality from streaming? Are there dropouts or buffering issues? If streaming is good enough for some programs, like TV shows is it what you use for first-run movies?

Dustin Harper's picture

People definitely notice a big difference with Blu-ray and want to upgrade. However, the $$ is a big issue. I'm glad entry level players are under $70 now, and still dropping. I can notice a HUGE difference in streaming vs. Blu. Streaming you can see compression artifacts. However, I am a A/V perfectionist, so I notice a lot of nuances that others don't. I have 7 MB down and 768Kb up on DSL, and it seems adequate for streaming, even some so-called "High Definition" streaming (which is better than SD, but far from HD). For movies, I definitely prefer physical media on Blu. For movies that I don't really care much about, or as a "try before I buy", I'll stream them. TV shows, after watching a couple seasons on HD-DVD and Blu-ray, I have to say I am spoiled and it's difficult to watch them in SD from Netflix. Streaming has it's place, but it is still far from home theater or HD quality.

Shane's picture

Sharp comments Dustin. I'm curious too if even the average consumer notices that typical HD broadcasts from cable, satellite or over the air look better than a lot of HD video streams and if they ever stop and scratch their heads and wonder why.

jlee949's picture

In addition, as an average consumer with a high-end projection Home Theater set up I rarely use Blu-ray and stream most everything now. During the awards preview period several friends that were on the Academy's DVD list would bring them over to screen and quite frankly I found the sound quality no better and often worse than what I would stream in HDX from VUDU.

Netflix, Amazon, Cinema Now, Blockbuster are all similar in quality inasmuch as they all suffer generation losses, but fortunately don't seem to have many compression artifacts.

All in all, I said two years ago that streaming will be the golden goose that everyone will prize and we now see swords out and lines in the sand drawn by the heavy hitter staking out there territories. As Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google forge ahead with highly publicized new plans to stream high-speed content like movies and TV shows to your living room, smart-phones.

Telecom and cable giants like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have been intensely lobbying to maintain control over the broadband pipes they spent billions to build. Comcast bought a rich content, NBC Universal, in a deal that created a $35 billion media and delivery juggernaut. Meanwhile Microsoft bought Skype and an epic battle and escalating war is now taking place over the next era of broadband content delivery. Some skirmishes are playing out in the public eye, but others, and perhaps the most critical, are far removed from it. In fact, very few people know about the highly controversial efforts by Google and Verizon to hammer out their own proposal for a broadband policy framework with the FCC.

All in all it's going to be very interesting as policy tightens on width, and prices rise on speed. But, "That's just the American way..."

Greg Loudon's picture

As I suspect many of your readers are, I am generally an early adopter, but I resisted the poor quality of streamed movies for a long time. However, streaming quality has definitely increased, and it depends greatly on your internet connection. I upgraded to a 10MB download cable connection and it works great on our "small" 40 inch LCD flatscreen. On our 10 foot wide 2.33 projector screen we notice lots of artifacts, but we don't get any lag, dropouts or buffering like we did when we had a 2MB download connection. We have small children and we've gotten to the point where we will let the kids watch streaming (or watch with them) kid/family movies and then we pull out the rental BD discs from Netflix for our movie time. With the 2.33 screen we look for the extra wide format movies, that's not a feature often available from streaming options.

Dave Cypel's picture

Recently upgraded to a 65" Panasonic plasma and began to use the bundled internet features of the TV. I enjoy the streaming content provided by Netflix especially the unmatched variety of their foreign films. Slightly put off by the compression artifacts and less than Blu Ray video quality but that is the trade off for convenience. I have begun to wonder if upgrading my AV receiver to one that supports pass thru video upscaling might improve my viewing experience. '

Shane's picture

There's an old saying in video: "garbage in, garbage out." No processing on earth can fix compression artifacts inherent to the video mastering. You might indeed get other benefits from upgrading your AVR to one with superior video processing, but don't to it to fix poor quality video streams.

Eric's picture

My wife can certainly tell when her food network shows are stretched out 4:3. Food Network stretches SD content and it is hard to watch. That's about her video quality threshold. DVD vs BD is harder for her to notice and it doesn't affect her enjoyment much. This is all on a 65" TV at 12 feet.My brother can tell DVD from BD and prefers BD but isn't a snob about it like I am.I think people are much more affected by video quality than audio quality and they notice and prefer better video quality. They don't notice much when the quality goes from DVD to BD, but seem to really care when they get used to BD and it drops to DVD. They were happy with DVD, but a drop is much more noticeable.That said, I think the streaming options in HD are perfectly acceptable for most viewers and they really can't tell when they are watching a BD or a HD movie on AppleTV. The AppleTV is fuzzier to me, but not dramatically so. Netflix HD is actually better than my HD Cable.

Jim Palmer's picture

The huge difference that many people miss is that streamed movies mostly just have stereo sound (Netflix for instance), or perhaps Dolby Digital 5.1 (Apple TV rentals). Many of us have excellent sound systems capable of lossless surround sound, and it is all wasted when streaming. Since increasing streaming clogs internet connections further, I wonder when streaming will catch up with a good Blu-ray disc for video and audio clarity?

Scott's picture

I have only started streaming over the last month using Netflix over my PS3. This has come in handy with small children and movies/tv shows where audio and video quality is not a must. However, if my wife and I are going to watch a movie that I feel is worthy of great sound and video, I always go for the BD. There is definitely a big, big differance in overall sound and video quality when comparing BD to Netflix, but for the random cartoons for the 3 and 6 year old, it is just fine.

Bruce M.'s picture

I have an upgraded Comcast cable net connection. Download speeds are supposed to be 20mb minimum, but test out regularly at 55-63mb. At these speeds, I'm confident that when I stream a Netflix movie, for example, I'm getting the most resolution available for any particular movie.I also stream 1080p movies fronm DirectTV. There is no question that the quality of those streams beats Netflix, hands down, both in video and audio. For a true lossless audio experience, I throw in a BD, but that is getting rarer and rarer at our household recently. Our rentals and purchases of Blu Ray discs have dropped signifcantly over the past year. I can rent a Blu Ray from Blockbuster for $5.99, buy it for $20+, or stream the same movie from DirectTV for $5.99. Guess what happens? I save time, hassle and money by streaming. Blu Rays are reserved for "classics" I want to own, or movies that are supposed to have truly exceptional audio.

Geo's picture

Of course, Blu-Ray is undeniably higher quality and that is what I require to enjoy an authentic home theater experience. That being said, the kids are fine with SD-res Disney reruns and other kids programming available streaming from Netflix. Old television programs, some documentaries, etc., are okay when streamed. We have DSL with a 4Mbps download, often closer to 3Mbps. SD is as good as we will receive streaming, occasionally a 720p "HD" program streams uninterrupted if we are lucky. We can't get any faster broadband without subscribing to cable or U-Verse; frankly we don't want to do business with either ISPs and prefer our DSL ISP who has better customer service. It is also a big cost bump to get anything faster than 4Mbps here. I HAVE A QUESTION: Why doesn't Netflix (or the other streamers) provide a larger buffer and begin downloading cached streamed content directly into BD-Live memory? If I could start my stream at 6:00pm and allow it to download, then "watch it" at

tomp's picture

My download is between 1-2 Mbs and gives poor quality downloading -- dropouts, re-buffering, very low resolution. When I had non-videophile folks over for a viewing of Avatar on BluRay on my local dimming LED backlight 1080P TV they ALL commented on how much more fine detail there was comapared to watching the film in the theater, let alone any streaming attempts.In many countries they have much better telecom -- on a recent business trip to Korea my wireless connection, in a 500 room hotel, at the end of the hall, was 20Mbs.

Shane's picture

Bruce M- first, I bow down to your download speeds! Wow! Can you tell us more about the specs of DirecTV's streaming or on-demand offerings? You said 1080p, what are they doing for audio? Are you getting 5.1? Does your gear give you the data rate info?

Mike Goppert's picture

I am really impressed with the quality of streaming content through Vudu's HDX service. It is far superior to anything Netflix offers, even though I am a big Netflix supporter. I have been using that service for over 2 years now, mostly for my kids (6 and 10). I have around 5mbs download capability (I should have 8, but I have a built in router issue that is slowing me down). I'm watching on a 55 inch Samsumg LED in the gameroom upstairs. It's really close to BluRay if you ask me. Close enough that I feel ok saving the $25 on the disc that I might watch 2 times. Streaming is the future. There is no doubt in my mind. It will eventually be on par with BluRay, it's already getting pretty darn close. Not to mention all the other content that can be streamed to your tv, Facebook, Soduku, the internet, etc... It's starting to explode. I love it. I can't wait to free up all that closet space and chunck those dvds in the garbage.

Stewart Wilber's picture

Gresham's Law (bad currency will drive out the good) has already wrecked music reproduction (I was told sincerely by a Best Buy salesman recently that MP3's sound better than CD's; and recent CD releases show the influence of the MP3 generation on recording studio engineers, with their tubby bass, screechy midrange, and lack of high-frequency sparkle). Let us all unite to fight the same thing happening to video. Moving it all to the internet is an unprecedented disaster for quality, and that's not even going into the surrender of control over content ownership that is the hidden agenda (along with maximizing profits) of the industry which is pushing it so hard. And shame on you, Netflix! I have e-mails with its founder from the early days (late '90's) in which we talked about the importance of advocating for widescreen when the industry was trying to dumb down all DVD releases to pan-and-scan. Now, instead of advocating for the best, Netflix is leading the internet dumbing-down of movi

Mark  Hudson 's picture

Don't think streaming services are ready.Unless they can figure out how to get "full quality" on standard def and hd i'll switch over. But,u.s. broadband cap sucks. Until then,skip the whole streaming services. I m a quality guy same with audio! But most people don't care abut those things. which kinda sad,really it is. Great article!

Bob Guerin's picture

I have watched the quality of Netflix (video) improve over the past year. I now consider it OK for TV shows on my non reference TV's in the bedroom & family room. I wont watch it in my theater room since the picture looks bad when it gets to larger sizes. I also am not impressed with the lack of 5.1 surround. And yes, in the evening I do have issues with buffering which I assume is my neighbors also going online when they return from work. Shane, what do you think is currently the best streaming service for quality? I have not checked the others for quite a while now.

Shane's picture

Vudu HDX streams, hands down. They're doing the best picture quality and now have Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. It's not on par with lossless from Blu-ray, but at least it's DVD quality 5.1.

Ian Silberstein's picture

For the latest releases I rent Blu-Ray discs since they offer the best picture and sound quality. Many streaming services require speeds of 2.5 mps or higher in order to receive HD quality programing. Vudu has the most HD for my set up since it only requires a minimum of 2.25 mps. Although this type service is convenient and offers near Blu-Ray quality picture and sound, their pay per view pricing isn't as economical as renting.

stavos's picture

I have a Epson 8350 running 1080p on a 123" screen, as well as a Samsung Bluray player, & an Xbox 360. Using HDMI cables.

We watch blurays on my Samsung player & streaming movies via the Xbox 360 Xune app at 1080p. I seriously can't tell the difference. Maybe if I had the two side by side. 1080p is 1080p.

Photo of my theater