May I Have the Envelope, Please? No, You May Not.

I guarantee that you will react to this news item in one of two ways:
First Way: “Oh, no! I wish they'd keep doing that!”
Second Way: “Wait. What? They're still doing that?"

The news item in question is this: Netflix has announced that it is pulling the plug on its DVD/Blu-ray rental service. Remember those cheerful red envelopes delivered by the friendly postal person, containing movie goodness? Soon, no more. The company announced that after 25 years of disc rentals, and some 5.2 billion discs delivered, the last discs will be mailed on September 29, and must be returned by October 27. Presumably, will go dark forever.

I confess that I responded to this news in the Second Way. I certainly remember that Netflix was founded as a DVD rental company, but frankly the prominence of its streaming model made me forget about their red envelopes and silver discs. And that's too bad. Although the quantity of their online offerings is impressive, there are countless other movies on disc that are not, and will never be, available online at Netflix. The disc library is vast because you can simply buy discs and rent them without any copyright complications. In contrast, to stream a movie, you must negotiate and pay for the rights. Thus, you'll naturally stock a lot more discs than streams.

I can imagine a warehouse filled with discs, neatly stacked, each disc waiting with bated breath for the picker to pluck it from the shelf and send it to an eager family. Now it's just a bunker filled with servers, spewing entertainment to the masses. Much more efficient. Much less romantic.

Of course, this is just another example of the power of convenience and the frailty of hassle. Would you rather dig through menus, make a selection, wait for the postal person to arrive, play the disc, then make sure you mail back the disc? Note that if your choice was a bad one, you're just wasted a ton of time. Or would you rather just click on something and watch it? If you choose unwisely, bail and click on something else. And the reality is that we would rather watch a bad movie that's easy to watch rather then go through the hassle of watching a good movie that's hard to watch. I know. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Here's something else that will hurt: The superb audio and video quality of DVD and Blu-ray discs is not available via streaming. The streaming bit rate is a mere fraction of what can spool off a well-authored disc. In a time of relentlessly improving TV screen technology, this is a huge step down. Netflix claims that it delivers 4K video resolution at half the bit rate of a disc. But I have my doubts.

In any case, the only remaining question is this: What will happen to all those slightly smudged DVD and Blu-ray discs? It's an interesting question because the Netflix library is probably the biggest disc library that has ever been or ever will be. Certainly the now-streaming company will divest itself of that physical inventory. I hope the library goes to a good home, preferably one with a mailbox nearby.

Rob1956's picture

An alternative is Gamefly. Also offering 4K blu-ray discs something Netflix never did. Thank you Gamefly!

mtrot's picture

I'm certainly in the first category. I've now rented somewhere around 1,500 discs. And I had about 30 discs in my Saved category, but they all disappeared. I might be up for picking up some of their Blu-ray inventory, if the price is right. I will say, most of the Blu-ray titles I've rented appear pristine. I finally started streaming Prime and Netflix, but it's just not as nice as a good BR disc, especially the audio.

trynberg's picture

Yep, I've rented about 800 discs over the many years of Netflix and am now using Gamefly -- Gamefly offers 4K discs, which is great, but their overall selection is paltry in comparison.

HDTV1080P's picture

DVD discs are 720 x 480i using the legacy MPEG-2 codec with lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital at bit rates of a maximum of 10Mbps. Bottom line Netflix 4K streams at around 25Mbps are better quality then DVD, but Netflix streams are lower quality when compared to 128Mbps 4K Blu-ray discs and Netflix is lower quality then 2K Blu-ray discs with lossless audio. Therefore, Netflix and other streaming companies that offer 4K Dolby Vision HDR streaming with the HEVC codec and with lossy 13.1 Dolby Atmos (lossy 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus core audio) beat the DVD format in terms of picture and sound quality since DVD bit rates are a maximum of 10Mbps using the legacy MPEG-2 codec. Of course if one is talking about fast forward and reverse scan quality, all optical discs including DVD is better quality then streaming.

REDBOX will be the place people rent 4K Blu-ray discs and standard 2K Blu-ray discs once Netflix optical disc business goes out of business.

sarahgibson's picture

I think the era of Dvds and Cds was over, but now it seems that this time may come again. People say that time comes back again like a
cheese board with knives and a door flipped back

Traveler's picture

I have a few disk collections so I wont throw my player out but if it breaks down I see no reason to spend money buying a replacement. Unless so other company starts a back title rental biz disks are dead.

dnoonie's picture

I dropped Netflix about 6 months ago. I still rent from store-3d-blurayrental which I started during COVID.
I like the quality of 1080 and UHD Blu-ray. 3d offers UHD rentals as do others.
I'll stream TV shows. I think I've only streamed one or two movies. I have a list of Netflix exclusive "Movies" to watch but as long as I have other things to watch I'll hold off on subscribing. I have no fear of missing out, it's just not healthy.

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