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What's More Important, Availability or Quality?

These days, high-def TV shows are available from three basic platforms—broadcast (including cable, satellite, and over-the-air), online streaming, and Blu-ray. The order in which I've listed them here also corresponds to a current show's availability—first, it's broadcast, which is quickly followed by its appearance on one or more streaming sites, and finally Blu-ray months later (if ever).

In terms of quality, streaming is clearly at the low end—even so-called "high-def" streaming—with its high data compression and often 2-channel audio. Next up the food chain is broadcast at 1080i or 720p with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (and the inevitable commercials). At the top of the heap is Blu-ray at 1080p with lossless 5.1 audio.

All of which begs the question—what's more important to you, availability or quality? Do you tend to choose broadcast and streaming to see your favorite shows ASAP, or do you wait for the ultimate quality of Blu-ray?

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

What's More Important, Availability or Quality?

Albert71292's picture

Since the poll specifically asked about TV shows, and being most TV shows I like are pre-2000, I'm willing to forgo quality depending on HOW the show is made available. If a show is commercially available on DVD or Blu-ray, I'll buy it in those formats. A few older series, like Burns & Allen and Jack Benny haven't had any legitimate releases by the studios, so on those I'll settle for cheap public domain releases, which sometimes leave a LOT to be desired in the image and sound quality departments.

abentrod's picture

For TV shows, broadcast is hands down the only way to go.
My antenna go's straight to my Tivo HD, cable is used for cable only programs. Streaming is only ever a option on mobile devices. If a program really is important to me I will pickup the blu-ray set if it's a good value, Doctor Who comes to mind and Stargate Atlantis which for all fives seasons was a great value.

pjonsson's picture

The general answer is quality.

But I would never buy a TV-show on Blu-ray (or DVD for that matter). TV-shows do not hold enough interrest for me. There have been a few exceptions but they are quite rare.

If I can choose between HD and SD for a TV-show I will chose HD of course but for most cases SD is "good enough" in relation to the general "quality" of most TV-shows anyway.

I would never buy a film on anything else than Blu-ray though, unless it's so old that there's no way it would be able to benefit from a Blu-ray transfer, and I mostly do not bother to watch a film that I really cared about on "regular" TV.

MatthewWeflen's picture

Age alone is not necessarily what dictates the benefit a film might receive from an HD transfer. The type of film stock used, the quality of the surviving elements, and the amount of time and money a studio is willing to spend are usually much more important.

Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz look way better than Predator or Fletch, for instance.

pjonsson's picture

I was just making a bit (quite a bit?) of simplification there.

Glad to hear the Wizard of Oz is one of the better oldies since I just ordered that one on Blu-ray. I consider it to be a "must have seen" piece of movie education for my kids, and I'm somewhat nostalgic about it myself :-)

MatthewWeflen's picture

Wizard of Oz definitely looks nice. But you should go in knowing that it's not going to look like "Source Code" or some other modern transfer. It looks like film, and that's what is lovely about it. There is very nice detail, but also a good deal of grain, which thankfully wasn't scrubbed away entirely (as it was in Predator).

It's totally worth the cheap price it's available for on Amazon, anyway. You and your kids should be in for a treat. There's a sing along track similar to "Sound of Music," another great looking classic film on Blu-Ray.

fcapra1's picture

Television and comedies (with a few exceptions in both categories) can be purely based on availability. If I like a show enough and it was shot in HD, then I would like the best quality. I love Lost, but the streaming Netflix content I get is just perfect, even though I can get it on Blu-ray (does it look any better?). A classic like A Clockwork Orange or Inception must be quality transfers, so I gotta go Blu-ray. Of course, it helps that I like the film as well. In the end, quality would win out because most of the stuff I like is not available via streaming. So, when I go rent I will rent a blu-ray copy.

MatthewWeflen's picture

As others have mentioned, it totally depends on the content.

First-run TV shows are obviously more time sensitive. So I'll watch them broadcast preferably, or streaming (generally Hulu) secondarily. I do care about the A/V quality of a tv show, but it also depends on the genre. I'm certainly not going to wait for a blu-ray of a reality show. But I'll try to watch a drama that I really like on broadcast. Comedies I don't mind streaming.

Old TV generally doesn't matter too much, since it was usually shot on video or composited at really low quality. So streaming is fine. That said, if I know there is a much better version available (such as with the 35mm film transfers of Star Trek TOS on Blu-Ray), I will opt for that.

I tend never to watch movies on TV or via Netflix. I just can't take the reduction in A/V quality. Broadcast channels often butcher the OAR, edit the content, and load it with commercials. On Netflix, I tried to watch "Cleopatra" a few months ago. I got through about twenty minutes. It looked like muddy pixellated horse-manure. So the lion's share of my movie watching is on Blu-Ray, or on DVD if it is absolutely unavoidable.

By the way, "begs the question" is a philosophical phrase that essentially means to assume what you are trying to prove (e.g. "I think Lady Gaga is the prettiest singer, because she is the most attractive.") It is always more appropriate to say "raises the question" in the kind of context given above. Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine as a college philosophy instructor :)

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I always thought that "begs the question" was synonymous with "raises the question," but after doing a bit of online research, it seems you are entirely correct. Of course, I did not mean to bias the question or assume anything about it; I simply wanted to know what our readers prefer. BTW, philosophy is one of my favorite fields of personal study, but I had never heard that particular point before. Thanks for educating me!

On another note, Matthew, didn't there used to be a photo of you on this site? Did you remove it? If so, why? I always love to see photos of commenters (or their dogs or whatever!).

MatthewWeflen's picture

It got lost in the change-over between sites. I haven't uploaded a new one yet.

Question begging is one of the 4 common fallacies I teach my students in Intro to Philosophy. I'm waging a one-man war against its common usage changing to being synonymous with "raises the question." Probably a losing battle. :)

trynberg's picture

I'm sad to see that even at an enthusiast website, quality is barely trumping convenience. Just more evidence of our "instant gratification" society at work, I suppose.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I'm not sure how you come to this conclusion. As I write this, quality is at 59%, more than the other three choices combined. This is not "barely trumping convenience," it's kicking convenience's ass!
Pogodaddy's picture

Personally, whenever available I would choose Blu-ray. As strange as it may seem to some, I even hold out buying certain TV series on DVD in hopes that they will re-release them in Blu-ray (I am thinking of shows that show up as HD options as downloads). Quality is important to me. I will not buy a movie unless it is in HD, unless as others have stated, that the HD format would provide no improvement. I really hope that certain analysts are incorrect in assuming that streaming and digital downloads will take over the physical medium of discs. I don't think digital downloads or streaming will be able to provide the same quality as discs, even years from now. One main factor being that this country is not wired to handle the mass of data flow that would be required.
To sum it up, quality is important and I am willing to wait to watch something at its finest.

Steve Caliendo's picture

Couldn't agree more or have said it better.

Jarod's picture

Its all about the quality for me. In my home theater, its Blu-ray or bust.

Ovation123's picture

Depends entirely on the show in question. Yes, Minister (and Yes, Prime Minister) are two outstanding political satires from the BBC. They are NOT, however, Grade A A/V material (rather more like Grade C-/D+). For those series, Netflix streaming is perfectly fine. In fact, I've found Netflix quite acceptable for any show that is not in HD so if it's available and I want to see it, I stream it.

Something like Mad Men or Dexter, on the other hand, I wait for Blu-ray releases. I don't mind the wait for the extra quality in those cases (I cannot get either one in commercial-free form in hi-def where I live other than by Blu-ray).

Current broadcast shows in hi-def (of which there are rather few that interest me), I watch on my HD PVR.

I have never been a format-specific A/V user. I still currently use various digital formats on my computer and iPhone, MiniDisc, CD, SACD, DVD-A, DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray, VHS, internet streaming, HD PVR and broadcast TV (I still have some vinyl but no turntable at the moment--still looking on that score). I haven't used cassettes since my player/recorder died some years ago (though I have a few I'd like to convert to digital, so I may yet try to find a working one or have mine repaired) and I've never owned reel to reel or laserdisc or 8-track.

The trick is to find a balance between convenience and quality and recognizing the moments when one is more critical than the other.

steven123's picture

Quality is important to me. I will not buy a movie unless it is in HD, unless as others have stated, that the HD format would provide no improvement. I really hope that certain analysts are incorrect in assuming that streaming and digital downloads will take over the physical medium of discs.

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