OPINION: Blu-ray discs with SD Digital Copies

When I want to own a movie, I want the best possible quality. Today that’s Blu-ray disc, and soon it’s going to be 4K Blu-ray. Streaming and downloadable doesn’t come close, at least not yet. But I do tend to choose those packages that have a digital copy as well, just to save myself the time of ripping the disc (for my own legal, fair use.) But you know what, it peeves me when the digital copy is just SD quality. This sort of thing made sense five years ago but today when you can get a 1TB drive for $60, it makes no sense at all.

For the most part, the iTunes digital copies of the last several years have been decent HD quality. The one for Star Trek Into Darkness is actually pretty good. However, almost all the time, if the digital copy uses the UltraViolet system favored by many studios, the result will be SD quality, generally poorer than DVD. And you know what, I’m sick of it.

iTunes and other players now use top-notch compression that can give a decent, if not Blu-ray quality, picture for files that are only 7-8GB in size for a 2-hour movie. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and that means there’s practically no reason to choose a crummy-looking SD version. I mean, space is cheap and I can stream it fast enough when I’m streaming, so what’s the deal?

The other thing that really tweaks me is that you can’t download a local copy of your UltraViolet purchase onto your computer. Flixster and Vudu let you download the files to your phone or tablet, but not to a media server. That means it’s really not possible to put my UltraViolet digital copies on the same media server as the rest of my ripped media, and so I have to rip the physical disc anyway. Which, let me tell you, can take some time with a Blu-ray disc.

I know that a lot of studios have lined up behind UltraViolet because it works with both Apple and Android and it is secure and all. I know that some UltraViolet titles are in passable HD, and I also know that sometimes digital copies actually get upgraded. (iTunes will do this, but they won’t tell you… you have to delete the movie and redownload it.) So it’s got to come down to the studios just wimping out and supplying poor quality digital files to UltraViolet’s servers (and to iTunes sometimes.)

With hard drive prices being so cheap and with streaming being so fast, there is really no reason not to have a high-quality digital copy on the master servers, even if you also keep lower-quality ones for adaptive streaming. It’s ridiculous really. Yes, I know that you can’t really tell the difference on a 4″ screen but studios have to realize that the people who are buying physical discs are doing it because they want top quality on a large screen. They’re paying for it, and the reality is that people are going to rip the discs if you don’t give them a decent digital copy to begin with. The whole purpose of digital copies is to keep people from ripping completely unprotected versions of these movies, so why not step it up and actually provide decent quality files?

Look, I could rant about this for a while longer, but I just realized my digital copy of Lord of the Rings is poor quality SD and it’s going to take several days to rip the size discs to my media server. I better get started.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.