The Return Of Physical Media

Here I am at Walmart, elbow-deep in decades of movies as other shoppers wheel by without so much as a glance. The bin, about four feet tall, is overflowing with DVDs, to the point where I have to start piling them up on one side just to get anywhere near the center. I’m picking out the movies I’m going to indulge in over the weekend, shuffling through copies of Sonic the Hedgehog, an all-in-one Ben Affleck movie collection, Gremlins, and a hodgepodge of other flicks.

I pull out some old films I’ve never gotten around to watching, like The Ring and the Crank collection (yes, I know I’m behind), and toss them into my shopping cart. The variety in Walmart’s DVD bin is seemingly endless: and for a price of about $5 per disc that you can hang onto forever, you can’t really go wrong. (So long as you don’t care about the highest-quality viewing experience.) The movies will soon make their way into my PlayStation 4 and will hopefully save me from having to pick something out on a streaming app. Walmart isn’t the only place I’ve started looking for DVDs, either. Thrift stores, flea markets, the library, and even my local mall’s FYE have also become places I frequent to get my hands on oft-ignored discs.

After spending years reassuring myself that I don’t need physical copies of movies because of streaming, DVDs have officially reentered my life.

There’s just something far simpler about sifting through a mountain of DVDs that I can pick up and hold in my hands, as opposed to flipping through the thousands of movies across the several different streaming services I’ve subscribed to. Plus, unlike streaming, the cost of DVDs is only going down. I also don’t have to worry about triggering auto-playing trailers when I just want to read the synopsis on the back of the case, and I’m certainly not stuck staring at a screen for hours as I exhaust myself with too many choices. The pile of movies at Walmart is another form of chaos, but it’s the one I’d rather deal with.

It makes sense to subscribe to all these services if you’re into the exclusive content on each one and have the patience to sift through their massive libraries. However, all I’ve been watching lately is the junk on Discovery Plus, simply because I’m too tired to find anything else — especially when the extremely specific shows and movies I want to watch keep switching services or just aren’t available. One of the most devastating examples of this was when both The Office and Parks and Recreation moved from Netflix to Peacock, disrupting the casual binge-watching sessions that I would default to when I was done with work.

The overwhelming amount of content isn’t the only thing that’s giving me streaming fatigue; the cost of having a digital library available has also become a factor. Within the past year, nearly every streaming service has raised its prices, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Paramount Plus, Discovery Plus, and Apple TV Plus. Not to mention that Netflix is cracking down on password sharing, which means I can’t even leech off of my parents’ subscription anymore.

And if you want to get an endless supply of shows and movies on the cheap, you’re stuck with the service’s ad-supported plans, which is arguably worse than having a subscription at all simply because of the sheer amount of ads you have to sit through. With DVDs, I don’t have to worry about commercials interrupting my movie — I can bask in nostalgia while watching all the front-running promotions for the “new” releases that came out 15 years ago. 

It’s not just the cost of streaming that I have to worry about, either. Last year, I nearly exceeded my ISP’s data cap after I downloaded Baldur’s Gate 3 and kept up my heavy streaming habits. That was all the more reason for me to invest in DVDs. 

I’m not saying DVDs are flawless: there’s a reason no one wants them anymore! After all, it doesn’t always make sense to buy a single film as opposed to paying the same (or lower) monthly subscription for an all-you-can-watch streaming service. They’re also not that practical to store, either, unless you want a backlog of movies filling up your bookshelves, sitting in storage bins in your house somewhere, or in binders, and they aren’t as convenient as a movie you can queue up in a matter of seconds on a streaming platform.

Despite this, it’s still nice to have something that you physically own and don’t even need an internet connection to use. So when Best Buy confirmed it would stop selling DVDs this year and rumors emerged that Walmart would do the same, I was pretty disappointed. I can’t imagine Walmart without its bin of DVDs, nor can I even see Best Buy without its already-shrunken selection of movies.

It’s 2024, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to DVDs — in fact, I’m just getting started.

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