The Magic of The Disc Player

James Lanternman
4 min readApr 21, 2021

For the best part of two decades my movie collection has been digital. No discs. I once owned a handsome collection of VHS cassettes & DVDs, but broadband became fast enough to download movies at some point in the early 2000s, then fast enough to stream movies, and soon enough I stopped buying DVDs. I never made the jump to Blu-ray.

For a long time I thought this worked just fine. When I wanted to watch a movie, I usually had a way to watch it. Only in recent years, oddly enough, as options for reliable HD streaming have multiplied and outlets for movies to be streamed or rented after their theatrical release are plentiful, the “no disc” approach has started to feel incomplete.

Films can be found on any one of ten or so services these days, and often different regional deals are struck in each major market. A movie you see referenced on Twitter, or reviewed on Letterboxd, or discussed on your favourite podcast and mentioned as being “available on Netflix” might actually turn up zero results on Netflix where you live. Or it might be available on a different platform, or just not be available on any streaming platform in your country. Chaos.

Discovering movies is easier than ever, but figuring out where to watch them is a different kettle of fish. Outside a dozen or so “tent pole” releases from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, HBO, things get messy. There’s no reliable, centralised source of data as to where a film can be seen (services like JustWatch are helpful, but they are not authoritative, and lack entries for many new releases). Even films from major studios don’t always have their own official website, which could serve as an authoritative source for where they are available to stream, and easily give info relevant to the user’s location.

The situation is fraught for old films, too. Studios and rights holders like to hold back their catalogues, drip feeding them to platforms and often licensing them for limited time periods. So just because you see Friday the 13th: A New Beginning on Amazon Prime, or available to rent on iTunes, doesn’t mean it’ll be there tomorrow when you’re actually in the mood to watch it. There’s an unpredictability involved that means the best tactic for streaming old films is often just to scroll sideways through a couple hundred tiles until you find something that’s “good enough.” Close enough to what you felt like watching. Forty minutes into the scroll, you realise you could have been halfway through a good movie.