On downsizing our DVD collection

In our house, we have embraced streaming video. It’s convenient and mostly reliable.

So, as part of our downsizing, I took a lazy Saturday to sort our DVD collection into three piles:

  • Yes (keep)
  • No (discard)
  • Maybe

I thought, with so much content available via streaming, I would be able to discard a good number of those DVD titles. This shows my naiveté, I expect. I was surprised at how many of our favorite and precious movies and shows are not easily accessed via the streaming services.

We live in the future, where you can watch a movie from a small plate of glass in your hand, but the future is not evenly streamed.

As I pondered whether or not to keep a title, I used the JustWatch site/app. Enter a title and JustWatch tells me which services offer the title for subscription, rent, or purchase. 1

For example

Mrs. Dalloway and Topsy-Turvy are two movies that we like trotting out every few years to enjoy the stories’ now-familiar contours and textures.

Mrs. Dalloway is viewable only on odd platforms like Hoopla 2, Tubi, PlutoTV, and Filmrise, or on Amazon Prime Video via its IMDb TV channel (ad-supported, which for me is a hard no).

Topsy-Turvy cannot be streamed at all, on any platform.

And there other favorites from our – ahem – curated collection that are not easily available online:

  • The BBC’s 1967 series The Forsyte Saga, which is cozy wintertime viewing, at least up till Old Jolyon’s death. Only the 2002 BCC update is available on BritBox.
  • 1978’s The Norman Conquests plays with Tom Conti. Available on Amazon via a subscription to something called BroadwayHD. I could sign up for the free 7-day trial, but, no.
  • John Cleese and Connie Booth’s 1975 comic and touching short film Romance with a Double Bass. The DVD is long out of print.
  • The charming Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows is available via Acorn TV, a service available via our public library. That’s OK, but there is a bit of overhead involved to log in to Acorn TV. Slipping the DVD into the drive is more convenient in this case.
  • BritBox does not even carry the classic Leonard Rossiter series “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” though there are fugitive episodes on YouTube. I have a Region 2 DVD of the series that I ripped to my Mac long ago (the Superdrive will let you play a non-Region 1 DVD up to five times, I think, and then no more).

And so on. I have some DVDs I’m keeping because they are really good, out of print, and available nowhere else. Others I’m keeping because they have special features that cannot be accessed via streaming, like the Criterion Collection’s edition of F for Fake and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

It’s not a large list of DVD titles – about 25 or so – but still, I was surprised that they aren’t ALL online in a more easily accessible way. Their absence from the streaming services means I will be holding them close for some time yet.

The Maybe pile

The Maybe pile is for the 20 or so DVDs I’ve either never seen and want to see at least once, or they have some interviews or behind-the-scenes feature I’m curious about, or I want just one more look before making a final decision.

Some of those DVDs are the very arty or obscure foreign movies I picked up for cheap when the late lamented Visart Video chain went out of business over a decade ago. I always think I have a more refined taste for the esoteric than I really do.

Still, before I decide whether to keep or discard, I’d like to see Chekhovian Motifs and Decasia: The State of Decay. But right alongside those worthies I also want to see the dance numbers from Follow the Fleet and The Barkleys of Broadway 3, plus the featurettes for Top Hat and Batman: The Movie (Adam West is my Batman).

The future comes with a price tag

I remember one of Ramit Sethi’s rules being to pay as you go rather than subscribe to services you pay for and don’t use. Most streaming movies are rentable for $4 or $5 from the major platforms, and not much more to purchase. So if I have a hankering to see The Dark Knight Rises again (um, doubt it), then I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see it. And so The Dark Knight Rises Blu-Ray goes into the discard pile.

Despite Ramit’s advice, though, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and AppleTV 4. We also have access to PBS Video, Hoopla, and Acorn TV. The chances of finding a streamable movie from one of those platforms is pretty good. So I’m not worried about meeting our entertainment and distraction needs.

  1. Back in the day, we re-purchased favorite titles to upgrade to better technology: from vinyl to CD or from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. And we owned them; they were ours. Now, we pay for the right to view or listen, and who owns what is murky. ↩︎

  2. Hoopla is available via our local public library and has its own AppleTV app. But Hoopla imposes a daily cap on the number of items – ebooks, video, music – that Durham Library patrons can check out. So, if you decide to check out a movie at 7 pm, you may find that the daily limit has been reached and you’re locked out. ↩︎

  3. DVDs have this very much in their favor: scene selection. Scene selection makes it dead easy to jump to the song-and-dance numbers in musicals, whereas I cannot hop around with that amount of precision while streaming. ↩︎

  4. Good thing I don’t pay for cable too, huh? ‘Cause that could get expensive! ↩︎

Michael E Brown @brownstudy