Is the physical medium a dying medium? – The Paisano

With the onset of streaming comes the inevitable increase in the viability of content access, depth and reach. Services like The Criterion Channel and Mubi give viewers access to carefully crafted cinema that crosses cultural, political, artistic and socio-economic boundaries. Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music specifically curate playlists with user moods and genre quirks in mind. Independent booksellers such as chains continue to operate despite the rise of electronic reading.

Despite all this, are we still witnessing a decline in physical media? Is physical media a bygone art? No, however, it is a medium that has had its ups and downs for many years. New technologies inevitably lead to new processes by which consumers can enjoy their content.

For me, collecting movies is one of my favorite hobbies. While I always support the experience of watching a movie in the cinema, most of my movie watching happens in my home office – the sound permeating through my headphones. Watching Netflix or Disney+ is not comparable to watching a physical copy of a movie at home. The process, to me, is sacred.

I tend to have a “watch pile” of recent mics or movies that have gone under my radar. I didn’t have to shell out thousands of dollars for a tricked-out home studio; my usual headphones allow just the right amount of immersion. Watching a movie at home has one thing movie theaters can’t offer: special features.

The special features track on most DVDs and Blu-rays is full of commentary, interviews, and documentaries about the making of the film. These features allow you to better connect with the movie you just watched, creating a connection between the viewer and the movie. A distribution company close to my heart is Criteria. The company designs its discs with a personalized and unique cover of the film. The disc also often comes with an impressive array of special features. Among those that stood out to me were film historian Peter Cowie’s commentary on “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, several documentary excerpts from Wim Winders’ film “Paris, Texas”, and the inclusion of “The Steamroller and the Violin “, Andrei Tarkovsky’s student thesis film with “Andrei Rublev.”

Although I don’t have a record player, I enjoy ‘crate digging’ – the term often applied to physically rummaging through vinyl record bins. Cassettes are more my cup of tea. Spotify – the often-troubled music streaming company – is arguably the most popular option for music streaming. With a recent surge in the number of podcasts, the platform is arguably the best option people choose to consume their music content.

On the other hand, Apple Music has slowly shifted to strong competition with Spotify. In June 2021, the company has started rolling out Dolby Atmos and Lossless audio. According to their press release, the addition of the two features, which were free to subscribers, enabled the creation of “immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multi-dimensional sound and clarity”. Both advancements were landmark additions to Apple Music’s catalog. This attention to audio is much like listening to a vinyl record through headphones: it can allow a listener to hear the tired tension of live musicians.

Vinyl has seen a resurgence over the past 10 years. You could say that this is due, in large part, to Millennials and Gen Z yearning for better times. Teens and college kids are starting to find vinyls, cassettes and CDs again. Additionally, 4K video content is rapidly becoming more available, forcing standard Blu-ray videos by the wayside.

With all of this to consider, support from your local record store, bookseller or movie vendor is essential. Recently, San Antonio has lost one of its few arthouse theaters, the Bijou Cinema Bistro. With fewer options for a wider range of cinema, I often turn to movies I have at home. I treasure frequent trips to half-price books. The flea market allowed me to find often unknown films. Wong Kar Wai’s 2004 film ‘2046’ and Shane Carruth’s impressive second feature ‘Upstream Color’ stand out as really interesting finds. Digging through a recommended listening rack at Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas, I found the Porcupine Tree “Stars Die: The Delerium Years ’91-97” compilation CD. Quickly becoming one of my favorite bands, the CD is still in rotation during car rides. Consider local record stores like Friends of Sound, CD Sam and Janie’s Record Shop. Bookstores like The Twig or Nowhere Bookshop are also great places.

Regardless of how times change, physical media will continue – it must. The technological future that streaming brings is welcome in many ways, but it cannot be the only mode consumers use to view or listen to their favorite content.


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