The implications of streaming for cinephiles: two experts discuss

To digress briefly from the 1930s gangster series, I wanted to point out a very interesting discussion about online video streaming, and what it means for true aficionados of cinema.

TV historian Stephen Bowie, who runs The Classic TV History Blog: Dispatches From The Vast Wasteland and works as a curatorial assistant at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Stuart Galbraith IV, film historian, critic for DVD Talk and author of Cineblogarama, have posted an absorbing instant message discussion on their respective blogs about the ways in which streaming represents a step backward for cinephiles.

Among their main concerns are:

1. Inferior picture quality of the streamed image when compared to Blu-ray, in some cases reverting all the way back to VHS-level PQ.

2. Movies that are interrupted several times because of network problems, with no solution available to the consumer.

3. Streaming presentations — including movies, at Hulu Plus — that are interrupted for ads.

4. The lack of bonus materials — commentaries, documentaries, newsreels, et cetera — on streamed video.

5. The fact that a very good plasma TV and Blu-ray player can be obtained for less than $1500 in today’s marketplace, and still people prioritize convenience over this superior experience, often opting to watch movies and TV shows on tiny screens.

6. Cinephiles have largely taken this state of affairs lying down, with nothing like the hue and cry that led the studios to release films in their proper aspect ratios for home video, rather than the old “pan-and-scan” paradigm.1

There is a lot of nuance to the conversation, enough so that Bowie and Galbraith make it clear that they are not Luddites by any means, and they have carefully considered all the reasons for the studios to pursue this path.

Complaint No. 6 is the most disturbing, in my view. I have friends — parents, primarily, who have opted to get rid of their entire CD collections in favor of hooking up the iPod to the stereo. They say they can’t tell the difference between music files compressed to 256k or less and a CD, and they just don’t have room or the time to maintain a physical music library.  I sort of get this if one lives in a tiny apartment, but some of these individuals have houses, with plenty of room. Either sound quality matters, or it doesn’t.

I think it is much the same with video.

What a shame.

In my Links section in the lower right hand corner of this blog, you’ll find a permanent link to Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog, and a link to DVD Talk’s TV reviews, which include many by Galbraith. Among these are examinations of several seasons of “Gunsmoke,” including the recent issues of the first hour-long season (1961-62). Vol. 1 Vol. 2

I did an email interview with Galbraith (and a phoner with Digital Bits founder Bill Hunt) at MarketWatch three years ago, on Best Picture Academy Award winners on DVD and/or Blu-ray.

Aside from lots of fascinating interviews and other material at his blog, Bowie also conducted many video interviews with television actors, directors, producers and writers of TV’s halcyon period for The Archive of American Television.

Here, he talks to director Walter Grauman about working on the classic ABC crime drama “The Untouchables.”

— David B. Wilkerson

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  1. Unfortunately, 20th Century-Fox‘s Fox Cinema Archives program, even in 2013, does still release widescreen films in P&S, much to the consternation of film buffs.  

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