“Streaming companies are upping their game, but there is still life in the disc format.”
The Silver Hedgehog
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In this blog I am discussing cinema Paradiso, no not Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 movie, but the DVD/Blu Ray rental service that launched in 2003 by die hard movie fans. Its main focus is that of a disc based rental service for Movies and TV Shows. Additionally, the service allows movie fans to share lists of favourite films and write your own reviews. In a world where you can stream pretty much anything and tweet about everything else, it seems madness to rent discs, but is there a method in this madness? The Silver Hedgehog is about to find out…
There are two reasons to rent discs, superior audio quality and superior Video Quality compared to streaming video. I have detailed this in more detail in the dropdown below, or you can skip ahead to the Cinema Paradiso review.
One of the major selling points of Blu-ray and more recently Ultra HD Blu-ray is the space available for the audio track. No longer do the tracks have to be compressed. Studio quality lossless audio formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD and ATMOS are designed to provide clear, punchy, incredibly detailed sound and need to be experienced. With the right equipment playing the soundtracks you should be able to pick out individual instruments playing on the soundtrack or hear the intricate details of effects or the crisp tones in someone’s voice. This is a detail that is hard to replicate with streaming services.
In my previous feature I mentioned that in order to get the sound to your device you are using the sound signal has to be made smaller (compressed) and then unpacked at the other end and then sent to the speakers. It’s vital for video streaming services to compress the signal or it would take ages to display on your tv and the buffering would be intolerable. The problem with compressing the sound is all the detail that gets lost in the process. How often have you watched something on the tv, and the speech seems muffled, or volume has had to be turned up high?
Then there is the type of sound that the services make available. For instance, Now Tv simply provides the sound in stereo. If you want 5.1 surround, they charge an extra £3.00 a month, even then it’s presented in an older Dolby digital signal (that’s been around since the 1980’s).
Watching Now TV on a television in a living room situation, a stereo signal is just about passible, put it into a home theatre situation and it’s woeful. Speech is muffled, volume must be uncomfortable high, it’s simply just not good enough.
Next up is Netflix. Now Netflix realised this was an area that needed to improve, and they have been doing some truly great things with audio. A few years ago, showrunners the Duffer Brothers bested Netflix on the sound quality of Stranger Things. Essentially, they were not amused that the sound in the studio was not the sound received at home. They then worked with Netflix on optimising the sound streaming. The result being that Netflix now claims to offer sound quality as good as any Blu-ray to customers who pay Netflix the top tier of subscription. https://about.netflix.com/en/news/bringing-studio-quality-sound-to-netflix
Of course, I had to test this claim…
So, using a home theatre system consisting of a Yamaha AVR, Panasonic 4k Blu-ray player, set of German built Canton movie speakers and Netflix HQ. Loading up Mission Impossible Rogue Nation and playing the title sequence as the test.
Netflix, the sound quality is superb, the Mission Impossible music plays right across the soundscape and the action moves around the speakers in detail. Honesty if you had nothing else to compare it against you would be perfectly happy.
Next up the same movie played on Blu-Ray with Master Audio TrueHD selected. Playing the same title sequence, I have to say the Netflix claim of having studio quality sound is really tested here. I want to say that the TrueHD track should be a clear winner but in reality, the differences are ever so slight. You can definitely make out the extra detail on the disc: Helicopter rotor blades whizz overhead in a more discernible form, extra instruments can be heard in the score, but the difference is so slight and get the impression that if I wasn’t doing a test and actually focusing on the sound, I wouldn’t have noticed.
Much like sound, streaming services must compress the video to get it across the internet to your device of choice. Now on small screens this does not make much difference but on today’s large screens it is noticeable. Blu-ray discs and Ultra HD Blu-ray possess an incredible level of detail thanks to the 100 GB storage Ultra HD 4k Blu-Ray holds. This storage means that studios can include the latest technological advances such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision. These are standards that provide amazing contrast, sharpness and dynamic colours. There is no way that a streaming company is going to send 100gb of data down the internet to your home or device. The data costs alone would be huge. So streaming services have historically found it difficult to replicate the level of quality provided by disc’s, but they are getting better at it.
Now TV streams everything in 720p, want HD and it’s in the bolt on at £3 per month extra. Don’t even ask about 4k, HDR10 or Dolby Vision. It’s a poor show from NOW TV.
Netflix, Apple TV & Disney+ are doing amazing things with streaming 4k content with Dolby Vision and HDR10, but they still lack some of the finer detail found on discs despite getting very very close. The Mandalorian for instance looks stunning and Apple TV 4K is incredibly sharp but tends to put a weird tint on everything presumably in effort to improve HDR contrast. So, from a video perspective choosing your streaming service will make a big impact on your experience and standards are not yet consistent.
Cinema Paradiso works by renting you DVD, s Blu-Rays and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs of your choice. Once you sign up to the service you add titles to a list you want to watch. They then send you the next available title from your list. Each disc is posted 1st class and includes a clever free return envelope.
How many titles are available at Cinema Paradiso..
Cinema Paradiso boasts a massive 100,000 titles available to its customers. To put that into context Netflix has 13,941 titles, Amazon Prime Video UK has around 20,000. Sky’s Now TV simply boasts just over 1,000 titles available and let’s not discuss Disney+. So, in theory you could use Cinema Paradiso to watch the latest blockbuster or watch that hard to find classic cult classic you’ve not seen since your teenage years.
I thought I would put this to the test by looking for a hard-to-find TV show and a more recent Movie.
The hard to find TV show I picked was 1996 cult sci-fi, SPACE:Above and Beyond. I have been unable to locate the show on any streaming platform using Findanyfilm.com. Cinema Paradiso, on the other hand, has it as an available title!
I then turned my attention to looking for a more recent movie, in this case the 2020 Oscar winning title ‘Parasite’. Findanyfilm.com has it listed as available to rent at multiple sites (at extra cost to any subscriptions). Cinema Paradiso has it as an available title included in its subscription plan.
Cinema Paradiso Example
From Netflix to razor blades, it seems everyone wants you to pay a subscription. Cinema Paradiso is no different. You pay a monthly fee (with no contract) and receive the rentals in the post. They offer 3 plans and all that changes between each plan is the number of discs you have at home at any one time, and all plans allow rental of DVD, Blue-Ray, Blu-Ray 3D and 4k Discs.
Value can be very subjective, some may baulk at the £9.99 price for one disk at a time, others may say it is too cheap. To help decide if the pricing is good enough, I have compared the cost of the 1 disc at a time tariff against buying the latest title on 4k Blu-ray each week and against renting 1 title a week, using ‘Parasite’ again as the benchmark and Findanyfilm.com for the pricing.
From the moment you sign up for Cinema Paradiso, you are encouraged to add titles to your rental list. To find titles you can search various pre organised lists or search for something specific. Basically if you have ever searched for something online you will not have a problem finding and adding content to your list.
Cinema Paradiso Rental List
The service also allows you to operate multiple lists of rentals to be sent, so you have rental lists for specific categories or as I do, split rentals between two people via two lists. The only issue with this is if you want to alternate rentals between several lists, you must manually select what list to send a disc from. This means logging onto the list and switching the selector before each rental is issued. If you forget to do this, you end up being sent discs from the wrong list. This is not a totally bad thing but can be frustrating especially if there is something you want to watch next. The other thing to bear in mind with lists is that even though you can prioritise what you are sent next, if the service does not have the title available (due to it being out already) you will be sent a title lower down the list. This is particularly noticeable for the latest blockbuster titles; patience can be a virtue it seems. I like the way that once a title has been added to a list, you can alter the format of the disc to be sent; so, should you want it sent as a 4k instead of DVD it takes seconds to change.
The discs arrive sent 1st class in a special paper envelope. Once you have watched a disc you simply pop it back in the same envelope and seal it up and pop it back into a post box. No hunting for Sellotape and stamps! It takes a couple of days for the watched disc to be received back at Cinema Paradiso HQ. Once received you get an email to confirm, your account is also updated, and the next disc is allocated and sent out. So, it takes around 4-5 days to receive a disc, return it, receive a new one. As I use Cinema Paradiso to supplement our other watching I do not find this an issue, in fact I only have the 1 disc at a time for this reason. I suspect that people who want to watch more by disc may find this turnaround time a frustration. Once you have watched a title you are encouraged to give it a rating and create a review if you want to.
There is no doubt that streaming companies are upping their game. They have been busy improving streaming quality, consolidating their offering and, thanks to the covid pandemic, ventured into main steam film production and distribution. The goliath that is Disney have made Disney Plus fantastic value and the 1 stop shop for anything in the Disney back catalogue. Disney are also being sketchy about releasing new content on Blu-ray .
But there is a strong case for using discs. Given the right equipment discs still outshine any streaming service. Although I have been impressed with Cinema Paradiso, it does have its drawbacks.
Pricing, it is competitively priced, but its one to keep an eye on especially with Disney plus covering everything Marvel and Star Wars for £80 a year (at current prices).
Discs, they can be susceptible to marks and damage with use. On a couple of occasions our rather picky Panasonic player has refused to play Cinema Paradiso discs due to marks on the disc. Its worth keeping spectacle cleaner close by as I have found this to work brilliantly when such a problem arises.
Lost Discs, Cinema Paradiso uses std royal mail for delivery and about 99% of the time it works fab, but I have had a disc lost in the post. When this happens, you cannot call or chat Cinema Paradiso directly. It is a case of filling in a web form and waiting for a reply. I note that Cinema Paradiso’s attitude to the lost disc was exceptional and replacement disc was dispatched straight away.
That said I am extremely impressed with how easy Cinema Paradiso makes the rental processes. The website is a dream to use. The list system works well and is intuitive. The selection of titles on offer is top notch and simply cannot be beaten. They also have a thriving community of subscribers that discus and reviews discs on a regular basis. You can tell that this is a company that is run by film lovers and have passion for cinema.
Words : Garry Llewellyn