This article will pretty much be my opinion, thinly disgused as a subjective comparison between watching films and TV shows, either on DVD, or by downloading them via Bittorrent and the likes.
I am totally ignoring the legality of this comparison. I am only going to cover what should be the most important factor: Convenience for the viewer.
Depending on various factors, the DVD release of a film can be months or even years after it has shown in cinemas. If you happen to live somewhere that isn't America, it can be even longer till a DVD appears.
Of course if you live in America then films from other countries are going to appear much latter, but as a large percentage of films/TV shows are American, it is generally "the world outside America" is the one waiting for DVDs to appear.
Geographically staggered released are common. In fact, they are the primary reason for the DVD region encoding system - To prevent importing/exporting DVD's to areas you haven't released them in yet.
As for cinemas (which I will combine with the DVD section where need-be), it costs a lot of money transporting film reels to various countries, there's no point sending thousands of reels to a country where the film's advertising hasn't been noticed at all.
This is all well and good for the film makers, but from a consumer point of view it sucks - The internet has made the world very small: As soon as a film is released, there's reviews all over the internet. It's a little annoying knowing all these people can and have seen the film already, but you cannot. The film has been finished, you just can't see it yet because the film reel wasn't seen to your local cinema, or country...
As soon as it's released, someone, somewhere will have somehow managed to get a video camera into the cinema, recorded the film, and make it available online.
That's the normal - within a few hours of a film's release, you can download it. Anywhere in the world.
That is (Remember, I'm ignoring the legality factor in all of this) an extremely efficient distribution. It costs... nothing - Peer to peer distribution uses the downloader's bandwidth to also upload the film. A self propagating, free, distribution method.
Sometimes films are made available online even before it's in cinemas. Sometimes months before (although these often have some scenes missing, or incomplete sound-effects/visuals)
Now, the important point - it's incredibly convenient. Without leaving their homes, by clicking a few buttons on a computer, a few hours later the film is ready to watch.
Sure, setting up a Bittorrent client takes a little bit of technical knowledge - at least, it used to. Grab uTorrent if you use Windows, Transmission if you use OS X, put the application somewhere sensible (Program Files, or Applications folder), and double click the icon. UPnP takes care of the port-forwarding, and that's it - The client is setup.
The biggest problem now is companies similar to "Media Defender" flooding Torrent sites with fake torrents, but simply reading the comments on the torrent-download page, or reading sites like "RlsLog" both give good indications of a torrent's quality - both in terms of download and visual quality.
As for visual quality - The rule of thumb is if it has "CAM" in the title, it's bad quality, "TS" means bad quality with better audio, "SCREENER" can mean good quality, maybe with a watermark ("For your Consideration", for example), DVDRip is generally perfect quality.
As for download-speed, the higher number of seeds, the better. The less peers (downloaders only), the better. But, if something has thousands of seeds and very few peers, be suspicious.
That's it, it takes about 5 minutes to teach someone the basics, and there are plenty of written guides around.
Where piracy beats the alternative hands down: TV shows. Using a torrent auto-downloader (something like TVTad, TED, the uTorrent/Azereus RSS auto-downloader features) along with a service like TVrss.net. You put in the names of the TV shows you watch, put in the RSS feed from TVRSS. That's it, when a new episode is aired, someone captures/uploads it, the torrent appears in your client and starts downloading. All unattended. Then you're free to watch it when you want, as many times as you want, on what ever device or screen you want.
Personal Video Recorders (PVRs. TiVo, Windows Media Center, MythTV etc) can achieve a similar things, but, if you don't live in America you'll have to wait months (if not years... if not forever..) before the show is aired in your country. If your PVR isn't setup correctly, or is turned off, or you forget to set it up for that episode, or it's moved due to scheduling - You miss that episode.
With the TVRSS setup, it's pretty much impossible to miss an episode - it automatically downloads all episodes with no intervention. If your computer is off, you can download it later. In fact, you can download it weeks, months, even years later. If your patient, and wait till the end of the season, someone will put together a "[Showname] Season 123.torrent", containing all the episodes in a consistent file type/quality. There are lots of "Entire show" torrents, where you can grab all episodes of a particular show. Be even more patient and a "[Showname] Complete Series.torrent" torrent will be created.
Piracy - It's more convenient, no waiting for months for staggered releases, no waiting for physical media to arrive, no hoping they will show the film in your countries cinemas. There's a slight learning curve to using Bittorrent, but with a technically minded friend, or a half-decent guide it can setup up in minutes.
Most computers now can play DVDs, most TV's come with DVD players (if not, you can buy them for not a lot of money). The hardware to watch DVD's is widely available.
Now, you put your legitimately bought DVD in your legitimately bought DVD player and what's the first thing you see? An unskippable anti-piracy warning! Then a bunch of unskippable studio logos, maybe some trailer you need to skip though. Then you need to find the play-movie button.. And.. more studio logos.
The ironic thing? On illegally downloaded films, these annoying copyright/anti-piracy warnings aren't there - They only inconvenience the legitimate users - it doesn't solve the problem at all.
The way around this is.. Non-existent really. The only way around I know of is "AnyDVD" or VLC, which lets you skip copyright notices on DVD's that you watch on your computer. A slight improvement, but still annoying and limited. On your regular DVD player, there's no easy way to bypass the UOP's..
You double click the .avi file, it starts playing the movie, no skippable warnings, no trailers, just the movie.
There's the small issue of codecs, which is simply solved by installing something like the "Combined Community Codec Pack" (CCCP), or using mplayer/VLC, and you never have to worry about it again.
Things like Xbox Media Center, Windows Media Center, those hardware media-extender boxes allow you to watch films/TV shows etc on your TV.
Again, like Bittorrent, this isn't very simple to setup - but really, it's no different to setting up a DVD player: if you don't know how to do it yourself, you get a friend to do it. If you can setup a DVD player easily, chances are you can setup a media-extender box, or even XBMC.
There are similar "legal" options. For example, the iTunes Store. These have some huge drawbacks: * If you buy the content form Apple, it wont play back on your little generic-brand media-extender box, or your Xbox Media Center modified-Xbox. * You have to use iTunes to play it back, you have to authorized iTunes online to play it. If your computer dies, and you didn't have a premonition telling you to de-authorize your computer, things get complicated. * If you want a Windows Media-Center/XBMC-type interface, it won't work.. You need to buy.. An "Apple TV"! It can only play media bought from iTunes.. It's the only hardware box that can play iTunes content.. * The iTunes store outside America are awful. The UK store is extremely limited, the Australian one does not exist. Alternatives like Amazon Unbox or Hulu aren't available outside the US at all.
The Apple TV box is very limited. Compare it to say the XBMC system: * It can play DVDs, most formats of digital media (aside from DRM'd media such as the iTunes content..), it can play streaming TV, it can stream the content from any device than can run an FTP or SMB (Windows File Sharing server) * You can "acquire" pretty much any film or TV show online - from big HOllywood films, to obscure foreign films. * There are various scripts and modification to do many things, from streaming online content (Youtube, DailiyMotion and loads of others), display news, weather, games. All free, and fairly easy to create.
Again, it can be a bit of a pain to setup, but once it's up and running, it's done and very easy to use.
Piracy. No useless "anti-piracy" warnings, you just click play and the film starts. And that play button can be on anything from a DivX-compatible DVD player, to laptop, to a modified Xbox.
Storing a lot of DVD boxes can be a bit annoying. They get dusty, they are hard to move around, they can be hard to find specific discs unless you organize them nicely, which takes a lot of effort.
Discs get dirty and scratched easily, if that happens, your screwed - Good luck getting a replacement, you pretty much have to buy it again.
If you want to get rid of a DVD, you can give them to a friend, sell them on eBay, or similar. Wait, technically you can't, it's illegal to do any of that, according to those "No unauthorized lending, copying or[...]". But it's impossible to enforce, so no one does. Giving a friend a DVD, or even a copy of a CD is accepted, but transferring it over the internet is still a hanging-offense in most peoples eyes..
A 500GB hard drive costs less than £70 now. That drive, which is less than the size of two DVD boxes, and hides inside your computer. This little cheap drive could hold over 600 movies. Or over 100 full TV seasons.
Want rid of something? Hit the delete button and it's gone. This isn't a big issue, you can easily shove another harddrive or 3 in a PC - disc space quickly becomes a non-issue.
The biggest problem with digital media is, if your harddrive dies, your media goes with it. But since you can easily download the files again, it's not a big problem. Besides, harddrives are generally more reliable that optical drives, if only because you don't constantly touch the surface of a harddrive platter, like you do every time you put a DVD in the player.
If you do want to backup your files up. Plug in an external harddrive, copy the files over - in a few minutes the film is copied on two reliable drives. The same can't be said for DVD-backup (Which you'd have to violate the DMCA to backup!).
Piracy. Digital media is far more convenient in pretty much every way.
Legal. But it's against the law to decrypt the DVD so you can back it up. You (legally) can't lend the DVD to a friend (Although as I said above, this is never enforced).
The Region Encoding System prevents discs working in other countries - may not seem like a huge problem, but for example, my sister recently emigrated from the UK to Australia. Some of her DVD's work in the Australian DVD player on the main TV. A lot of Australian DVD's don't work on the UK DVD player she brought. It's annoying. It doesn't prevent piracy.
It's been said (not sure how officially) but when you buy a DVD, or a game, your effectively "renting" it, or purchasing a license to watch the content. The data you just bought isn't yours, it's the studios.. Sort of makes sense, they made the content, but that shouldn't prevent me from doing what I want with it. No, that doesn't mean I should be able to edit out the credits and claim I made it - but I should mean I can copy it onto my laptop without violating the DMCA.
Okay, for most people, DVD's are fine. I don't mind watching or buying/renting DVDs... Until I put the disc in and have to sit though a message warning me it's illegal to copy this disc and such. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
I was watching a Simpsons DVD (Season 3, I think it was):
- When I put the disc in, you get the 20th Century Fox logo, which I fast-forward.
- Then, a "WARNING" screen with some legal text. Then the same text in Spanish. Then in Italian. Then French. Then.... This goes on for at least 30 seconds, then a few other pages of text I can't skip.
- Finally, I get to the main menu, and choose an episode...
- After a slightly drawn-out menu exit-animation, another copyright notice! After that next 5 second screen the episode plays.
- At the end of the episode, if I don't hit the Menu button during the credits, it goes back though the opening "WARNING" pages...
- Finally, it's back to the menu, ready to go though the copyright notice intro again..
Do these messages help at all? If the person has bought your DVD, you might as well be nice to them! If they have bought the DVD to rip it to a computer and redistribute it, those warnings aren't going to deter them.
There's nothing you can do to stop them when they have the disc in their hands. NOTHING. DRM doesn't work, encryption doesn't work. But, if you make legitimate viewers experience suck thanks to all these limitations, the piracy option is going to look more and more tempting to them.
If you could buy reasonably priced content, without lots (or any kind of) limitations, you'll do more for anti-piracy than any super-strong DRM system will. iTunes is fairly flexible in terms of DRM - you can transfer media between a few computers with iTunes on it, and it's fairly easy, cheap and convenient to buy content. It's extremely successful.
Although, as I have said before, the iTunes Store has several huge flaws, the biggest of those being it's (effectively) America-only. Hulu, Amazon Unbox, Netflix Online and others all suffer the same problem.
As a second example, AllOfMP3 - Cheap, easy to buy, non-DRM'd music. Extremely successful also. Not because of the all-in-one service like iTunes, which supplies everything (The software, the content, the hardware players etc) - it just gives good, unrestrictive content. Unfortunatly, AllOfMp3 seems to have been shutdown!
It's not legal. I don't know if it should be, but the current copyright system is just not applicable anymore, with the rise in broadband and digital media.
Fines of many-thousand pounds/dollars/yen for downloading a single movie is just insane. People have gotten longer jail time for piracy than murderers have.
Claims of loss-of-profits are unprovable and disputable (Arguments such as "I would never have never bought the DVD anyway" are valid, if not more so than "By downloading the film you deprived the filmmaker of payment, and fund terrorism").
The "You wouldn't steal a handbag.." anti-piracy video which is on a lot of DVD's is a good example of piracy being handled wrongly. Downloading a copy of a film is not the same as stealing a handbag, or even a DVD. Duplicating media, and physically stealing something just isn't the same thing. If you take a DVD from a shop's shelve, and don't pay for it - that's an item someone now can't pick up and give the store money for. If you take someone's handbag, they have to go out, buy a replacement for it, and everything in it.
Downloading a film is more comparable to lending a DVD to a friend. You both get to watch the film, but only one of you has actually given money to the distribution company! I fail to see how a DVD, viewed by 100 people, is any different to 100 people downloading that same film of the Internet.
To summarize that sub-rant, theft and copyright infringement are not the same, and should not be handled as such. Ever.
Winner and summary
I'm not sure. Well. Obviously DVD's are more legal, but the restrictions imposed by the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act - which criminalize the circumnavigation of DRM, which incidentally make watching DVD's in Linux illegal, at least inside the US) kind of make things more legally-fiddly. You can't technically backup DVD's without violating it.
Downloading films while illegal, is again kind of "legally-fiddly". It's easily justified.
DVD's are more legal, but in a few years new content delivery methods will become popular.
People stick to the methods they know, for music it was LP's, then 20 years or so later it was cassette tapes, 20 years later, MP3's.
Same with VHS, to DVD's, something will eventually replace it, and since all these kids are growing up having gotten used to downloading content online, it's a good bet that online delivery will be the next big thing.
It's really a case of history repeating itself:
- LP records will destroy the live music industry! No one will see live music anymore!
- Cassette were heralded as the death of the music industry, and will destroy our LP sales!
- MP3's were heralded as the death of the music industry, and will destroy our cassette sales!
- VHS will destroy the movie industry, no one will go to see films anymore!
- DVD's will destroy the movie industry, no one will go to see films anymore!
- Bittorrent will destroy the movie industry, no one will go to see films anymore!
Do you see the pattern? These new mediums were going to "destroy the [film/music] industry", but when said industries stopped fighting against them, and actually tried embracing them, they realized they could make lots of money by selling cassettes, VHS tapes, and DVDs. And they pretty much became the corner-stones of the industry.
It's a shame it's taken so long for online delivery to be accepted. Online MP3 sales are starting to pick up, but online movie sales are still in the "death of the industry" stage.