Buying DVDs and CDs made a lot of sense a decade ago. What do you do with them now?
Years ago, the thought of watching movies on a phone was absurd — our connections were too slow, or they took up too much space. Today, if we still buy movies, many of us are choosing to eschew physical media for digital copies that can be watched anywhere effortlessly.
But what do we do with all those DVDs in our living rooms? Well, we can’t digitize quite everything, but there are several ways to bring your library into the cloud for your viewing convenience.
When it comes to getting your media into the clouds, your options are somewhat limited by the type of content you’re hoping to digitize. Music is easily digitized as ripping CDs is a simple and largely unrestricted process, and there are some music services that will let you upload to their cloud and mix your library with their streaming library for the best of both worlds (though they’re quickly disappearing).
Digitizing movies is a bit more complicated or a bit more expensive depending on the route you take. You can either pay to convert your movies to certain digital libraries or you can use specialized software to rip your DVDs and Blu-rays to a digital file that can be stored in the cloud and streamed.
If you don’t want to hassle with uploading what you already have, you can still enjoy most of your movies on one streaming library or another. To see which streaming subscriptions are right for you, check out our holiday streaming guide.
Google Play Music Manager
Say what you will about how badly Google Play Music needs an overhaul — and I have said plenty — but Google currently has just about the best free streaming music locker service on the market right now.
Regardless of whether you subscribe to Google Play Music All Access, Google Play Music allows all users to upload 50,000 songs to their Play Music library (100,000 if you’re a Samsung Galaxy S8 owner) and stream them for free across most mobile and desktop platforms, as well as Chromecast and Android TV. You can upload songs through a Chrome extension, but this is rather tedious as opposed to using Google Play Music Manager, which will upload your music in the background on your Windows PC while you go about your day.
This isn’t without strings. You can have 10 devices authorized for Play Music, only 5 of which can be phones. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except that you can only deauthorize 4 devices per year, meaning if you device-hop a lot, you could get locked out of your own library.
If you’d rather have your music in a cloud that you can access outside a dedicated app and already have your music organized in folders the way you like, there is another option you might want to consider: Google Drive. Granted, Google Drive only gives you 15 GB for free, but you can fit a lot of music in 15 GB, and you can use Google Drive for far more than just music, such as your documents and movies.
Once you upload your music to Google Drive, you can stream it using a number of Android music players that can stream your music directly from Google Drive, like CloudPlayer by doubleTwist.
For a more robust streaming service for your personal media cloud, there’s also Plex, which allows you to turn one computer into a personal media server for the rest of your devices. Plex can stream music and movies that you have owned and ripped yourself. If you’ve ripped all your DVD’s and Blu-rays already, Plex will help you organize and stream them to all your other devices, for a small subscription.
Vudu Disc to Digital
Have a Blockbusters’ worth of DVDs you want to put into the cloud, but don’t want to hassle with ripping them all yourself? Well, Vudu will allow you to convert them into digital copies on their digital cloud — and movies from Movies Anywhere-eligible studios can then travel from your Vudu library to Amazon or Google Play for your easier viewing pleasure.
You can either use Vudu’s Android app to scan the UPCs of DVDs you still have in the box. If you have DVDs that were shifted to a multi-disc binder for easier storage or lost the box somewhere, never fear! You can still convert your DVD’s using a desktop computer with a DVD drive and the Vudu To Go app. The Android app is a bit more finicky than its desktop counterpart, but the desktop app is also a bit slower since you have to insert every single disc you want to convert.
It costs $2 to upgrade a DVD to an SD copy or a Blu-ray to an HDX copy. To upgrade a DVD to an HDX copy is $5, which is still far cheaper than going out and buying a new Blu-ray. Not every DVD is eligible for the program, as studios have to agree to the service, but outside Disney, most mainstream movies are eligible.
For streaming your newly-digitized content, we have a plethora of options, but they can be broken down into two types: dongles and set-top boxes. Dongles aren’t as cumbersome to set up and can often hide behind your TV, but they don’t have as robust a UI, and often lack a dedicated remote. Set-top boxes are more expensive and take up more space, but they also can have greater capacity, greater cloud service support, they all come with dedicated remotes.
Many Blu-ray players and Smart TVs come with support for the major digital platforms these days, so check and see what services the tech you already own supports before you go out and buy something new.
If you just want to start playing digital content on your TV without dealing with a whole new set-top box with a new remote and interface, then the $69 Chromecast Ultra is for you. The hardware side couldn’t be simpler: stick one end into the HDMI port on your TV, stick a power cable into the other end, stick the power cable into the wall. Once plugged up, you use the Google Home app for your Android or iOS phone or through Google Chrome to connect it to the internet and give it a name you’ll see when sending content to it.
To send the media to your TV through the Google Cast protocol, you open a media service on your phone or in Google Chrome and “cast” it to the Chromecast receiver using the cast button in the app. Your stream will start playing on your TV, and you’re free to do other things on your phone or in Chrome while it plays.
Amazon Fire TV
If you’re an Amazon Prime user and buy your digital movies from their store, you’re probably going to want to use their Fire TV for streaming. The $70 Amazon Fire TV, like the Chromecast, is an HDMI dongle. It comes with a remote control, supports 4K, and has access to pretty much everything except Apple content, though apps on the FireOS have been a bit slower than the more robust Android TV or Apple TV systems.
Amazon and Google have fought for years when it comes to streaming and streaming devices, so that does mean you’ll have to find something else if you’re a Google Play Music or a big Google Play Movies user.
Roku was the first big name in streaming set-top boxes and it remains one of the most popular and well-supported streaming boxes today. Roku supports just about every streaming service that isn’t Apple — though to be fair, no set-top box supports Apple’s video streaming services except Apple TV. Roku has years more experience in the streaming market, and it shows, as their devices and their remotes continue to refine and refine while most other set-top boxes are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re going to buy one, you might as well spring for the $89 Roku Ultra. It features 4K support but no Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision support.
NVIDIA Shield TV
Android TV is a step up in the living room from Google’s Chromecast standard: it’s Android designed for the big screen and designed to be used with simple remotes or game controllers.
The $200 NVIDIA Shield TV is the best Android TV box you can buy. It’s also the most expensive, but NVIDIA has cut the price of the Shield TV frequently and generously this Christmas season. It features a beautifully simple UI, native support for most mainstream media services, 4K support and some pretty great gaming since it’s an NVIDIA powerhouse in a sleek black-and-green box.
If I had to make one recommendation with the Shield TV, it’s this: get the controller. Lots of scrolling and fast-forwarding is far easier with the controller than it is with the remote.