Our local video rental store closed down over the summer, I was sad to learn. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid. That’s where I first rented Star Wars on VHS. It’s where I first rented Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64. Plus, on Mondays everything was always just $1, and I’d often come home with seven or eight movies to binge. I really did love that place.
I knew it was inevitable. Most people nowadays are streaming everything, and if a movie isn’t available on their streaming platform of choice, they can always give Apple or Google $5 to rent it digitally.
But that has never been a good option for me. For one, I hate being told where I can and can’t watch movies. I always watch everything on my computer (running Linux), but I can’t watch iTunes rentals there because they are encumbered with DRM and the mechanism that unlocks the content isn’t cross-platform. YouTube also encumbers everything with DRM (widevine), but those modules can now be decoded on Linux. That sounds good, right? Except for whatever arbitrary reason (almost certainly for some purported “anti-piracy” rationale) they only allow SD movie playback and 720p TV playback on Linux because — well screw Linux users, I suppose.
But even if it weren’t for those limitations, I’d still prefer watching a Blu-ray. A Blu-ray’s quality is unmatched by anything in the streaming world today (except for, perhaps, 4k, but then a UHD Blu-ray will blow that out of the water too — if for nothing else, there are just more bits to throw around on the disc). I want to make sure when I watch something I’m watching it in near-perfect quality. I do rip and re-encode all the Blu-ray discs in my personal library, but I’m incredibly anal about the process (which I should document on this blog one day).
So when I heard the video rental store finally closed down, I was sad. Sad to see another local business go, sad to see another employment opportunity vanish, but more selfishly than anything, sad to see my go-to source of cheap Blu-ray rentals dry up.
But then I discovered Redbox.
An entire store’s contents stored away in a box the side of a vending machine, available outside of every drug store and gas station around. And not only is it a far more efficient use of physical space and storage, the maintenance costs are low, the employment costs are nearly non-existant (other than paying people to stock and maintain the machines), and from the user’s point of view, I find the experience to be awesome. I look online, reserve what I want to watch (Blu-rays are just $2!), show up, take the discs, and when I’m done with them I just shove them back in the slot and it charges my card. I hate to admit it, but it really is a better experience than the old video store.
So while I mourn the loss of another old institution, I realize that I am not really sad to see it go. It had its time, but there are still better options out there to fit my needs — and I admittedly have peculiar needs compared to a lot of folks.