Blu-ray vs DVD vs 4K UHD: What’s the Real Difference?

One of the most frustrating things about new video formats is having to re-buy all of your old movies again.

Not to date myself, but I’ve done that a few times already, switching from VHS to DVD and again to Blu-ray. With 4K UHD Blu-rays on the market as well, do we need to upgrade all over again?

In this article, I’m going to go through the major differences between DVDs, Blu-ray and 4K UHD, and what they mean for your movie collection.

We’ll look at each format in terms of the picture quality you can expect, cost, and whether you might need to buy new hardware to play them.

Finally, we’re going to figure out if you really need to upgrade.

Let’s get started.

Blu-ray vs DVD vs 4K UHD: Overview

In general, movies and TV shows on DVD movies will be less expensive than their Blu-Ray and 4K UHD counterparts, and may not have higher-end audio tracks such as Dolby Atmos or DTS. Most modern movies are released on Blu-ray due to the higher resolution (1080p vs 480p). Only big blockbuster movies are released on 4K UHD, due to the higher cost and limited demand from consumers.

DVDBlu-ray4K UHD
Resolution480p1080p2160p (4K)
Cost (New Releases)$15-$20$20-$25$30-$35

Picture Quality and Resolution

The first major difference between these three formats is in picture quality and resolution.

In other words, how sharp is the picture? How good will it look on your screen?


A DVD has the lowest resolution of all three formats, coming in at 720 pixels by 480 pixels (720×480). This is also referred to as 480p.

If you think about it this way, older tube televisions (CRT) usually have roughly the same resolution. They’re normally 480i (interlaced) instead of 480p (progressive scan), however.

Even the oldest HDTV has a better resolution!

So if you buy a DVD for the story, you’ll get what you need. But, if you’re looking for the best picture quality, you should be looking at least at Blu-ray discs.


A Blu-Ray disc is the next evolution of a DVD. Blu-Ray discs can display at 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels (1920×1080). 

Each row is displayed individually in sequence, which is called progressive scanning. That’s where the ‘p’ in 1080p comes from.

If you multiply all those pixels together, you’ll see that the Blu-Ray displays nearly six times the amount of pixels as a DVD. That makes for a much denser, deeper, and better-looking picture.

Most high-definition televisions sold these days display at 1080p, so they’re a great match for Blu-Rays. If you have an older 720p HDTV, though, Blu-Rays will still look great on them.

I wrote an article outlining the differences between 720p and 1080p here. There you can see if it really makes a difference, based on the size of your TV and how far away you’re sitting from it.


4K UHD discs are the newest and most sophisticated of the three formats. These discs display on-screen at 3,840 pixels by 2,160 pixels (or 2160p).

That amount of pixels is 4 times what you would find on a Blu-Ray disc, which means it’s nearly 30 times higher than a DVD!

4K UHD discs are currently the top choice for picture clarity. Watching a 4K UHD movie can feel more like you’re looking through a window than watching a movie. However, not all movies are available on 4K UHD discs.

4K UHD discs will display on an HDTV, but they’re really made for a 4K television. If you’re not sure what kind of television you have, check your settings.

Hardware Compatibility

Have you ever heard the term, “All beagles are dogs, but not all dogs are beagles?”

Disc format compatibility works the same way.


If you’re looking at a disc player, computer, video game console, or even a car that has a disc drive, there’s an excellent chance that it will play a DVD.

DVD’s have been the dominant format since the beginning of the 21st century for movies, television shows, and software. The great thing about DVDs now is that modern hardware will also work backward. So, if you have a Blu-Ray or a 4K UHD disc player, it will also play DVDs with no problem at all.


Blu-Rays have been around since roughly 2005, so finding a Blu-Ray player these days is also no problem. If you own a video game console like the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, those also can act as Blu-Ray players. 

Blu-Ray players will be able to handle Blu-Ray discs and DVDs. However, if you put a 4K UHD disc in, it will not work. Similarly, if you put a Blu-Ray disc into a DVD player, it also will not work.


4K UHD has been around for more than a decade, so getting a 4K UHD disc player is pretty straightforward, although they are still more expensive in most cases than a DVD or Blu-Ray player. If you have a current-generation gaming console like the Xbox Series S or X or the PlayStation 5, you also have a ready-made 4K UHD disc player!

These discs will only play in a 4K UHD player, so if you try to play them on a DVD or Blu-Ray player, they will not work. A 4K UHD player, though, will play all formats.

If you’re in the market for a disc player, know what you’re getting. If you’re not sure, ask! 

Without a 4K-capable television, you won’t get the most out of a 4K disc player, so a Blu-Ray player should work fine. If you have the right television, though, or think you might in the future, consider a 4K UHD disc player. It is a little more expensive upfront but supports all other formats so should last you for a longer time.

Uses and Storage

Any of these three formats can be used to store data or create your own movies or picture discs. Many chain stores or electronic stores sell blank versions.

DVDs come in two varieties: single- and dual-layer. A single-layer DVD comes with 4.7 GB (gigabytes) of storage and a dual-layer comes with 8.5 GB. The label on the case or DVD itself will tell you which version you have.

Similar to DVDs, Blu-Ray discs also come in two sizes. The standard single-layer has 25 GB available, while the dual-layer has 50 GB.

4K UHD discs come in three sizes. The smallest is 50 GB, the middle is 66 GB, and the highest is 100 GB. The biggest difference between a 4K UHD disc and a Blu-Ray, though, is the data rate. We won’t get too technical here, but the UHD disc is able to transfer more data per spin than the Blu-Ray disc, which allows it to work faster and contain more.

Please note that, if you want to create (burn) your own DVD, Blu-Ray, or 4k UHD disc, you will need a piece of hardware called a disc burner. DVD burners are available for pretty cheap, but you wouldn’t be able to burn a Blu-Ray or 4K UHD disc. 4K UHD burners are more expensive (but getting cheaper all the time) but you’d be able to burn any of the three formats.


All three formats are readily available. When Blu-Rays and 4K UHD were new, they were harder to find. This is because costs or production were higher, and also because new formats don’t have the vast library of a DVD. However, any large brick-and-mortar store or online retailer will likely have all three formats available for purchase.

If you want your disc library to be huge and complete, we recommend focusing on DVDs or Blu-Rays. 

This is simply because they have been around for the longest and have the biggest libraries. It is also significantly cheaper and similar for smaller, independent filmmakers to release a DVD or Blu-Ray than a 4K UHD disc, so, even today, those kinds of movies are easier to find on DVD.

However, if your collection is focused on newer releases, look at Blu-Ray or 4K UHD. More modern releases will often (but not always) still get a DVD release, but things like picture options and special features are many times stripped out.

For large stores that carry all formats, how can you know what kind of disc you’re getting? Fortunately, manufacturers have made that pretty easy. 4K UHD disc boxes will generally say 4K right at the top. Blu-Ray boxes are generally blue and have a large B. DVD boxes will say DVD. Again, if you’re not sure, ask for support.


Cost is another important difference between the three formats. The distinctions can look quite large, but, if you’re patient or willing to dig, you can make that difference much smaller.


In general, DVDs are the cheapest. Whether thinking about hardware, movies, or blank DVDs, they are all relatively cheap. A new movie can generally be found for roughly $10-15. 

However, because DVDs have been around for so long, you can find used DVDs for significantly cheaper. Used copies of even popular movies can often be found for as little as $1 on sites such as Amazon and eBay. Some online retailers will also sell DVDs in lots, allowing you to build a great collection quickly.


Blu-Rays are a bit more expensive than a DVD, but not by too much. If you wanted to buy a Blu-Ray movie on the day of release, you could expect to pay roughly $20-25. However, prices have been known to fluctuate a lot before release, so you might get lucky and get it for cheaper than that.

Similar to DVDs, though, because Blu-Rays have been around for more than a decade, both new copies of older releases and used copies of many things are extremely affordable. Prices will vary a bit depending on if the disc is still in print, but many releases can be found online for approximately $5.


Because they’re the newest, 4K UHD discs will tend to be the most expensive. Many new releases will be available for between $30-40, although some releases (such as special editions or Director’s Cuts) will be almost twice that.

If you’re willing to wait a bit, though, 4K UHD discs tend to come down in price fairly quickly after release. Used copies are available, but we recommend keeping an eye on sales as a way to build your collection and save a little money in the process.

Tim Wells