Watching The Invisible Man (2020) On Demand

The Invisible Man is one of the movies that Universal Studios has made available on-demand, due to the coronavirus pandemic that has caused most commercial movie theaters to close. The movie is available to rent for $19.99 through various services including Amazon, Vudu, iTunes and Google Play.

Charging $19.99 for the rental instead of the purchase seems like a reasonable compromise. However, it’s notable that that there is no 4K you/UHD rental option. Some hypothesize it’s for “copyright protection reasons” while others speculate that a properly graded 4K/UHD master for home viewing does not yet exist. Regardless of what the reason is, the picture and sound quality is a bit of a compromise due to an overall “soft” image with some visible banding and artifacts—especially in shadow areas.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve wanted the option to watch a movie that’s in theaters, at home… and am willing to pay for it. I’d probably even cough up $30 for a UHD rental. As it stands, my first viewing of this movie is in streaming HD; I wish the circumstances that made this a reality were different.

My first impression is with the Amazon HD on-demand stream, playing through a Fire TV 4K. Unfortunately, the video and sound quality is not up to snuff, even for a 1080p/HD streaming presentation. Often, Netflix does better. The video compression reminded me of what Amazon & Vudu were delivering to viewers five years ago… A bit fuzzy, banding in shadows, and sound that lacks dynamics & impact. Basically, it’s the sort of video that causes people to say “streaming is unacceptable for home theater.”

Hopefully this rental HD version is just the result of how quickly the film was put out on video for what Vudu calls a “Home Premiere” and I’d also note that on a regular-size TV, viewed in a typical living room, the fidelity is more than good enough for most folks. The issues arise when it is scrutinized from a videophile perspective, in a dark room with a calibrated display and a huge screen.

With all that in mind, I have read that there is studio consideration for releasing Wonder Woman 1984 directly to on-demand. That will be a circumstance where I would want sound and picture quality that provides a seamless viewing experience, which was not the case with The Invisible Man. And I suppose, if I was bored enough, I could be cajoled into paying $30 for the privilege (but would rather not) I’d rather see higher quality delivered at this $20 rental price point.

What are your thoughts on providing theatrical releases to rent? Is it an exceptional measure taken in exceptional times, or should this transition to making movies available to home viewers—even if it’s just a pricey rental and not the highest quality possible—become permanent?