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For instance, if I have a movie on DVD, that particular movie holds a physical form, in the form of the disc. That particular movie is subject to the same physical limitations as anything else. In order to watch that movie, it has to be physically moved and inserted into and kept inside a physical player for the duration of the viewing. When I am done watching and ready to watch another DVD, it has to be removed and put out of the way to make room for the next disc. It takes up space and can be physically manipulated.

And if I have another movie that is downloaded and stored on my computer's hard drive, that movie does not hold a physical form in the same way. It is present on the hard drive, which has a physical form, but the movie itself is not subject to the same physical limitations as the movie that is on the disc. It can be copied and transferred freely to other device's hard drives (assuming no DRM). It does not take up more physical space than was already taken up by the hard drive. Short of picking up the entire computer or hard drive that houses it, it cannot be directly or individually handled or manipulated in a physical space.

What is a word or term that can be used to collectively describe the condition of a piece of media--whether it be a movie, book, song, video game, et cetera--as being either physical or digital, as it pertains to this example? I'm looking for something like "state of being physical or digital" or "condition of existing in a physical space or a virtual space" but more concise, more specific to this example, and in much fewer words.

Perhaps "state of being" is as close as we can get, but I figured I would ask since I am certainly stumped. Thanks!

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    I'm a little confused by the question, but it sounds like in this context you could probably use the word "format" to describe whether something is digital or physical. – dekaliber May 11 '17 at 0:04
  • You realize that the bits are the same it just so happens that the media in one case is permanently installed while in the other it is on portable media. If I had a multiple harddrives with different movies on them, I’d still have to remove one drive and replace it with another to see a particular movie. The movie on dvd does not take up any more space than the dvd itself and with the right software it can be copied to another device’s hard drive. – Jim May 11 '17 at 4:24
  • The only difference is the capacity of the media and whether it can hold multiple movies (A DVD-R can hold multiple but not very many movies) maybe it’s on individual media versus on a mass storage device. – Jim May 11 '17 at 4:26
  • Maybe it’s original media vs a digital download. – Jim May 11 '17 at 4:28
  • What about a film which is really a film, that is it exists as a strip of transparent photographic material with sprocket holes? That has to be digitised before it can be copied as a file to either to a hard drive or a DVD: and it certainly has a physical presence. – BoldBen Sep 3 '18 at 5:41
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Message versus "Media"...

What may be creating a mental block for you is your use of "media" to mean two different things: the movie and its container. This is, strictly speaking, incorrect. You do not watch media; you watch the thing that's contained in it.

  • medium (n., pl. media): - a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment

The DVD disc is the medium that carried the movie to you. The movie itself is an example of "a work" or "an asset" or just "content", depending on the industry you're in. A book is a medium for conveying writing (and writing is itself a medium for conveying ideas).

So, the word meaning "state of being" you're looking for is... "medium", or in plural "media".

Can you touch it? Tangible and Intangible

If you're looking for an adjective that describes the difference between digital media (downloads, streaming) and physical media (DVD, vinyl, print), without using "digital", then perhaps tangible versus intangible would fit:

  • tangible (adj.) real and not imaginary; able to be shown, touched, or experienced.
  • intangible (adj.) impossible to touch, to describe exactly, or to give an exact value.

The "describe exactly, give a value" sense is primarily used in financial contexts, and that's usually the most common place you hear the word. However, the literal meaning of the word is "touchable", and that meaning will suit your purpose.

Thus, tangible media are things like printed pages, Blu-ray discs and video-game cartridges, and intangible media are things like news websites, television, streaming services and game downloads.

  • This seems to me to be the best answer. The answer doesn’t say whether a movie on a hard drive is considered to be tangible or not. I would say if a dvd is, a hard drive is. In which case the poster is really referring to something relatively trivial like portability, separability or removability. – David Sep 29 at 19:32
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Perhaps it could be as simple as referring to the collective (or individual) media as "digital asset" vs. (as in Jim's example) "original [format][asset]". E.g., a book/song/movie existing only on one's computer is a "digital asset" vs. a 'regular' book / album / DVD existing as an "original asset, "original format", or even "analog asset".

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    Hi Steven, welcome to the site. You might not know that we're a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. Is there independent evidence to support the usage you're suggesting? If so, you can add a reference or link to a source by clicking the edit link. For further guidance, see How to Answer. For more information about how EL&U works, I can highly recommend taking the Tour. :-) – Reinstate Monica Sep 3 '18 at 1:57
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I'm still a bit confused. Nonetheless, I believe that copy is the word that you're looking for.

Example: I would prefer a physical copy over a digital copy.

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