Convenience over Quality - the death of HD


Netflix streaming on my Xbox 360
Image by craig1black via Flickr

There is a race in the tech/gadget world at the moment to find the best way to deliver online movie and TV content.  This race is revolving around websites (Hulu, Netflix), Game consoles (PS3, and Xbox 360) and dedicated streaming set-top boxes (Tivo, Roku and Apple TV).  And in reality, these systems and devices are competing with the more traditional content delivery products (CD, DVD and Blu-ray).


Blu-ray, the winner in the HD media wars, doesn't seem to be doing as well as was hoped, so is our support of the online delivery systems going to kill off physical media?  And is our support of online delivery, at this early stage in its development, going leave us with the best product in the coming years?  Or is our support of convenience over quality going to leave us watching movies and TV at YouTube quality, because we have forgotten what quality was?



Why Online?

Apple with iTunes, and the success of Hulu in the US have proved their popularity and convenience with users.  Not to mention the trade in pirated material from Bit Torrent.  So we are seeing a land grab for this new space, and I would have to say that no one seems to be doing it right.  Hamstrung by the content creators, who can't make up their minds on the best way to deliver content over the Internet, and still make truck loads of money, and the infrastructure the users need to access it.

As popular as the Internet is, coverage of decent bandwidth and download caps stop the majority of users getting good access to content.  We are left with a dilemma, we love the convenience of online delivery of movies and TV, but the infrastructure and the content controllers are not up to speed.


HD or 720p or CIF?

That leaves us with a mass of options, and in an effort to get a large audience, those options have sacrificed quality.  And this is the point that interests me the most, are we going to see the degradation of our perception of quality of video, as we did with music - with the popularity and adoption of the Mp3 format?

As I read and listen to reviews about online streaming services, like the Netflix service on the new Xbox 360 update, the reviewers are happy to talk up the service, although the quality can drop to YouTube quality - even though they call it HD.  My beef is, most of the services claim HD quality and yet even the quality of Apple's streaming movies is not true HD.  There are issues with bandwidth, and legal issues with storing content locally, but isn't HD a quality standard and not an advertising gimmick?

Are we going to kill other HD Media formats like Blu-ray because of convenience, then find out that most of the world can't enjoy true HD content because their Internet connection isn't good enough?  Are our kids going to be able to watch the latest blockbusters on demand, but only at 640x480?

In the End

I might be a little melodramatic, but the Internet has only just caught up to streaming music at reasonable quality, and now we are going to try and dump video over the tubes.  I just tried to watch the Le Web 08 conference and found that I'm a way off before I could use the streaming as a legitimate replacement for being there.  Until we can open up the bandwidth to cope with all this new media the majority are going to miss out on it.

"Have you turn it off, waited for it to buffer, and turned it on again?"




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