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When is HD not HD?

ZDNet's George Ou doesn't exactly have a great record when it comes to Apple related analysis, but even the stopped clock is right twice a day, and he's got an interesting article up about the forthcoming HD movies that Apple is planning to offer with Apple TV Take Two. His central point is this: high definition video is about more than resolution (whether 720p or 1080i/p); it also matters significantly how much the video is compressed. So his complaint is that the HD download services (both Xbox Live and the forthcoming Apple TV) offer video compressed so highly that even if it has the requisite number of pixels it "is simply not HD by any respectable definition." He's got another post illustrating the point.

Having become a bit of a HD video buff myself, I think his central claim is true. The highly-compressed video from the download services does not hold a candle to Blu-ray or HD DVD on a large 1080p display. If you think about the files' relative sizes, how could it possibly? By the same token, however, it's not entirely clear that this is what matters most to consumers. The obvious comparison is to audio; 128kb AAC files sound significantly worse than CDs with complex music and yet Apple has sold literally billions of them. So it may turn out that the convenience of the HD downloads ends up trumping video quality except for the videophiles. However, if that's so it's nonetheless true that average consumers make up the fat part of the curve where the real money is to be made. So even if Ou is right about the technical issues, it's not entirely clear that it'll matter in the long run. What do you think?

[via Engadget HD]

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