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Vox Pop: Want HD video from iTunes and Apple TV?

Since the new TV can handle video up to HD's 720p resolution, there's been a lot of speculation about whether the iTunes store will eventually start selling HD content, such as TV shows and movies. You can bet that the desire for that quality of presentation is theoretically out there (at least it is for this HD TV owner). The problem, as many folks have discussed at length, is that the file size for HD movies, in particular, may be prohibitively large for the garden-variety home broadband user.

As Greg Keene notes, "With simple math, we can extrapolate that a 2-hour movie would be about 3.9 GB." That's not only a substantially lengthy download for, say, a residential DSL subscriber, it also represents the investment of over 10% of the available space on the Apple TV's drive (as well as, it should be noted, an equivalent chunk of space back on your Mac or PC's disk).

In his very good "Apple TV: iTunes Store Movie Quality vs DVD, HD, Cable," Daniel Eran writes:

Since the existing "near DVD" quality movies are already large downloads, Apple would either have to highly compress HDTV or accommodate much longer downloads. Don’t expect a sudden move to HDTV from iTunes...

Apple optimistically estimates that broadband iTunes users can download its “near DVD quality” movies in a couple hours, so HD movies would either take well over a day of sustained downloading at full tilt, or require far more compression.

This is one reason I think the Apple TV may be giving a kind of temporary competitive advantage to producers of shorter-length HD content, such as -- well -- let's say video podcasters. It's a big reason behind our decision to start shooting and releasing The Merlin Show in 720p over the next month or so. The current hi-res version of the show -- which actually looks pretty good on my Apple TV -- is presented at widescreen 854x480, which makes our most recent, 14-minute episode weigh in at 88 MB (about 6 MB/minute).

Here's a comparison of the three screen resolutions (720p, hi-res/854x480, and iPod/320x176) for reference (This is just for relative size comparison; you can mentally change the image's "mm" to "px.")

Seems to me that the typical expectation for podcasts is that, while they will be released on a relatively regular basis, they will also get downloaded automatically in the background and then get synched to a device like a Video iPod or TV for viewing at the user's convenience.

But, movies, and to a lesser extent, single episodes of TV shows, strike me as more of an impulse item -- something you want to download and watch more or less now. Knowing there's two hours and multiple gigs of disk space between you and Norbit might be a disincentive to downloading, right? But, then again, people don't seem to mind the wait of their Netflix queue, right? I dunno. You tell me.

Given the constraints of time and disk space, would you purchase (and wait for the download of) HD content for your TV? What do you think is an acceptable resolution for content on your HD TV? Anybody hacked on their unit yet? Whither TV, iTunes, and HD?

Mike Shea's picture

I was actually surprised to...

I was actually surprised to find out that the Merlin Show isn't already HD. I watched the last episode as the first video on my newly unboxed Apple TV and thought it looked great. I'm running on an old-school 1080i HDTV through component video so there's some sort of scaling going on that would probably horrify me if I knew exactly what it was doing (downconverting to 540p and upconverting to 1080i for example). I'll be excited to see the Merlin Show in 720p.

If they don't release movies and TV shows in HD, I'm going to be pretty upset. The whole concept of watching $10 DRM-dripping sub-DVD quality movies on a $300 device is idiotic. I can buy DVDs for less money with higher resolution video, multi-channel audio, more extras, and play them back on a hundred different $30 DVD players.

I bought my Apple TV to stream music and iTunes TV shows to my big TV. I don't pay for cable so I'm saving a bit of money there, but most people won't cut off their cable connection just because they have Apple TV. For those folks, what is the advantage if not HD quality media? Oh yeah, and where's the Dolby Digital sound? That will no doubt add quite a bit more to the download size but DVDs have had higher resolution video and six-channel audio seven years before Apple TV came out.

I want 720p video and six-channel Dolby Digital sound from both movies and TV shows before I'm really happy about my Apple TV. I know the download is big and I know the storage on the Apple TV is small but I can live with recycling content off the drive and I can live with an overnight download.

If they want to show me that the digital distribution model can work, they have to give me a superior product.

Thanks for the show, Merlin.




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