VUDU, the movies-on-demand set top box maker, announced early today that it will dramatically increase the quality of its HD content in a bid to attract the people who not only obsess about the difference between 720p and 1080p, but who also understand that not all 1080p is created equal. If you’re one of those people who care, you can read more about why HD content does not always live up to its name at Gizmodo.
But here’s the problem. Most people, and by most, I mean 99% of people, can’t tell the difference between high quality HD video and sub-par HD video.
Many can barely tell the difference between 480 and 720p. Just last night I had dinner with a friend who bought his first plasma screen. He decided to go with a 720p resolution screen because, as he said to me, “I’m not buying Blu-ray any time soon, and I won’t pay extra for HD channels from my cable company. But it looks great with our DVD player.”
His attitude describes most people’s attitudes. People want big screens that look nice. They can’t tell the difference between competing HD standards. It’s what lets people like Apple rent HD movies without anyone complaining, it’s what lets cable companies compress their HD signals to conserve bandwidth without any backlash. Most of us can’t tell. We just like our pretty images to be big and bright.
For the wealthy home theater customer who wants the best of everything (the same market Pioneer targets), VUDU is doing the right thing. There’s enough people there to make some money, so I wish them well. But the larger issue will haunt them and the rest of the market as we continue to see more and more so-so quality content passed off as HD.