VUDU ups the HD quality ante…will people notice?

October 2, 2008

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.

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Over-the-top Set Top Box shootout teleconference

September 30, 2008

In less than an hour, I’ll be leading a Forrester teleconference to talk about the results of our over-the-top set top box shootout. We evaluated TiVo HD, Apple TV, HP MediaSmart Connect, VUDU, Netflix/Roku, and the unusual ZvBox. Clients can access the teleconference archive to see it after the fact. Or you can read the report the teleconference is based on. 

We had to pick a point in time to evaluate set tops that were available, though we know a few new ones are coming out soon, including the SlingCatcher, expect to hear more from me on that as it gets released. 

The cool thing about this teleconference and report is that we built a new model for evaluating any new technology product where you add up the consumer benefits the box provides (content, convenience, community, etc.) and then subtract the barriers that stand in the way of its adoption (like price, complexity, lack of a brand, etc.). It gives you a way to score a product against other products in its category, as well as in adjacent categories.

The bottom line is this: these set top boxes are all competing to win a distant second prize behind DVRs which are now getting close to 30% of all US households. Meanwhile, the PC is rising as a way to do much of what these set tops do, but in a more flexible (albeit complex to install and manage) way. In other words, this market will have to work hard to prove that it even is a market.