VUDU has been trialing higher quality HD downloads for a little while, but now they’re officially available for all users. The so-called HDX downloads are 1080p24 downloads which take longer to download but offer superior image quality compared to their usual ‘instant on’ highly compressed downloads. I’ve said before that I’d rather have quality over speed for most of my movie viewing, and I’d take Blu-ray over HD downloads be cause the services out there over-compress the content. As I said, all 1080p content is not the same.
So it is nice to see VUDU giving users the option to wait a little longer and get higher quality content instead of being limited to fast but comparatively poor quality playback. However, they don’t say just what the quality level is. They talk resolution, but, as I’ve said, resolution is just part of the puzzle. All 1080p24 content is, by definition, the same resolution. But if one is 40Mbps and the other is 4Mbps, all else being equal (same codec, etc), one is going to be much higher in quality. I really would like to know what the HDX bitrate is. Conventional non-HDX HD content from VUDU requires 4Mbps, I’m presuming HDX is higher, but how much?
Some press is calling it Blu-ray quality, but that’s bunk. Even without knowing the bitrate being used I’m positive it doesn’t match Blu-ray, and I’m just as positive it doesn’t use lossless audio like Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD-MA. The website says:
HDX technology delivers the best available surround sound quality for Internet delivered movies with immersive, high resolution sound at a 40% higher bit-rate than standard surround sound DVD’s.
‘Standard surround sound DVDs’ use Dolbly Digital at 448Kbps, sounds like they’re using Dolby Digital at 640Kbps.
HDX is definitely a step in the right directly, IMHO, but don’t believe it is Blu-ray quality.
EDIT: Found this from David Pogue at The New York Times:
To see why HDX looks so good — especially on big screens — check its data rate, a measure of how much information is used to describe each frame of the video. It averages around 9 megabits a second, but spikes to 20 during action scenes. Compare that with Vudu standard definition: (2.2 megabits a second), Vudu and Apple TV high definition (4), regular DVD (8) or Blu-ray DVD (40). In other words, HDX quality is somewhere between DVD and Blu-ray. The audio offers a 40 percent improvement, too.
That is a marked improvement over their normal HD streams, but yes, still not Blu-ray quality. It does make the product more appealing in my eyes though, and certainly puts VUDU in the lead as far as HD download services go. I’m not sure if he’s comparing just video bit rates or what – DVD’s full video rate is ~10Mbps, but that’s MPEG-2 so apples and oranges to the others which are H.264. Blu-ray is 40Mbps max for video (not that it is all used normally), 54Mbps total bit rate.
HDX raises my personal interest in VUDU, though with a TiVo Series3, PlayStation3, and SlingCatcher already it isn’t high enough yet to get me to put another box under my TV.