Thurrott goes from “amazing” to “horrible” to describe iTunes video shown on large TV

“When Apple Computer started offering short videos and TV show episodes for $1.99 through its iTunes Music Store late last year, I thought it was a good idea… The problem is, in the real world, these videos don’t represent a good deal at all. And now I’m beginning to rethink my opinion on downloadable digital video. In fact, it’s unclear to me why any individuals need to own this content at all,” Paul Thurrott writes for Connected Home Media. “My first glimpse into the problem came last October, when Apple released its video iPod and added the first round of videos to the iTunes Music Store. I immediately downloaded a small collection of test videos, including a few TV show episodes (the pilot episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives) and a couple music videos. The quality wasn’t inspiring. Because the Apple downloads are matched to the capabilities of the iPod, they’re encoded at 320 x 240 and about 650Kbps. This resolution is lower than that of standard-definition TV. Put another way, it’s poorer quality than VHS, a technology that’s over 25 years old.”

“When you watch these videos on an iPod screen, they actually look startlingly good, thanks to the small size of the display,” Thurrott writes. “The quality problems are exacerbated when you try to watch these videos elsewhere. There are two logical alternatives: a notebook or desktop computer, or a TV set. As computer files, the videos you download from iTunes will work fine on any Windows PC or Macintosh, assuming that you’ve installed iTunes and authorized that device to play videos you’ve purchased. But the high-resolution screens of most PCs—my iMac runs at 1680 x 1050, for example—makes the tiny iTunes videos look like animated icons, they’re so small. And when you enlarge them, the low quality of the encoding becomes apparent, with banding, artifacting, and other visual errors. They look horrible.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: “They look horrible,” writes Paul Thurrott. Hmm, Thurrott… Now why does that name seem familiar? Oh yeah, Thurrott’s the same same guy who wrote for WinInfo on October 28, 2005, “I’ve been playing with a new iPod with video, the Apple Universal Dock, and the new Apple Remote for the past week, and I have two observations. First, despite years of experience with portable video, I’m super impressed with both the iPod video and the video formats (MPEG-4 and H.264) that it utilizes; even at 320 x 240 (or 480 x 270, as I’ve encoded my widescreen videos in), these movies look great blasted out to a large TV set, albeit with sub-DVD-style artifacts here and there. Second, I’m suddenly hooked on the TV show ‘Lost.’ I purchased the show’s premiere episode via iTunes to test the iPod, and now my wife and I are several episodes in and there’s no turning back.”

So, which is it, Paul? Apple has changed nothing regarding iTunes Store video quality between October and today. The canyon between “horrible” and “amazing” is just a tad too wide for us to get a good feel for what you really think. Or do you just scribble whatever you feel like based on whatever random whim strikes you?

Regardless of Thurrott’s strange about-face, yes, it would be nice if Apple could up the video quality (and the music quality) if the content owners (TV producers and music labels) would allow such increases (don’t hold your breath). And, yes — referring to another of Thurrott’s points in his full article — for video content, a subscription service for iTunes would be a welcome option; pay a monthly fee, watch TV, just like cable (or in place of cable).

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Related articles:
Thurrott: ‘I’m super impressed with Apple’s iPod video, looks great blasted out to large TV set’ – October 28, 2005


  1. Turdrott is a schizophrenic hypocrite. I simply ignore his drivel these days. Of course it looks like shit on a 1680 x 1050 display, we didn’t need his genius ass to point this out to us. Hook it up to a standard TV set (720×480 tops) and it looks fine.

  2. He is right Apple is selling shabby videos. Also, no Closed Captioning sucks big time and its illegal.

    “Because right now, iTunes is broken. And anyone who spends good money on such low-quality videos is just hurting themselves and retarding the market for truly viable services.”

  3. Annoying as he may be, he’s totally right on this one. The only video I downloaded was Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. The quality of that video is just terrible on anything but an iPod. Other previews I’ve seen look better, but I’m not purchasing any more.

    As for other quality, thanks to the latest version of Handbrake and OSX 10.4.5, the H264 encoding from DVD’s is much better. So I’ve started ripping the music video’s I’ve bought over the years and put them into iTunes manually instead – resolution is double that of iTunes. Much better picture.

  4. The iTunes videos are okay for watching on a normal TV or the iPod V. But, when I watch them on my 12 laptop screen, I can definitely see the artifacts. It looks worse than video that comes off a TiVo in high quality (not even best).

    If Apple is trying to take over the living room with the overpriced Mac Mini and these songs that won’t look at all decent on a HDTV, then they are going to fail.

    I really like where they are heading with all of this stuff, but they had better drop prices and get higher quality video out there or they are not going to make it.

  5. um…i have a 23″ LCD and an AlchemyTV card…and i can say quite confidently that NORMAL TV looks like doo-doo at 1600×1200. looks terrible.

    iTunes video was never billed as HDTV quality. it’s a freakin DOWNLOAD so it needs to be small. you should know better, Thurrott.

  6. Anyones notice this:

    When I started downloading LOST episodes and watch them when iTunes with video was first released, you could see artifacts in the video.

    I just downloaded the last LOST, becasue I missed it, and the quality was amazingly better than how it was previously done! Amazingly!

    Did I miss the news exerpt about the higher quality going up?

    I watched both on my 23″HD display, and my TV.

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