VIDEO PERFORMANCE For testing video playback, I already had a clip of the hip-hop parody video Lazy Sunday (made by Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell for Saturday Night Live) as well as Conviction, the pilot for a failed NBC series that featured actresses (portraying lawyers) who would soon be recast as the newest detectives on Law & Order and Criminal Intent. As for something new, I had missed the debut episode on NBC of Andy Barker, P.I., so I downloaded it from iTunes for $1.99.
Lazy Sunday, which was shot with a mini-DV camcorder, didn't have much video quality to speak of, but it was even more entertaining when viewed back on a TV screen, where it originated, than on my small computer monitor. Video quality on Conviction and Andy Barker, which were originally broadcast in high-def, had the look of analog broadcast TV, albeit in widescreen. The resolution was soft, somewhat short of DVD quality. On the other hand, some free high-def podcasts of documentary shorts I downloaded via iTunes from washingtonpost.com were sharper than any video currently sold by iTunes and a good taste of the higher video quality that Apple TV is capable of delivering.
The less than stellar quality of iTunes videos you buy and view on an HDTV via Apple TV is also in harsh contrast to the high-def menus and screensavers that Apple TV displays. For example, Apple chews up about 8 GB of the Apple TV's 40-GB drive loading it with, among other things, high-def photos of flowers that ascend the screen in various-size rectangles in a sort of reverse Tetris screensaver. The columns of images spin around 180° and continue to climb. An album of your own photographs can be substituted for the flowers, and even my trip-to-the-zoo photos taken with a 2-megapixel camera looked great. I only wished that the iTunes videos looked as good.
Of course, the issue of soft image quality would be remedied if iTunes offered high-def versions of its movie and TV-show downloads - but for now, it doesn't. Most iTunes users don't care because they're viewing content on iPods or relatively small computer screens. But perhaps Apple should take a tip from the Starz Vongo movie-rental and subscription service, which prompts you to choose between downloading a movie for viewing on a PC or on a portable player and then sends you the appropriate number of bits. One size does not fit all in a world of hugely divergent displays.
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