Yup, downloading HD sounds like a great disc alternative - in theory, even more convenient than using Netflix. But since when is a Sound & Visioner just about convenience? We want quality. Before hooking up an Ether-anything, we want to know: How will HD downloads look? How will they sound? From spec sheets alone, 720p downloads sure don't match up to the 1080p resolution available on Blu-ray and HD DVD. And forget about flowing any uncompressed audio through those Web pipes - there is none (though 5.1-channel surround is available).
Then there's the matter of practicality. Although it's supposedly easier to download a movie than to go to Blockbuster, just how long will it take before all 0.92 million pixels per frame finally find their way to your family room? And if download quality is indeed subpar now, can it ever match the pristineness of (insert winner of Blu-ray/HD DVD format war here)?
Even Lex Luthor Wasn't This Big a Pain
The first thing I had to do was find out if current HD downloads are a formidable foe to the nascent HD disc formats. Thus, I launched a face-off between two versions of the same movie - one on Blu-ray, the other a download. As I began my testing, Microsoft had just launched Xbox Live, offering roughly a dozen high-def flicks, so I adopted it as our lab rat.
Of the Xbox HD movies, only a few were also available on Blu-ray or HD DVD. I went with Superman Returns and Swordfish - two very different films, though both released by Warner Bros. (recognized for superior high-def disc transfers).
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