Vudu’s New HDX Format Offers 1080p/24 Video with ‘Virtually No Artifacts’
Ideal for large-screen TVs, new format features super-high bit rates that might turn Blu-ray faithfuls into nearly-on-demand users.
Vudu, provider of IP-based video-on-demand, is launching a new 1080p format that is “virtually artifact free,” says CTO Prasana Ganesan.
The new format, called HDX, delivers the same 1080p/24 resolution as the company’s “Instant HD” format, but at more than twice the bit rates – on average around 9.5 Mbps, and as high as 20 Mbps for “complex scenes.”
The catch? As opposed to Vudu’s original HD format, which allows almost instant access to high-def movies, HDX makes you wait about 3 hours until you can start watching your on-demand video.
That three-hour window was the target for Vudu in creating a solution that balances “quality and convenience,” Ganesan says. “I can order a video at 4 pm at work, and start watching it at 7:00 when I get home.”
The higher bit rates were necessary for Vudu’s bleeding-edge customers (and especially non-customers) who have front projection systems yielding large images. “Even with true 1080p, you can still have artifacts,” Ganesan says.
He suggests that “a lot of people are waiting on the sidelines because Blu-ray has the best quality, but they’re looking for a combination of quality and convenience.”
How Does Vudu Do It?
To enable high-bit-rate 1080p/24 downloads in its self-imposed three-hour threshold, Vudu had to create a new encoding scheme – actually the same encoding scheme as its existing HD format, but better.
In short, Vudu looks at a film in its entirety, freeing up bandwidth in the boring scenes in order to blow the wad on action-packed sequences.
“We review the whole movie to maximize quality across the picture,” says Ganesan. “At the nine-minute mark, there might be lots of action so we would allocate extra [bandwidth]. At 10 minutes, there might be just a scene with talking heads that doesn’t need to be at 9 Mbps.”
Similar technology is used by Vudu to deliver instant HD, which enabled the company to be the first on-demand provider of “regular” 1080p/24 resolutions over IP.
“We’re using the same concepts we have used in the past, but the implementation has indeed improved,” Ganesan says. “We had some breakthroughs to get to the HD threshold where we could eliminate artifacts.”
Ganesan claims that, even now, “no other Internet services are even at 1080p,” let alone the higher bit rates of HDX.
The closest, he suggests, is cable on-demand, “but our tests have shown that we’re even better than cable because of better encoding.”
He explains that cable and satellite are encoded in real time, so there is no opportunity to analyze an entire movie to adjust bit rates.
Vudu hopes its HDX option will win over Blu-ray faithfuls who have been “unhappy with the level of quality available” with today’s on-demand options.
At launch today, Vudu is offering more than 50 films in HDX, and will be offering every newly released HD title in the new format. Vudu also will be encoding into HDX many of the HD movies in the existing Vudu catalog.
Currently, Vudu has about 300 HD titles.
HDX films can be rented or purchased at the same price as Instant HD content.
Updating existing Vudu boxes to make them HDX-capable requires a simple software download.
XXX: Will They or Won’t They?
OK, we know you’re wondering … now that Vudu has joined with the adult video community, will we see XXX films in HDX?
“Our intent is to do so,” says Ganesan, “but I’m not really sure. Instant access is probably more popular.”
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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