For an entire industry that defines itself based on the word "quality", today there is still no agreed upon standard for what classifies HD quality video on the web. Both Microsoft and Adobe have different views on what classifies a video as HD and many content owners I speak don't truly know themselves how to classify HD video on the web. If the industry wants to progress with HD quality video, we're going to have to agree on a standard – and fast.
This isn't the first time I have written about the HD video problem and every time the subject comes up, you get a lot of comments from people who all have different options on how HD video should be classified. Some want the rate at which the video is encoded to be the deciding factor, others think it should be the size of the window (called aspect ratio) and some say it's the resolution that's the determines what is HD or not. While all of these examples could be the way to decide what is HD, the fact of the matter is that to date, no one has agreed upon anything. We have content owners calling videos HD that in my book, and many others, is not truly HD. Simply scaling up the aspect ratio by itself does not mean you've achieved an HD stream.
To me, the term HD should refer to and be defined only by the resolution and not by a minimum bitrate requirement. Since you could have a 1080p HD video encoded at a very low bitrate, which could result in a poor viewing experience inferior to that of a higher-bitrate video in SD resolution, the resolution and bitrate is the only way to define HD. One thing I did notice about the March Madness videos is that Microsoft and CBS are using the term "HQ" in the payer instead of HD. I think this is a smart move on their part as a way to help define what is considered high quality video, content encoded at a higher bitrate, but content that is not truly HD. It seems as if Microsoft is going out of their way to tell content owners to only call video HD if it is at least 1280 pixels wide.
Adobe on the other hand is calling 480p HD but I don't agree that 480p should be classified as an HD size for web content. If 480p is not defined as HD video quaity for the TV, why should it be for the PC? I think HD video needs to be defined using the broadcast standard of 720p, 1080i or 1080p. One thing that might make this a bit more complex is that there are more devices playing back web video than just the PC. When I download an HD show from iTunes and play it on a 50" TV, it looks great, but does not look even close to Blu-ray. Is that a fair comparison? Where do you stop comparing the quality of the video to the device it is being played back on?
It's important to remember that an industry standard needs to be created not for those in the industry but rather for viewers. Consumers don't care what codec is being used, what the bitrate is or how the video is being delivered. But they do care about quality and we can't expect them to want to adopt HD quality video when the industry itself has not even defined what HD video is.
So, what is HD quality video on the web? What is the definition and more importantly, what is it going to take to get both Microsoft and Adobe to agree to use the same standard so that content owners aren't confused? For all the competition amongst the two companies, some things need to be worked on together, with the understanding that it will help everyone in the industry if done correctly. I think Microsoft has started to do this with their definition but without Adobe and others agreeing to all use the same metrics, it's will only slow down the adoption of HD. So Microsoft, Adobe, what is it going to take for you guys to publish an agreed upon HD web video standard? We're waiting.