Now that I own my own HDTV, I decided to see how the widescreen movies I encoded for my iPod played back in high def. I connected my iPod to my new TV. In Videos -> Video Settings I set both Widescreen and TV Out to “On”. Then I selected a video and played it.
There are a couple things you need to take into account when connecting to your HDTV from the iPod:
First, you are creating a standard definition signal from your iPod. To the best of my knowledge the current generation of iPods doesn’t do HDMI or anything like that. So you’re going to want to compare your video quality to the way DVDs play back on your TV and not, say, a true High Definition signal.
Second, you’ve got to use your most optimal compression for that big screen and that means QuickTime Pro. It allows you to bypass the published iPod 768 kbps limits and produce 624×352 video at 1600+ kbps. Obviously, you can produce better video quality than that, and you can even watch it in iTunes or Front Row, but it won’t sync to your iPod.
More after the jump…
The videos I watched were captured in high def then converted via QuickTime Pro (1600+ kbps) and MPEG Streamclip (768 kbps). They were then imported into iTunes and synchronized to the iPod.
On my big HDTV, the lower bandwidth video stood out for its awfulness. It was choppy and blocky and full of artifacts–clearly a homebrew product.
Unfortunately, the higher bandwidth video wasn’t all that much better. It was certainly more “watchable”, if watchable is a synonym for stand as far away from the set as possible so it all kinds of blurs together, but it wasn’t “good”, where good is defined by not noticing that this whole setup was put together by Rube Goldberg.
I know I’m being overly harsh because when I played it back using the TV’s SDTV settings using a pillarbox display, with the movie itself letterboxed into the pillarbox, it didn’t look that bad. But when zoomed to fit the entire screen rather than about a quarter of it, you could really see lots of visual flaws.
So is this a fair test? Playing back a letterboxed SDTV signal on a HDTV screen and then zooming into the letterboxed area? I decided to rig the results a bit. Instead of going homebrew HDTV, I played back my one iTunes-bought widescreen movie instead: Grosse Pointe Blank. Professionally compressed at 640×344 pixels and 1500 kbps the quality was comparable to the homebrew. In other words? Meh.
It was “watchable”.
Update: for a High Def chuckle, read this humorous post from Wired.