Zune Video on Xbox Live Cannot Come Close To Blu-Ray

July 24, 2009

At this year’s E3, Microsoft again managed to kick off the show with a bang. They introduced games on demand, which allows for full game downloads over XBOX Live. Then they followed that up with their official entry into the casual market with Project: Natal. The Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm integration announcement would follow. Lastly came what I thought was the biggest exclamation point: True 1080p instant on movie playback then rebranding it as the Zune Marketplace.

Since the announcement of the Zune marketplace, many platform-specific fanboy “journalists”, XBots, and the HD-DVD faithful alike (or whatever is left of them) have declared an all out victory over Blu-Ray Disc. All of these “journalists” at the same time have managed to also become part-time video-philes, and since they can read facts from Wikipedia about video compression and streaming they’re now the final word on the fate of Blu-Ray. Unfortunately they couldn’t be anymore wrong.

This is not a rant, I just want to set the record straight for those who have a serious misunderstanding about the facts; and along the way I would like to instill something that I like to call common sense in people’s minds.

On a recent interview with tqcast.com, Microsoft’s senior marketing editor answered some questions about the Zune Marketplace on Xbox Live. This is the question that in my opinion should have sounded the alarm for anyone paying attention.

Q: Will 360 owners need the fastest Internet connection possible? Will this work on a slower broadband connection such as a “1.5Mbps DL” connection?

A: The beauty of the experience is movies and TV shows on Zune video will automatically scale to the best possible resolution based on the speed of your connection. For example, if you have a 6 Mbps connection, you’ll still get 1080p and a great audio experience, but may not get 5.1. And as a back up, anyone can have a 1080p/5.1 experience, but they may be required to download the content instead of streaming it if they don’t have an 8 – 10 Mbps broadband connection.

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OK, seriously? Who has a constant 6Mbps connection? Even if you do have that speed at your disposal it still does not guarantee you 5.1 surround sound. Don’t worry if you don’t though,  just in case you can always just download it. Currently, 720p movie downloads on the marketplace take about 2-3 hours (if you’re lucky), so a 1080p movie with 5.1 should only take, oh I don’t know, probably somewhere around 8 hours. Awesome.

As it stands, according to Pew Research Center Publications, the Home Broadband Adoption rate in the U.S. at 63% of all internet users. Of those 63%, only 3.8% make up the population using fiber optic (Verizon/Bell FiOS) connections. So let’s break this down shall we, that means that 96.2% of all broadband user’s wont be able to use the Zune marketplace instant on at it’s full potential and/or will wind up downloading movies just like the current marketplace anyway. Then what’s the point?

One thing that doesn’t match up (I don’t care how good your connection is) is quality. Even if you do have the 10Mbps for the Zune Marketplace, it still can’t be compared to whopping bandwidth provided by the average Blu-Ray. Disney’s Car’s on BD for example runs around 37Mbps on average, peeking at 40 or so. This is where common sense comes into play. The fact of the matter is, is that 37 is always bigger than 10. There is no true comparison. When we bring audio into the equation, it’s not even fair. You can compare any lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 (Zune Marketplace audio codec) track to the sonic boom provided on BD with your choice of lossless formats such as Dolby True HD, DTS-Master Audio, or Uncompressed PCM and you’ll see the proof is in the pudding.

Digital downloads are the future; I have no doubt in that. That being said let it stay there in the future where it belongs; or at least until Internet connections can catch up to the demands of HD video and uncompressed sound streaming. In the mean time, rather than bashing it, people should take advantage of what will no doubt be the last physical (collectible) movie medium. You can either take advantage of every single pixel in that 1080p set that you’ve worked so hard for, or you can just settle for less. It’s your call.

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Joel Taveras

Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.

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