Why Isn’t Standard Definition Dead?

by Barrett

Anyone need a flowerpot?  I’m sorry, little Sony Trinitron TV, but it’s over.  Now, why can’t Hollywood just say the same thing about selling expensive standard definition media when high definition is clearly the standard?

Anyone need a flowerpot? I’m sorry, little Sony Trinitron TV, but it’s over. Now, why can’t Hollywood just say the same thing about selling expensive standard definition media when high definition is clearly the standard?

The revolution has come and gone.
The Borg won.
It’s 2013 and everything is HD now.

Every new TV or computer screen is HD capable with a film-like 16×9 screen.

Can you even remember what ancient TV sets look like with their 4×3 aspect ratio screens?
I’m sure your wallet does, after you emptied it when you bought your first HDTV.

But guess what?
You don’t have to penny pinch anymore to assimilate in our all-HD world.

HD Screens at the Bottom of Your Cracker Jack Box
I did some quick research at bestbuy.com.
Their cheapest TV set is a 19” 720p Coby HDTV for $99.99.
Granted, 720p is yesterday’s HD, but it’s still HD.

Yes, it’s a wicked small screen.
(Double your investment and you can get a respectable 32” 720p HDTV for $199.00!)

So if you haven’t gotten the memo yet, HDTV is officially cheap.

The same goes for computer monitors-

I saw a 19” LCD Planar for $107.84.
(Resolution: 1366×768)
Sure, I’ve never heard of Planar.
(Is it an alien planet six light years away?)
…But if you want the cheapest monitor in the store, even that one is HD.

So why then are old-school standard definition DVD players still for sale if every new screen out there is HD capable?

DVD players range from a cookie cutter Coby for $26.98 to HD upconversion tech for a whopping $48.00.
(Upconversion means they’ll play Blu-ray Discs at a weakened resolution.)

Yes, they’re ridiculously inexpensive, but what’s the deal?
Shouldn’t we be living in an all Blu-ray world by now?

Consumer Tech is all HD
If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, let me break it to you gently…
All your home tech can play and record video in HD too!

Smartphones like the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3?

All digital cameras and camcorders?


Buying Digital Downloads in SD is Silly
So if HD is a standard option in all consumer tech today,
why is HD still considered a premium option in all the digital content you buy??

When you click to download a TV episode or movie on Amazon or iTunes, you’re offered the choice to pay the standard price for SD or the higher price for HD.

What’s up with that?!

Why is Standard Definition Still Around?
There’s absolutely no reason to mention the term, ‘standard definition’ ever again when describing current technologies.
But for some reason, the League of Consumer Tech Robber Barons…
(Is there such a group?!)
…just won’t let SD die…

I’ll give you three guesses why…

Support Legacy Tech
Sure, I’ve got my old 13” Sony Trinitron hanging out in our guest room.
(not that a guest will ever want to turn it on!)
But when was the last time the tech industry paid attention to supporting legacy technology for consumer convenience?

I can barely stare at my computer or smartphone for two minutes before they prematurely age to the point they can no longer keep up with the newest OS or IOS.
(only a slight exaggeration)

Sometimes You Just Don’t Need a Huge Digital File
Maybe you want to protect your portable media player from huge HD files filling up its relatively small hard drive. So you ‘compromise’ by loading up inferior SD movie files so you can jam more flicks in.

Or if you want to email out a home movie clip and don’t want to use a file sharing service like Dropbox, your QuickTime or Windows Media file had better be compressed to something much smaller than hulking HD.

But these issues are really more about personal file management…
Let’s move on.

When You Hold the SD Price Point, HD Can Always Cost More!

If you want to check out “Argo,” the newly anointed Best Picture of 2012, you can go to iTunes.
Once there, you’ll have the choice to buy the HD file for $19.99 or $14.99 for SD.

And what exactly do you get for the $5 difference?
In most ways, they’re exactly the same.

They both display in the 16×9 aspect ratio.
It’s just that the HD version is a larger file with more lines of resolution…
…which yes, looks much better on a big HDTV.

The SD version has simply been compressed down more and doesn’t offer those precious lines of resolution to fit the HD category.
(at least 720 x 1280)

How Much Does a Line of Resolution Actually Cost?
I don’t mean to be thinking ‘different’…
But how much does a few thousand extra bytes really cost?

An HD movie file with more lines of resolution may look sharper to the eye,
but does it really cost any more to create and distribute?

I’m not so sure…

“Argo’s” master digital movie file is sitting somewhere in Hollywood on some well-protected computer or server. I bet the file is pretty massive.
Some tech nerd had the job to create several lower resolution versions for consumer use, including HD and SD.

That process involves compression technologies and time on a powerful computer.  The smaller the file size you’re shooting for, the harder the computer actually has to work to reduce the size and maintain quality.

So if you follow that logic, SD movie files should cost more than their HD cousins.
But of course they don’t…

I think the economics just boils down to this:
If it’s a better product, it’s simply going to cost more… regardless if it’s more costly to create.
(I learned that freshman year in Econ 101.)

So if SD is being kept on life support to help HD make more money,
I say let’s start saving some money with SD, while it’s on sale!

Watch Your Movies on your iPhone or iPad in Standard Definition
If that’s where you’re going to be watching your downloads, save your $$$ and go with the SD file. It’ll look just fine.
These tiny screens are really too small to justify paying 33% more for HD.
And think of all the hard drive space you’ll be saving…

But if you’re going to use those files on your massive HDTV, then you’ll definitely need to pony up the five extra bucks.

End the SD Subsidy!
One day, this standard definition subsidy will become a moot point, the same way I imagine black and white TVs originally propped up their pricier new color TV cousins.

SD still has its uses, but not as a wedge to artificially increase HD content pricing.

And with ultra high definition technologies around the corner, your may soon find your pride and joy HDTV that originally cost you two paychecks on the discount shelf at Best Buy for $19.99.