There's nothing HD about the Zune HD
This guest article was submitted by Ben L.
I tend to be a serious HD junkie. I like my media in HD, and I like my displays to have HD resolutions. I even keep the same movies on my computer in 480p, 720p, and 1080p. More than anything, I love it when HD content is set up and displayed correctly so that it can be viewed the way that it was meant to be.
Sadly, some companies use the "HD" term as a buzz word to mislead consumers (perfect example here). In that regard, I have an issue with the Microsoft Zune HD that Jenn and Chris recently reviewed.
Before we jump in, I'd like to mention that I wouldn’t be writing this if the Zune HD wasn’t attempting to be a MID. But since it's got a web browser, an app store, and the whole shebang, I can't help myself.
So then, there are two major issues with the "HD" in Zune HD.
The first is that the player itself cannot display HD content. Simply put, HD video standards are resolutions of 1280×720 (720p) or 1920×1080 (1080p). The Zune HD's screen is pathetic by comparison at a measly 480×272, barely 14% of the lowest HD standard (720p) and hardly 6% of the full HD spec (1080p).
The only reason the Zune HD can sort of get away with using HD in its name is that it can output HD video to an external display. Sounds pretty cool, right? Too bad it is only possible with the optional $90 Zune HD AV Dock! At that price, I’m skeptical that the dock doesn’t have some sort of processing components inside it that assist the player in displaying HD video; otherwise, why not just have cables that plug directly into the Zune’s port and then output to HDMI? This would make much more sense, as the player could become a portable HD media center you could take to a friend's house. But no! The only way you can share that great HD content with your friend is by unplugging your $90 dock and lugging it, along with the its separate A/C adapter, to your pal's place to hook it up there. That really ruins the idea of having an HD-capable media center in your pocket.
The second issue is having HD content on a device like this to begin with. Unless there is some magic involved that I am not aware of, putting HD content and playing it back on the Zune HD is just a bad idea. There are two possible ways that this could happen:
Scenario #1 (most likely): If a user puts all of their media in HD on their device, the Zune HD has to scale down the videos in real-time each time the video is viewed. This takes significant processing power and is a huge drain on battery life when compared to simply playing the video back at its native resolution. In all likelihood, a user will be using the Zune HD on the go much more frequently than they will have it hooked up to an HDTV. And yet they will be suffering the battery loss of trying to play back these HD videos on their device without actually getting the benefit of HD content because of the player's low screen resolution.
Scenario #2 (would fix the above issue, but create a new one): So what if the Zune software automatically created a pre-scaled version of the HD video (to the Zune HD’s native resolution) and loaded both onto the Zune HD, negating the need to downres in real-time? Sure, that would prevent downresing and save battery life, but at the expense of a lot of wasted storage. I did mention earlier that I have the same movies on my computer in 480p, 720p, and 1080p, but I also have a 1TB drive to house my media, so space isn’t much of a concern. The largest Zune HD that one can purchase is only 32GB, making this redundancy technique much less practical.
So there you have it.
If you ask me, there's nothing very HD about the Zune HD at all and the term doesn’t belong anywhere in its name. Why don't we just call it the Zune Baseball? After all, it’ll function as a baseball . . . as long as you provide the bat.
Ben L. has had an interest in all fields of technology for many years. His fascination with mobile technology started back in the days of the PDA; he has watched and blogged as the UMPC, netbook, and MID began to dominate the mobile technology world and continues to wonder where mobile tech will take us next.