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ABC Hits Limits on Web HD

Jun 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

ABC isn’t promising that picture quality for the prime-time shows it rolls out on the Web in high definition will improve any time soon.
Last month, ABC announced it would make popular prime-time series available in HD over the Web starting in July. All the shows available on ABC.com will be seen at a screen size of 1,280 pixels by 720 pixels at 24 frames per second—which technically meets the minimum standard for high definition.
The hitch? The video will be extremely compressed in order to save bandwidth, consequently delivering a lower-quality high-def picture to viewers.
“Our main goal is to present the best quality experience to the consumer,” Disney-ABC Television Group spokeswoman Karen Hobson said. “We’re not trying to compete with HDTV. We just want to offer the consumer flexibility.”
ABC.com’s videos are files rather than live, streaming bits, which eliminates bandwidth fluctuations. To help users determine whether their broadband connection can deliver the HD programs, the site will provide an automatic bandwidth indicator. In addition, users need a computer with enough power to handle the load of processing HD-quality programs.
Ms. Hobson couldn’t confirm any plans by ABC to try to improve the picture quality on its HD player, but said the network is always looking for ways to evolve and enhance its offerings.
ABC recently said HD picture quality on the Web won’t match cable or satellite transmissions, according to Multichannel News.
Steve Ridge, executive VP of Frank Magid Associates, said that although ABC’s HD Web offerings may not exhibit the highest intended quality, it’s still worth it to place sharper-looking content on the Web.
“This is another way to introduce potential viewers to HD,” Mr. Ridge said. “There is low understanding and awareness about high-def, and this will help further educate them.”
Mr. Ridge also sees putting shows online as a great way to reach viewers on multiple platforms.
“There are certain people that gravitate toward the Web, and this is an opportunity to cross-sell them,” he said. “If viewers think it looks good on the Web, then maybe they’ll want to see it in HD on the big screen.”
ABC.com plans to offer select episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” starting next month, when the player launches in beta. More shows will be added in the fall with the launch of the 2007-08 season.

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