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The Paradox of Quality

  |  January 6, 2006   |  Comments

With an expected boom in HDTV sales, why would anyone want to look at online video ads?

We all do it. We wait, squint, tweak the volume, and patiently endure an online video clip just long enough to get the gist of what we're looking at. Sometimes we never see the clip, due to bandwidth logjams, even with broadband-speed access.

Have we been listening to more hype and less reality regarding the online video experience? Maybe. Then again, we have a lot of different video formats at our disposal nowadays. How you adopt this new technology can greatly affect your approach to utilizing video in online advertising.

In some ways, bad video makes you appreciate good video that much more. We're accustomed to the paradigm of small equals poor resolution and big means eye-popping quality. When we get online, our expectations aren't that high for a clear, crisp, audible, and smooth-running video presentation.

In many ways, that expectation will be a thing of the past. The Apple video compression technology H.264 running on QuickTime 7 is truly amazing to behold. And it's not limited to Web sites.

H.264 has been chosen as the standard codec (define) translation program for 3GPP (define), MPEG-4 (define) HD-DVD, and Blu-ray (define). Forgive the acronym-fest, but that's the lion's share of formats that will be available on devices today and in the future.

Think of it this way: the quality you get with H.264 will be available on small-screen mobile devices up to large-scale HDTV. This is the point where we all say, "Wow!" Now consider that someday you'll put your TV or online video ad on all these devices and get high-quality resolution. That's when a major component of online advertising's reality will come forth.

A recent Webcast for the California Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women and Families (sponsored in part by Apple) demonstrates the crisp, clear, colorful image quality that's now available.

Where is all this headed? Does everyone do this H.264 thing? Windows Media Player (WMP) isn't supporting H.264; in fact, WMP has decided to concentrate on features and is, for the time being, spending less time improving quality. Who knows, though, Apple and Microsoft could be planning to integrate H.264 into all formats. We'll just have to wait and see.

In the future, will we get the same quality everywhere? If technology follows its usual path, yes.

But what about Internet or TV everywhere? The new Slingbox is an imposing newcomer in the digital realm. With it, you can get TV programs on your PC anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Yet with this new technology, devices matter less and content takes center stage. Here again we face a quality and format barrier, as H.264 and the PAL (define) format for overseas TV can't utilize this new whiz-bang technology.

Oh, great. Now I can get annoying U.S. TV commercials when I'm in China. Is that really good?

Another limitation is the small window of video-compression quality control in Flash banners that are most commonly produced for online ad units. With Flash banner sizes being relatively small compared to standalone video spot sizes, specifically streaming units, you clearly see the difference in quality.

And let's not even get into the degradation of audio quality in Flash banners. I can only take so much frustration in one column.

With quality improving in some areas, portability enabled by new devices, and limited resolution within rich media ad units, we seem to have an odd form of video format diffusion. How does one look at online as an advertising medium when innovative vendors are trying so hard to be technological prodigies?

If all this new stuff seems a bit daunting, you're not alone. But that isn't a reason to wait until it gets better. The online masses accept varied online video quality. But as the standard rises, you'll have to take the quality quotient into account when producing video for your Web advertising. Until then, watch the quality race heat up.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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