Last night, Duane came over and we decided to test out the new HD Movie rental options on my new AppleTV. We choose Michael Clayton as neither of us had seen it and figured it was a good choice because we didn’t really know much about the story. Note: the HD movie rentals are currently only available from the US iTunes store (so you need a US iTunes account). Canada is due to get them “by the end of 2008”.
I wasn’t sure how this would work since presumably the HD movie file is ginormous and perhaps we should have ordered it earlier so that more of it would be downloaded. Fortunately, it only took a few minutes before it was ready to begin watching and it was streaming the rest down in the background. So we settled in and started watching the movie.
Initially there was a little stutter but that was only during the studio intros and then once the movie got going it was playing back like normal. The picture quality was pretty decent and the sound was Dolby 5.1. I might need to have Mr. Bollwitt over soon to help me rewire things to get rid of the ground hum I have.
Anytime you have compressed video playing back on a high definition monitor (I have a 37″ HDTV that tops out at 1080i), you’ll notice any imperfections in the source video. I wasn’t expecting HD-DVD quality from a downloaded source but it was pretty decent….as good as my Shaw HDTV receiver.
Until the movie got dark that is. At first we noticed some heavy compression artifacts in some of the opening outdoor scenes. These scenes seem to take place in the early morning but I’m pretty sure they weren’t meant to look like they had been rotoscoped (ala A Scanner Darkly). See for yourself in these shots I took below….keep in mind the blacks around the movie are in fact true and my camera was just blowing them out…you should still see the effect I’m talking about.
You can also see some of the artifacts around George here:
While this wasn’t quite what I was expecting from a quality standpoint, it was really only an issue during very low light scenes. All the other scenes seemed fine and since I’ve never seen the movie another way, I can only assume this ‘look’ isn’t something the director was going after and was in fact a byproduct of the digital download. Still it was pretty slick to have Duane come over and within minutes we were watching a big Hollywood movie in HD with no media involved.
This also didn’t seem to deter Duane from picking up his own Apple TV today as well. Stay tuned for future rental reports from both of us.