Has Microsoft gimped 3rd party video on purpose?

2 min read


Not long after the release of the new, Kinect-driven “Metro” dashboard for the Xbox 360, people noticed a degradation of video playback quality. A more recent analysis of the issue by Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry suggests that the gimped video playback is being done on purpose.

A 1080p video, played on the Xbox 360, has washed out colours is rendered in 720p and then upscaled to 1080p. and The same video, played back on just about any other high definition player renders in 1080p native. The same seems to be true for 3rd party video apps like Vudu on the new dashboard.

But why?

After extensive analysis, Digital Foundry’s come to the conclusion that the software development kits given to third parties is intentionally limited to lower-quality video. It’s new to the Metro Dash, because playback on older dashboards in unaffected.

“The obvious conclusion is that the SDK Microsoft is believed to have supplied to third-party video partners is limited to 720p only, leaving Microsoft’s host service with a clear quality advantage,” says Digital Foundry.

While the Xbox 360 has no problem whatsoever decoding 1080p video, it is no longer being rendered in native resolution. To illustrate the issues, here we see the same full HD video being run on an older NXE dash at 1080p, and the new Metro offering at both 720p and 1080p. As you can see when clicking on the thumbnails, just about all the detail is being resolved on the older front end, but the Metro dash’s 720p and 1080p images are effectively identical in terms of core resolution.

Curiously, video streamed through Microsoft’s own Zune video service on the Xbox 360 comes through in crystal-clear, full resolution. Why would Microsoft do this? If it isn’t some sort of oversight, there’s only one logical conclusion; Microsoft’s trying to make its own video services seems superior, and it makes sense; with all the new video streaming apps and services bound for Microsoft’s console, they’re trying to position themselves as the premier destination for video content.

Adding credence to these claims is that these issues were brought up with Microsoft during the Metro dashboards extensive beta – but threads on the feedback forum were either deleted or closed without comment. If it’s true, and Microsoft’s purposefully hampered 3rd party  and homegrown video playback in favour of their own, then I have to say; that’s a bit of a dick move – and a case of shooting oneself in one’s own foot.

Last Updated: January 9, 2012

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