Vimeo’s “HD” isn’t HD

vimeo hd
Update: Vimeo adds a scaling toggle.

Vimeo launched an “HD” channel today, but you’ll find it very difficult to watch any actual high definition content. High-definition means either 720p format or 1080i. We’re just going to be talking about meeting the bare minimum requirements to be considered HD so we’ll just cover 720p, which is 1280×720 pixels (also 1080i is interlaced so you might as well be watching VHS).

[All of the pictures in the following post can be clicked to view at full resolution.]

vimeo hd
When you look at the High Def channel you’ll see text at the top explaining that Vimeo now supports 1280×720 video “automagically” (I would have used that word even if they hadn’t). The first thing that struck me as odd was the channel videos were only 460×259. Why weren’t they bigger to show off their glorious new format?

vimeo hd
Visiting the video’s page reveals a larger 640×360 version of the video. Half of actual 720p HD. The player gives you a button to watch fullscreen, but that just blows the video up to the full resolution of your monitor. There is no way to watch the video at its native resolution of 1280×720.

vimeo hd
Above is a size comparison of Vimeo’s HD video to an actual 720p video.

vimeo hd
Vimeo’s player also features and a button to turn “HD” on or off. This gives insight into what Vimeo means by HD; they’re encoding the clips at two different bitrates and the button selects which one to play. The higher bitrate takes longer to encode, but you get a higher quality video.

vimeo hd
Above is a comparison of the two bitrates. I would have put the example video in the post, but the embedded player doesn’t support HD.

Vimeo’s HD channel features high bitrate videos in a 16:9 widescreen format, but until you can view videos at their native 1280×720 resolution it’s not HD video. It’s definitely high quality video (much better than YouTube’s pseudo-widescreen), but calling it HD only adds to an already confused marketplace.

If you’re the adventurous type, you can use Firebug (or Greasemonkey) to modify the video page’s embed tag so it displays at 1280×720. It looks pretty good; far better than stretching it across a 1920×1200 monitor.

Aside: Two places where I enjoy high resolution video content: Apple movie trailers, you can get trailers in 480p (ExtendedDef), 720p, and 1080p. GameTrailers HD, you can watch next generation video game reviews in 540p (1080i equivalent).

Footnotes: Found Vimeo HD channel via Waxy. Example video is Make Believe posted by Amir. Bitrate comparison image is from Daylight HV20 Test posted by HooverDST.

Update for clarity 12:45pm: Vimeo keeps the original resolution of 1280×720, but doesn’t give you any way to easily watch it at that resolution. All they need is a button that lets you watch it at 1280×720. Scaling down from 720p is fine for image quality, but it’s not HD. Scaling up from 720p is utter shit.


16 thoughts on “Vimeo’s “HD” isn’t HD

  1. Vimeo HD really, truly is HD. The videos are 1280×720, they just have to be displayed at half width in order to fit in a sane web layout. You see the entire image in full screen mode. We’re not blowing up a smaller image when you go full screen, it’s actually that you’re looking at half the image when it’s on a web page. We hate the way the term “HD” has been confused, too, which is why we did HD right and proper with no tricks or gimmicks, in true 1280×720. Take another look!


  2. The video is a 1280×720 *scaled down* to fit in a web page. As soon as you hit the Full Screen button, the same video expands to fill your screen, and you see a 1280×720 image *scaled to 2134×1200* (or whatever your screen’s resolution is).


  3. Use DownloadHelper or a similar tool (even Firebug) to catch the URL for the HD .flv, download it and open it in Quicktime. Try it with the Jake & Amir video. If it’s not 1280×720 I will literally give you a million dollars.


  4. Pingback: RobotSkirts » Blog Archive » Vimeo adds scaling toggle

  5. Kevin says:

    First off Eliot, at the very beginning you say “High-definition means either 720p format or 1080i.” What about 1080p? Just because nothing is broadcast at that resolution doesn’t exclude it from the HD Umbrella.

    Second, Vimeo’s attempt at HD is admirable, but ultimately pointless. They take your source footage shot at 720p and compress the hell out of it using flash encoding, so all the beautiful detail is basically lost. Just pause any of the their HD videos, and you’ll see the large color banding and pixelation. I’ll concede that it’s better than youTube. But those guys seriously have to do better.

    Excluding H264 which is used to encode your HD-DVD and BluRay movies, the other encoding that does a very admirable job is DivX HD, which when streamed, looks beautiful unlike Vimeo’s pixelated garbage. Back to the drawing board Vimeo.


  6. That’s a silly argument Kevin. It doesn’t matter what the video looks like Paused as long as it looks good while playing at normal speed. The only video codec I know of that looks good paused is MJPEG, which isn’t really a video codec at all, just a whole lot of jpeg’s in a video file.


  7. Jeremy says:

    “Scaling up from 720p is utter shit.”

    That post update is shit. The lack of a button was never the issue, but you bring that up instead of just admitting you were wrong. Lame.


  8. Jake says:

    I think Elliot needs to change this post. It was on the first page of search results in google. I read the entire thing, and it took me until the comments section to realize Vimeo actually is HD.


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