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.]
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?
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’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’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).
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.