As Apple launched its new lossless and high-resolution service last week it gave me pause for thought. Although Apple Music certainly isn’t the first streaming service to boost quality, it does mark one of the few times in recent history that streaming became better than something we had 10 years ago.
I’ll explain. The CD was a lossless digital format that launched in the 1980s and it was basically the last time a consumer audio format got a quality boost. After CD we went to Minidisc, which wasn’t better quality and then MP3s, which definitely weren’t better quality and now we’re finally getting mass market adoption of high resolution and lossless audio.
I can hear a couple of you out there screaming “what about Super Audio CD” or “you forgot DVD-Audio” and you’re quite correct. Both of these formats promised a lot, but high costs and lack of material held them back at the time. It’s a shame really, but SACD in particular was well ahead of its time, and that can be problem in its own right.
We are now facing a similar problem with streaming. I have totally given up on adding to my disc format collection. I stopped buying Blu-rays a long time ago and haven’t even got a UHD Blu-ray player. Yes, I’m very much part of the problem, which I realised when I was looking at a sub-part Netflix stream the other day.
As things stand now, UHD Blu-ray is the pinnacle of high-quality video. It’s built on everything the technology industry has learnt over decades about how to compress video without destroying it. It preserves colour information and doesn’t suffer from terrible blocking artifacts. And, best of all, it doesn’t require you have a lot of internet bandwidth to work. Streaming video chucks quality away for convenience and lower costs.
Considering that, I would absolutely love it if Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and everyone else could offer an enhanced tier that would increase the potential bit rate considerably. At the moment, even 4K video on streaming services can end up looking less visually impressive than an HD Blu-ray. With people rushing to buy expensive TVs they are literally wasting money, because fancy displays are no good if you feed them garbage video.