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    The Computer Audiophile

    Free Higher Resolution Upgrades*

    This month Apple announced its 4K HDR AppleTV, in addition to some other higher profile products. Sure, 4K is cool from a technology perspective and for those who sit very close to very large televisions. Better than 4K is the inclusion of HDR, or high dynamic range. Audiophiles needn't hit up Wikipedia for that one. Just like in music, where dynamic range can make or break an album, high dynamic range can make a film much better than the jump from 1080p to 4K. But, this article isn't about 4K, HDR or television at all. It's about Apple's announcement that it will also upgrade 1080p HD movies, that people have purchased through AppleTV, automatically to the 4K / HDR versions at no cost to the consumer. In addition, Apple won't charge a premium price for 4K content going forward. 

     

    Wait, what!? This sounds like an alternate universe from that in which audiophiles live. Imagine every time a "better" version of an album was released, we received it at no charge or we could purchase the album for the first time at the same price as the previous versions. 

     

    Album Dream Land

     

    • Lossy 16 bit / 44.1 = $10
    • Lossless 16 bit / 44.1 kHz = $10
    • 24 bit / 96 kHz = $10
    • 24 bit / 192 kHz = $10
    • DSD = $10
    • MQA = $10

     


    The example above isn't apples to apples, comparing the current state of music purchasing and streaming with what Apple is doing for its customers, but it gets one's brain thinking about what's going on and the possibilities. Let me continue this area of thought, even though it may be a little all over the place. Again, it gets the brain going. 

     

    Purchasing video through AppleTV or iTunes gives the purchaser access to that video from any Apple device without additional cost. Apple also allows renting a video for around 1/3 or 1/4 the price of the purchase, but access is limited to a finite number of hours. I don't currently know of an audio purchasing or streaming model that works the same way, thus reason why this isn't apples to apples. 

     

    There's no free lunch or free higher resolution. In other words, someone is paying for this "free" 4K upgrade. My cursory search lead to no information about Apple eating the cost for its customers or the content owners agreeing to an actual free upgrade. It appears the the content owners have agreed, begrudgingly, to allow Apple to sell the 4K versions at the same price as the 1080p HD versions. If Apple is paying for the 4K upgrades behind the scenes (similar to how Amazon paid Universal $9 per album for Lady Gaga's Born This Way release, but offered it to customers for $0.99), the cost could be baked into the new and required 4K AppleTV or Apple is just freeing up some of that cash stored in Ireland. 

     

     


    "I have to have 4K video because it's so much better than 1080HD."
     - said no civilian consumer ever.

     

     

    "I have to have high resolution audio because it's so much better than CD."
     - said no civilian consumer ever.

     

     

     

    Is this type of upgrade even possible in our world of high resolution music? For starters there is a parallel, in that civilians watching video on standard sized televisions from normal viewing distances, likely won't notice a difference between 1080p and 4K (image), just like civilians listening to high resolution music in the car or on Apple earPods, likely won't notice a difference from MP3. In other words, has any civilian really asked for 4K or high resolution audio? That similarity aside, the only thing reasonably close to Apple's "free" upgrade, is Tidal offering its HiFi customers access to MQA music at no additional charge. Like it, love it, or hate it, MQA is a new version for which Tidal, and likely the record labels, wanted to charge a premium, but the smart people prevailed (thanks Pål). 

     

    Outside of the Tidal MQA example, I don't see any company in high resolution music with any sizable leverage to persuade record labels into a "free" high resolution upgrade. I for sure don't see any audio company with enough money to cover the cost behind the scenes. Yes, there was the PonoPromise, that said if a higher resolution version of a purchased album was made available, the consumer would get it at no charge. To the best of my knowledge, this option was never exercised by a single customer (hmm). In other words, the promise sounded great and didn't cost Pono a dime. I wonder what would have happened if all the 16 bit / 44.1 kHz content available at the Pono Music Store, when the company was more than an Under Construction web page, would have been upgraded to high resolution. Could Pono and the labels really have pulled it off and given away the high resolution master at no additional charge? 

     

    Aside from the free upgrade part of this, there's the whole issue of different pricing for different resolutions. Apple has managed to persuade the content owners of movies that keeping prices the same will be beneficial. If only, there was someone or some company that could persuade the record labels that this pricing model is beneficial. Perhaps it isn't beneficial. It seems beneficial in that lower prices should equate to more sales, but who am I? Just a guy who hasn't purchased much high resolution because the product is too expensive for what one gets. 

     

    On the other hand, if high resolution consumers had a giant company like Apple, negotiating prices and upgrades, this may seem beneficial at first blush. However, companies as large and as powerful as Apple can do whatever they wish, as evidenced by Apple not even supporting lossless audio, Blu-ray, FLAC (natively), etc... There's no free lunch or free high resolution. 

     

    Anyway, Apple's "free" upgrades to 4K and homeostatic pricing, got me thinking about our industry and if this could actually happen when it comes to audio. There are many more angles to take and options to consider in this discussion, but it'll be tough to persuade me that a "free" upgrade consisting of tens of thousands of titles will ever happen in HiFi. 

     

    Edited by The Computer Audiophile


    User Feedback




    When iOS 11 adoption gets to 50% (currently 25%) I could see an update to iTunes to allow CD quality purchases. Anything higher resolution there just isn't enough music or market share to bother with.

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    > Yes, there was the PonoPromise, that said if a higher resolution version of a purchased album was made available, the consumer would get it at no charge. To the best of my knowledge, this option was never exercised by a single customer (hmm).


    Music I bought at 24/96 was upgraded to 24/192 for free. I never bought anything at 16/44.1 from them, I mean what would have been the point?

    > Outside of the Tidal MQA example, I don't see any company in high resolution music with any sizable leverage to persuade record labels into a "free" high resolution upgrade.

     

    Good point. I doubt Qobuz has the clout. And the MQA deal is unique, focused more on growing market share and getting awareness out there than immediately squeezing every possible coin out of every file sold or streamed, and of course they also make money off hardware.

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    35 minutes ago, kurb1980 said:

    I'd rather have the expanded color gamut than the 4k with that said I'd rather have dynamic mastering over 192kHz MQA because what's the point of having the added frequency response if levels are squashed.

     

     

     

    Based on several posts with Micheal Ritter of Berkeley Audio Design, MQA isn't better than 24/192. And he tested the stuff for a year. 

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    4 hours ago, Rt66indierock said:

     

    Based on several posts with Micheal Ritter of Berkeley Audio Design, MQA isn't better than 24/192. And he tested the stuff for a year. 

     

    IT ISN’T!? 

    I’m being robbed then!  I paid for Tidal in 16/44 and now they are giving it to me at the same price in MQA and price and it doesn’t sound BETTER than 24/192!

    oh.....wait.........oops heh....sorry......

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    4 hours ago, Rt66indierock said:

    Based on several posts with Micheal Ritter of Berkeley Audio Design, MQA isn't better than 24/192. And he tested the stuff for a year. 

    How could it when it only encodes 96 kHz?

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    20 minutes ago, mansr said:

    How could it when it only encodes 96 kHz?

    Because of de-blurring man.  De-blurring. 

     

    Are you skeptical of deblurred 96 khz being better than regular old blurred 192 khz PCM?  Okay, don't answer that question.  

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    23 minutes ago, mansr said:

    How could it when it only encodes 96 kHz?

     

    I agree I didn't want to antagonize him any further on the TAS site when I thought I could do it at RMAF 2017 or better yet call him up. He is trying very hard to figure out who I am. I'm going to let when sweat for a while. 

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    I think Apple is very strategic. Their own products, e.g. Apple TV, iMac, iPad and MacBooks can all take advantage of the 4K resolution (albeit with some down-resolution). Moreover, they’re trying to push their iPhones ability to shoot 4K. So their 4K strategy makes sense.

     

    i doubt even with the new HomePod, or the best Apple speakers out of the iPad Pros, we would be able to hear significant improvements going from lossy to lossless to MQA to high-resolution music so I suspect that’s why Apple has not joined the high-resolution audio push...

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    1 hour ago, mansr said:

    How could it when it only encodes 96 kHz?

     

    Since I remember they encodes 176.4 and their DACs reach 192.   Am I wrong?

     

    Roch

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    A comment about 4K.

     

    True, many movies/videos are just not going to benefit from 4K in the same way as most albums were never recorded in 24-bits nor can likely benefit from higher sample rates.

     

    However, I do have a 75" 4K HDR TV and sit about 9-10' away. The extra resolution is appreciable with true 4K-worthy material even with mid-40-year-old eyes and when you add HDR to the mix, absolutely evident. (For an example, just look at the difference between standard 1080P and UHD Blu-Ray of Planet Earth II!)

     

    I spoke about this resolution piece a couple years back when I got my first 4K screen:

    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/03/musings-gone-4k-uhd.html

     

    Audio CD --> hi-res audio is way more subtle (at best) IMO than 1080P --> 2160P/4K!

     

    I'm no Apple fanboy but good for them for upgrading the resolution. Of course, benefits are only really significant if streaming bitrate is high enough and not just the resolution spec.

     

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    9 hours ago, Archimago said:

    A comment about 4K.

     

    True, many movies/videos are just not going to benefit from 4K in the same way as most albums were never recorded in 24-bits nor can likely benefit from higher sample rates.

     

    However, I do have a 75" 4K HDR TV and sit about 9-10' away. The extra resolution is appreciable with true 4K-worthy material even with mid-40-year-old eyes and when you add HDR to the mix, absolutely evident. (For an example, just look at the difference between standard 1080P and UHD Blu-Ray of Planet Earth II!)

     

    I spoke about this resolution piece a couple years back when I got my first 4K screen:

    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/03/musings-gone-4k-uhd.html

     

    Audio CD --> hi-res audio is way more subtle (at best) IMO than 1080P --> 2160P/4K!

     

    I'm no Apple fanboy but good for them for upgrading the resolution. Of course, benefits are only really significant if streaming bitrate is high enough and not just the resolution spec.

     

    Your comment about the bitrate is spot on. All the streaming 4k content is incredibly lossy, but nobody really talks about it.

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    1. Apple sells hardware.  A 'free' upgrade to 4k/UHD streaming for content that you've already purchased will drive sales of the '4k' AppleTV.
    2. Apple knows exactly what you bought and when.  All their video content (streaming and download) includes DRM.  There is no resale market for content bought from iTunes.
    3. I'm assuming that any 4k streaming from iTunes will be utilizing the h.265 / HEVC codec, which will help minimize Apple's increased streaming costs relative to HD streaming using h.264 / AVC (with the bonus of no legacy ATV support issues).
    4. Hollywood needs more and better ways to sell / rent 4k / UHD content.  Lots of people have 4k / UHD televisions, but very limited ways to access 4k / UHD content.  I expect that whatever negotiation Apple had to do with Hollywood to upgrade existing purchases to 4k / UHD streaming were pretty straightforward and mutually beneficial.
    5. Anyone buying a new 4k / UHD panel are probably buying a much larger panel than what they bought for HD, which will benefit from actual UHD content in multiple facets (e.g. resolution, HDR and color palette).  High resolution audio could potentially be more impactful if increasing the 'size' of you overall system (e.g. larger room, larger speakers, stronger amplification) simultaneously.

     

    Regardless, I think the Tidal / MQA comparison is apt (and Pono (RIP) for the most part as well).  Certainly all of Tidal's streams are DRM protected and the relationship between Tidal and MQA is mutually beneficial since it is introducing Tidal subscribers to MQA in far larger numbers across a far larger library of content than could be done otherwise.

     

    The one critical aspect that MQA hardware does that UHD televisions do as well is notify you visually of the content's resolution.  It doesn't matter if someone can't visually tell the difference between HD and UHD, if the television UI doesn't tell them that it is receiving 4k / UHD content then they aren't going to believe they are getting what they paid for... same goes for MQA.

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    Apple's motivation here is neither generosity nor innovation. They are going head to head against the Amazon Fire which has essentially the same set of features.

     

    BTW, back in the days of the Ponomusic store I purchased NY Live at the Cellar Door and also NY Live at the Canterbury House, both in red book quality. I later received emails(yes, they sought me out) with links to download both recordings in 24/192.

     

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    Resolution media for audio means nothing, it is just a media, does not say anything about quality

     

    While for video today 4K will most likely means better quality, objectively better.

     

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