When Is “Good” Good Enough?

Today’s question is “when is good good enough?”  All of us try to do the best we can at all times I’m sure, but is that always necessary?  What if you’re able to make a product of slightly lower quality that allows you to sell it for a lot less, thereby making it more accessible for consumers?  Maybe the consumer can tell the difference but I’ve got a bunch of real-world examples of things you might be using where I’ll bet you can’t.  Here’s why the issue matters.

Let’s start with audio.  Growing up, I listened to audio via vinyl discs.  They did – and still do – an excellent job of capturing the sonic nuances of a performance.  As time went on, the standard became the compact disc – something digital vs. something analog.  Because sound itself is analog, there was a tradeoff as it went digital – some of the sound information was lost.  That said, the “lost” information is generally at the very high and very low ends of the sonic spectrum – not places most folks can hear a difference.  Move the delivery medium from plastic (the CD) to a digital file, which is compressed to a greater or lesser degree, and even more information is lost but most folks don’t notice.

Then there’s video.  Anyone can see the differences between HD and SD television.  Many folks can see that an HD stream via Netflix is not as good as a BluRay DVD, but not all.  Far fewer people can spot the differences of video steamed at 1Meg and 3Meg.  Is it really necessary to encode at the higher speeds?

There is still a market for high-end vinyl but most folks are happy listening to digital files.  They’re less expensive and deliver the “same” experience to most folks’ ears.  The question, then, is where does one make that exchange – give up quality for accessibility, price, and ultimately broader sales.  While you don’t sell records, you might stream video, and making that decision has ramifications with respect to your costs.

I think this issue is going to get more difficult as platforms change – the mobile experience today is not like the web experience, for example, and as more users consume content via tablets, phones, and other devices, where do we make the trade-offs in quality?   What do you think?

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