Last week Apple sent out an email (screenshot courtesy of TechCrunch.com) to video podcasters asking them to increase the quality of their productions and start formatting their videos for the big screen. Since the launch of the Apple TV in March, Apple TVs have been selling like hotcakes and video podcast subscription numbers have skyrocketed.

Apple TV owners, who don’t necessarily want to spend lots of money in the iTunes Store, are gobbling up video podcasts like never before. Even though there currently isn’t any HD quality videos for sale in the iTunes Store, the Apple TV is capable of HD video playback. So several popular video podcasters, including The Washington Post, TWIT (MacBreak), Revision3 (Diggnation) and Vintage Tooncast, have decided to fill the void of HD content by distributing their podcasts in HD or hi res quality.

Why hasn’t everyone started distributing their video podcasts in HD? Money. Not only does producing an HD podcasts require extra hard drive space (roughly 4 times more), special cameras and editing software, but just hosting these giant video files on the Internet can be enough to bankrupt your entire production. For example, the iPod Video version of MacBreak episode 63 is 21 MBs. The HD version is 93 MBs. To help alleviate increased HD production costs, many podcasters have reached out to HD television manufacturers like Samsung and Panasonic to get them to sponsor their new HD podcasts.

For video podcasters who are still producing content at 320×240 but want to do something to increase quality, there is an intermediary step before going HD. Podcasters can start by migrating their productions to 640×480, or even 640×360 (letterbox). This way their video files will still be compatible with portable media players like the Zune and iPod, but will also work on the Apple TV. If the material is carefully encoded, it will look as good or better than typical TV.

Apple listed the following tips and recommendations in their email to all video podcasters:

  • Encode at 640×480 or 640×360. This will look much better than 320×240 on HDTV, and will still port to the iPod. While 720p looks great, they say, it won’t work on an iPod.
  • Don’t make two formats for different resolutions – it dilutes the popularity of the podcast and reduces exposure in charts.
  • Don’t add letterboxing to make videos to a 4:3 aspect ratio. Leave them at 16:9.

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