Apparently, piracy groups get together periodically to discuss the finer points of their escapades. Who knew? At the latest gathering of the piracy world's lords and ladies, they decided to promote the x264 codec for TV encoding duties over the venerable XviD. The move has caused a rather vocal response from their consumers.
Don't believe me? Well, they put it all in what I can only describe as an official document, detailing exactly how standard definition TV shows should be disseminated to the public. It was put together, and supported by, 13 release groups, including "LOL", "ASAP" and "LMAO". It describes the "TV-XviD" world as "ruleless", though apart from the guidelines in the scene document, it's hard to know what rules any pirate follows -- moral, ethical, legal or otherwise.
A bit of background: The x264 codec is based on H.264/MPEG-4 AVC and is in many ways vastly superior to the XviD, which follows the MPEG-4 standard. It's been shown time and again that H.264 consistently produces higher quality video at lower bitrates than straight MPEG-4. Hardware and software support for H.264 is pretty good now, so it makes sense from a technical standpoint to use it over the various MPEG-4 codecs if you can. x264 is an open source implementation of H.264, with XviD being the popular free option for MPEG-4.
That's pretty much the angle the scene document takes justifying the change: "Compared to XviD, it is able to provide higher quality and compression at greater SD resolutions ... There are many standalone players/streamers such as TviX, Popcorn Hour, WDTV HD Media Player, Boxee, Xtreamer, PS3, XBOX 360, iPad, & HDTVs that can playback H264 and AAC encapsulated in MP4."
According to TorrentFreak, the switch to x264 has not gone down well. Reading over the various complaints, many downloaders aren't fans of the MP4 container format, which reportedly doesn't mix well with some devices.
All I can say is -- it had to happen eventually. I don't think anyone would shine to the idea of downloading shows encoded with Cinepak.