Get Netflix HD on a Galaxy Nexus and enjoy 720p vids

One of the biggest draws of the Galaxy Nexus(s goog) smartphone is the 4.65-inch high-definition screen. It’s literally a 720p HDTV display that can be carried in your pocket. The only problem is: Most mobile video services catered to lower resolution displays since a 480p stream scaled to 800 x 480 or 960 x 540 — two common resolutions for other Android phones — is good enough. Netflix(s nflx) is one of those services where a true HD stream would benefit the Galaxy Nexus, as well as future phones with high-resolution capabilities.

Once again, gadget enthusiasts have come to the rescue: Droid Life found a build of Netflix on the XDA Developers site that brings higher quality video to the Galaxy Nexus. I uninstalled the official Netflix app and replaced it with the one found on XDA and can already see a positive difference. There is one downside though: This tweaked version of the Netflix software doesn’t properly display in full-screen, meaning the software buttons on the Nexus take up some precious pixels.

To illustrate the difference, I captured screenshots of two movies, Iron Man 2 and Star Trek, in nearly the exact same spot in the films. You should see more detail in the HD screen caps as a result. The difference is more noticeable when watching the video; I quizzed my wife by swapping between the two versions and showing her the same video sequences and she felt the quality difference was dramatic. And it should: Scaling 480p video up to a 720p screen isn’t ideal. An optimal experience would be to start with high-quality source video and scale it down for a display.

Ideally, Netflix should bring higher quality video to its official app and as more phones launch with HD displays in 2012, I assume it will. Google already streams high-definition video through the Android Market to HD-capable phones, so it actually has an advantage here. On the flip-side, streaming higher quality video means using more bandwidth, and since unlimited data plans are going away in most cases, this solution may be better left to Wi-Fi networks. Either that or use a mobile broadband data monitor tool such as Onavo, which we highlighted last week.

While one could argue that watching HD video on a small screened device is overkill, I noted earlier this year that the smartphone is becoming the set-top box. With a simple adapter, I can watch Netflix in high-definition on my HDTV via my phone with this version of the app.