Improved H.264 Compression Holds Down File Sizes on 1080p iTunes Store Content

Ars Technica takes a look at the new 1080p content available on the iTunes Store, showing how a "High" compression profile for H.264-encoded content on the iPhone 4S and new iPad and Apple TV are minimizing the increase in file size needed to move from 720p to 1080p.

itunes 720p 1080p comparison
Comparison of 720p (left) and 1080p (right) video quality in iTunes Store content

In a survey of several titles now available in 1080p on the iTunes Store, the report found that file sizes generally increased by 15-25% over their respective 720p versions, despite the number of pixels more than doubling to reach the higher standard.

The reason that the 1080p versions of the iTunes Store videos can be a good deal better without doubling the file size—or worse—can be found in the tech specs of the new AppleTV and the new iPad. The AppleTV now supports H.264 compression for 1920x1080 resolution video at 30 frames per second using High or Main Profile up to level 4.0, the iPad and the iPhone 4S the same up to level 4.1. The profile indicates what kind of decompression algorithms the H.264 decoder has on board—the "High" profile obviously has some tricks up its sleeve that the "Main" or "Baseline" profiles known to previous devices don't support. The level value indicates how many blocks or bits per second a device can handle.

The report also offers a comparison of video quality between the 720p and 1080p formats on the iTunes Store, noting that the increase in image quality for 1080p content is minor in many cases, but more significant in brighter scenes.

Top Rated Comments

studentmac Avatar
116 months ago
Howaaaarrrd!!!
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
theMaccer Avatar
116 months ago
Pic of Penny would be much better.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
SB27 Avatar
116 months ago
The Hidden Side of Apple Value

The press mainly focuses on the hardware, sales figures, etc. What people miss about the value that Apple is delivering to customers can be found in this story. At every turn and in every nook and cranny of the Apple ecosytem, their engineers are finding ways to deliver better bang for the buck. Video compression is just one of thousands of ways that Apple thinks completely differently about the user experience than anyone else. This is why they are a $500B company.

I was also struck while watching the keynote for the iPad by the amount of energy and focus put into iLife and iWork. That stuff is simply amazing for only $4.99 a copy (and with mostly free upgrades).

Yes, we are trapped in a closed Apple ecosytem. I like to think of myself as "happily trapped" given the sheer amount of energy, dollars, focus and excellence being delivered in every aspect of their ecosystem.

I will put the pom-poms down now, but this story prompted a visceral reaction and I felt it was worth noting.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mr. Retrofire Avatar
116 months ago

At every turn and in every nook and cranny of the Apple ecosytem, their engineers are finding ways to deliver better bang for the buck. Video compression is just one of thousands of ways that Apple thinks completely differently about the user experience than anyone else.

Not really. Apple use(d) their own H.264-encoder, which produces larger files with worse quality, compared to the open source x264-encoder (the command line version). The picture below shows how efficient the x264-encoder is (just an example):



They should work together with the x264-developers (http://www.videolan.org/developers/x264.html). They know the best settings and encoding strategies [1]. x264 is the H.264-encoder with the best visual quality. Warner Brothers use the x264-encoder to encode commercial BDs.

More info:
Seventh MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Video Codecs Comparison (http://compression.ru/video/codec_comparison/h264_2011/)

Btw:
Apples uses still BZIP2 and ZLIB, which use 10-20 year old compression algorithms (BWT & deflate), to compress the file system, disk images, installer packages, software downloads (Mac App Store), software updates and so on. The newer LZMA and LZMA2 algorithms are not only faster (decompression), the resulting files require also 30 percent less disk space (faster file transfers (downloads)). Apple does not like & use good compression algorithms.


[1]
http://doom9.org/
http://doom10.org/
http://mewiki.project357.com/wiki/X264_Settings
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Deadman64 Avatar
116 months ago

I downloaded 1080P versions of my movies from iTunes and played them on my system (have a 1st gen aTV with a Crystal HD card for 1080P/DTS content on my 60" Pioneer Elite). Truthfully, I saw little difference between the 1080P and 720P iTunes versions, yet a major difference between my 1080P handbraked encodes and direct Blu-Ray movies.


I think that would be a good comparison.

1080P iTunes/Apple TV vs. a 1080P Blu-Ray.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
luke.mac1 Avatar
116 months ago

noting that the increase in image quality for 1080p content is minor in many cases, but more significant in brighter scenes.


So what they're saying is that the difference between 720p and 1080p in the iTunes store is almost negligible? I mean you can see the difference there on the scaled up image, but I imagine you can't really see it on a small screen. Maybe it will be better on a 27" imac or 50" HDTV.
I still think they should offer a larger, higher quality file size for people who wish to download it... maybe something to select in the preferences section of iTunes...
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Flat MacBook Air Feature

Bloomberg: Apple Working on 'Thinner and Lighter' High-End MacBook Air With MagSafe, Could Launch in Second Half of 2021

Friday January 22, 2021 3:34 am PST by
Apple is working on a "thinner and lighter" version of the MacBook Air that the company plans to release during the second half of this year at the earliest or in 2022, according to a new report by well-connected Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman. It will include Apple's MagSafe charging technology and a next-generation version of the company's in-house Mac processors. Apple has discussed...
Top Stories 44 Feature

Top Stories: 'Thinner and Lighter' MacBook Air, Smaller iPhone 13 Notch, iOS 14.4 Incoming

Saturday January 23, 2021 6:00 am PST by
We continued to hear a lot more about Apple's plans for its Mac lineup this week, including word of a high-end redesigned MacBook Air and the return of an SD card slot as part of the upcoming MacBook Pro redesign. It also sounds like Apple has been working on Face ID for Mac, but it won't be appearing in a redesigned iMac this year as originally planned. This week also saw rumors about the...
Apple VR Feature

Bloomberg: Apple's First AR/VR Headset 'Pricey, Niche Precursor' to More Ambitious AR Glasses and Could Launch Next Year

Thursday January 21, 2021 3:27 am PST by
Apple's first virtual reality headset will be a "pricey, niche precursor" to a more ambitious augmented reality product, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view...
iOS 15 icon mock banner

iOS 15 Rumored to Drop Support for iPhone 6s and 2016 iPhone SE

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:58 am PST by
Apple's upcoming iOS 15 operating system, which we expect to see unveiled in June, is rumored to be dropping support for a few of Apple's older iPhones. According to French site iPhoneSoft, iOS 15 will not be able to be installed on the iPhone 6s, the iPhone 6s Plus, or the 2016 iPhone SE, all of which have an A9 chip. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were introduced in 2015 and are now more...
2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Bloomberg: Next MacBook Pro to Feature SD Card Reader

Friday January 22, 2021 7:50 am PST by
Last week, reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo outlined his expectations for new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models later this year, including the return of the MagSafe charging connector, the removal of the Touch Bar, a new flat-edged design, and the return of more ports built into the notebooks for expanded connectivity. A concept of a modern MacBook Pro with an SD card reader Kuo did not...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...
airpods galaxy buds comparison

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs. Apple AirPods Pro

Friday January 22, 2021 2:34 pm PST by
Samsung in January unveiled new flagship Galaxy S21 smartphones and alongside the new phones, introduced the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro, which are priced at $199 and offer Active Noise Cancellation. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. These new Galaxy Buds Pro are clearly designed to compete with Apple's AirPods Pro, so we thought we'd compare the two sets of earbuds in our...
maxresdefault

Video Demos macOS Catalina Running on iPad Pro via x86 Emulation

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:36 am PST by
A video demonstrating macOS Catalina running on a current 2020 iPad Pro has been shared on YouTube, giving us a look at an interesting hack that has a Mac OS up and working on one of Apple's iPads. There's limited information about how the process of getting macOS Catalina on an iPad Pro works, but it uses x86 emulation and was done through the UTM software that allows virtual machines to...
2019 mac pro side and front

Tim Cook Gifted Donald Trump 'First' 2019 Mac Pro

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:45 pm PST by
Apple CEO Tim Cook gifted former United States President Donald Trump with the first 2019 Mac Pro that came off of the assembly line in Austin, Texas, according to a financial disclosure report that was released today (via The Verge). "Mac Pro Computer, the first created at the Flex Factory in Austin, Texas," reads the entry, which values the machine at $5,999, the base price for a Mac Pro....
iOS 14

Apple Seeds iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 Release Candidate to Developers and Public Beta Testers

Thursday January 21, 2021 10:14 am PST by
Apple today seeded the RC version of upcoming iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 updates to developers for testing purposes, with the new betas coming a week after Apple released the second betas. iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center or over the air after the proper profile has been installed on an iPhone or iPad. Paired with the HomePod 14.4 beta that is...