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iTunes 1080p Content Comes Close to Blu-ray Quality, But Can't Quite Match

Last week, we took a look at the compression being employed by Apple with its new 1080p content on the iTunes Store, a feature that has allowed Apple to increase file sizes by only 15-25% compared to 720p even as the number of pixels have more than doubled. A number of commenters were interested in seeing how 1080p iTunes content compares to Blu-ray, and Ars Technica has now returned with a new analysis looking at the relative quality of those two sources.

Comparison of color and detail in iTunes 1080p (left) and Blu-ray (right) formats

The report offers a number of blown-up comparison shots, finding that the iTunes Store content generally compares fairly well to Blu-ray content, although it does struggle a bit more with bright highlights, scenes with high detail and noise levels, and dark gradients.
I was surprised to see how close the iTunes 1080p download comes to Blu-ray, considering that it's only a fraction of the file size. And let's be honest: there are lots of Blu-ray titles that look much worse than this iTunes download. But despite an impressive effort by Apple, Blu-ray still reigns king when it comes to image quality. And unlike iTunes titles, BRDs can have uncompressed multi-channel audio, multiple audio language options, and special features.

Comparison of dark gradient handling in iTunes 1080p (top) and Blu-ray (bottom)
(Brightness enhanced for clearer demonstration)

Apple's move to 1080p video content in the iTunes Store is part of a significant shift to higher-resolution offerings, pairing the new new content with movie support for iTunes in the Cloud and new 1080p hardware in the new iPad and Apple TV set to debut on Friday.

Top Rated Comments

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92 months ago
Considering I gain 'get it right now' and lose 'annoying menus/trailers/FBI warnings' I consider this very slight loss of quality a very fair trade.

I tend to rent movies instead of owning anyway...but IF I ever buy, this seems like a fair trade-off.

Bull... I'll admit the iTMS videos look nice, but there is no way they can be compared to blu ray quality.

The article full of screen shots seems to indicate that yes, they CAN be compared. Blu-Ray wins, sure. But the comparison is not ridiculous.
Rating: 38 Votes
92 months ago
This isn't surprising. It's a matter of balancing download size and screen quality. I think they have done a decent job of that.
Rating: 37 Votes
92 months ago
For the vast majority of people out there this will not be an issue.
Rating: 34 Votes
92 months ago
Apple response: "Watch it from farther away."
Rating: 26 Votes
92 months ago
So, so close.

And who knows? With improvements with encoding and codec handling, may get closer?

My verdict: Close enough for my 35 year-old eyes. :)
Rating: 19 Votes
92 months ago
For me I would actually rank audio quality slightly more important than video quality. Lack of HD audio on itunes means i'll never get movies from them. Of course DRM has something to do with that as well.
Rating: 18 Votes
92 months ago
I'll take mobility, streaming and the ability to play 10 hours of movies on a plane with 90 percent quality anyday
Rating: 13 Votes
92 months ago

1) No force fed commercials and “clever” menus.

Perhaps I'm in the minority - but I appreciate good design from packaging to "clever" menus to the actual content. I would have thought many posters on here would appreciate good design. But maybe too many are too into immediate satisfaction.

I'm also someone who stays and watches the credits.

I also appreciate the tons of extras on blu-rays which sometimes/rarely make it to the iTunes store. (directors commentary, PiP story boards, etc)

So again - for me - blu-ray wins. Without question.
Rating: 10 Votes
92 months ago
I don't think anyone should really be complaining. I'm VERY impressed. The title alone praises the quality, to be honest. "Close to bluray quality"... While in digital format and in an impressively compressed file size? I feel it's a win on Apple's part. :apple:

Bull... I'll admit the iTMS videos look nice, but there is no way they can be compared to blu ray quality. What are the files encoded at? 3-5 Mbps? Blu rays get up to about 40Mbps! That's a huge reduction of data.

EXACTLY. Which is why you should be praising the quality given the reduction of data. (IMO)
Rating: 9 Votes
92 months ago
Way to gloss over one of the biggest strengths of blu rays - the Audio!!!!

Lossless 7.1 audio over compressed 2 channel audio isn't even a contest.

Bluray > iTunes
Rating: 9 Votes

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