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.

itunes 1080p bluray color
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.

itunes 1080p bluray dark
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

Small White Car Avatar
119 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.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KPOM Avatar
119 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.
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ugahairydawgs Avatar
119 months ago
For the vast majority of people out there this will not be an issue.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
miles01110 Avatar
119 months ago
Apple response: "Watch it from farther away."
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GeekLawyer Avatar
119 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. :)
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
archer75 Avatar
119 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.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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