iTunes HD videos low bitrate, include iPod-ready versions

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
Those expecting Blu-ray level video from Apple's new HD TV shows may be significantly disappointed -- though buyers will find a surprise in the form of a smaller version for their iPhones and iPods.



While Apple's announcement on Tuesday that it would start offering TV in 720p high-definition directly through iTunes has been hailed as a significant move towards better-quality video through the company's online store, Gizmodo today reminded would-be viewers not to expect a direct replacement for Blu-ray discs or even some purely digital formats.



A standard 720p file downloaded either through iTunes or an Apple TV consumes about 4Mbps of data, or just a tenth the total bit transfer rate of the optical format and a fifth of the nearly 20Mbps for over-the-air HDTV; even Xbox Video Marketplace video affords more, at 6.8Mbps. Some of this shrink in file size can be attributed to features left out of Apple's encoding, such as the 1080p resolution or 7.1-channel surround audio, but much of it is attributed to compression that can degrade the final picture quality significantly from the reference image.



Such reductions can often lead to smearing in videos, particularly in fast-moving scenes where the bandwidth allowed to the video isn't enough to keep up with the changes necessary for the picture.



The bitrate isn't an automatic gauge of image quality, however. As discussed in AppleInsider's Apple TV quality comparisons, video format choices and other factors can actually result in supposedly higher-bitrate cable TV sources faring worse than Apple's H.264 videos, which are more efficient at compressing data than the MPEG-2 format used by some TV providers and older Blu-ray titles.



Apple also isn't seen as having much choice in the matter due to the nature of Internet technology. An HD TV show on iTunes can be nearly three times the size of its standard-definition equivalent and downloads slowly enough on most American connections that it may be difficult to start watching in real-time, with an example show taking 40 minutes -- or nearly its full duration -- to finish downloading. Higher-quality video would both be impractical for some connections and quickly fill up hard drives.



As a compromise, Apple is known to be offering portability, something that most Blu-ray or cable video-on-demand services can't offer themselves. Ars Technica notes that Apple has quietly made sure that all HD downloads from iTunes also include an SD version as part of the purchase.



The lower resolution chews more disk space but also guarantees that buyers will have a version of their TV show choice already formatted for iPhones and video-capable iPods; none of these currently have the performance, the displays, or the capacity to practically support HD playback.



Bundling a second copy of a title also puts Apple slightly ahead of Blu-ray in HD TV bundles: while a handful of Blu-ray and DVD movies now offer an iTunes Digital Copy that achieves a similar effect to Apple's new venture, most TV series collections still largely include just the original video and can be difficult or impossible to copy.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 96
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,319member
    Not enough people have the bandwidth yet to justify full 1080P. Not even the FIOS people have that kind of bandwidth to burn.
  • Reply 2 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lkrupp View Post


    Not enough people have the bandwidth yet to justify full 1080P. Not even the FIOS people have that kind of bandwidth to burn.



    Plus with cable broadband talking about monthly caps, companies like Apple will have to keep bandwidth usage low.
  • Reply 3 of 96
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    The bitrate isn't an automatic gauge of image quality, however. As discussed in AppleInsider's Apple TV quality comparisons, video format choices and other factors can actually result in supposedly higher-bitrate cable TV sources faring worse than Apple's H.264 videos, which are more efficient at compressing data than the MPEG-2 format used by some TV providers and older Blu-ray titles.



    Some TV providers? I am under the impression that almost all of the US providers are using MPEG-2 still. I'm also under the impression that OTA HDTV is also MPEG-2.



    For comparison, my local cable provider uses Scientific Atlanta boxes, uses MPEG-2, and offers between 16-19Mbps for the average HD channel.
  • Reply 4 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Some TV providers? I am under the impression that almost all of the US providers are using MPEG-2 still. I'm also under the impression that OTA HDTV is also MPEG-2.



    For comparison, my local cable provider uses Scientific Atlanta boxes, uses MPEG-2, and offers between 16-19Mbps for the average HD channel.



    DirecTV uses MPEG-4; dunno about the bitrate.
  • Reply 5 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lkrupp View Post


    Not enough people have the bandwidth yet to justify full 1080P. Not even the FIOS people have that kind of bandwidth to burn.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by skottichan View Post


    Plus with cable broadband talking about monthly caps, companies like Apple will have to keep bandwidth usage low.



    This is why God invented Blu-Ray



    Internet-based High Definition content is a joke with today's bandwidth. I downloaded the free pilot episode of Monk last night; despite taking three times longer to download and sync with my Apple TV than it took to watch, the quality was below that of an upconverted standard definition DVD.
  • Reply 6 of 96
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    What res are HD shows? My old SD episodes of Battlestar Galactica were 640x360 (not x480 because they are widescreen). I downloaded an episode today and it was 853x480, which looked good and exceeds DVD, but I would have thought you'd need at least 720 to call it HD. Did I get the HD version, or are they just using higher quality for SD now?



    And where would the second version show up, if I got both HD and SD? I only see the one listed in my Library.



    TIA
  • Reply 7 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nagromme View Post


    What res are HD shows? My old SD episodes of Battlestar Galactica were 640x360 (not x480 because they are widescreen). I downloaded an episode today and it was 853x480, which looked good and exceeds DVD, but I would have thought you'd need at least 720 to call it HD. Did I get the HD version, or are they just using higher quality for SD now?



    And where would the second version show up, if I got both HD and SD? I only see the one listed in my Library.



    TIA



    I saw Apple had some Battlestar Galactica episodes in their HD section that weren't actually HD; that is what you got if it's resolution isn't 1280x720. 853x480 is the standard definition size for 16:9 anamorphic material.
  • Reply 8 of 96
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    edit: Pipped by Cory.
  • Reply 9 of 96
    Notice how this entire controversy is based on the lower bit rate and that they "attribute" to this and that? i.e. - they have no real idea of why the bit rate is lower and no hard information on whether the picture quality is lessened because of it. What matters is how it looks to the end user. If no noticeable pixelation occurs and the signal is comparable side by side to a higher bit-rate HD, what does it matter if Apple puts the signal together a different way?



    Everyone who knows anything about the tech press knows that Gizmodo is just a bunch of disagreeable twenty-something tards that find fault with everything they look at and generate huge controversies out of virtually nothing. They have been guilty over and over again of "crying wolf" when it's simply not justified. Then the apologise later and laugh all the way to the bank.



    Their "analysis" is probably worthless and certainly not worth considering until someone else who actually knows what they are talking about chimes in with similar results. The day I trust someone who reviews tech products based on how it makes them want to jerk off (yes, they have done this) is the day I give up on tech journalism in general.
  • Reply 10 of 96
    I would love to comment on the quality of the Hd. downloads but unfortunately I can't. Itunes downloads both the Hd. version and the standard version of the show. Unfortunately itunes can not find the Hd version.
  • Reply 11 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Notice how this entire controversy is based on the lower bit rate and that they "attribute" to this and that? i.e. - they have no real idea of why the bit rate is lower and no hard information on whether the picture quality is lessened because of it. What matters is how it looks to the end user. If no noticeable pixelation occurs and the signal is comparable side by side to a higher bit-rate HD, what does it matter if Apple puts the signal together a different way?



    Everyone who knows anything about the tech press knows that Gizmodo is just a bunch of disagreeable twenty-something tards that find fault with everything they look at and generate huge controversies out of virtually nothing. They have been guilty over and over again of "crying wolf" when it's simply not justified. Then the apologise later and laugh all the way to the bank.



    Their "analysis" is probably worthless and certainly not worth considering until someone else who actually knows what they are talking about chimes in with similar results. The day I trust someone who reviews tech products based on how it makes them want to jerk off (yes, they have done this) is the day I give up on tech journalism in general.



    \ Are you for real?



    The difference in quality is very, very apparent. GIzmodo is not blowing things out of proportion. An upconverted standard definition DVD looks better than what Apple passes off has HD. Gizmodo clearly state that there is noticeable pixelation, and even back their claims with photo proof.
  • Reply 12 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    The bitrate isn't an automatic gauge of image quality, however. As discussed in AppleInsider's Apple TV quality comparisons, video format choices and other factors can actually result in supposedly higher-bitrate cable TV sources faring worse than Apple's H.264 videos, which are more efficient at compressing data than the MPEG-2 format used by some TV providers and older Blu-ray titles.



    Except that with up to about 50GB of space to play with the small assortment of MPEG2 Blu-Rays don't really need to more efficient compression to far exceed iTunes videos. Maybe it might come close to cable TV, but as a point of reference after some initial missteps, my HD from Comcast has actually vastly improved (ditching their crap cable box that I had replaced 3 times for a Tivo HD has also helped my satisfaction).



    If iTunes had been offering HD TV a few months ago, it (and an AppleTV) may have been a potential cable replacement. But at $3 an episode, keeping cable could quickly become a cheaper alternative. And comparing prices, it's not much cheaper buying a season from iTunes than it is to get it on Blu-Ray (example, Heroes Season 1 is $64.95 from iTunes or $69.99 for Blu-Ray from Amazon.com).



    Quote:

    The lower resolution chews more disk space but also guarantees that buyers will have a version of their TV show choice already formatted for iPhones and video-capable iPods; none of these currently have the performance, the displays, or the capacity to practically support HD playback.



    It doesn't help that Apple seems to be soon retiring the iPod Classic which would actually have the capacity to hold a decent amount of HD content.



    Quote:

    Bundling a second copy of a title also puts Apple slightly ahead of Blu-ray in HD TV bundles: while a handful of Blu-ray and DVD movies now offer an iTunes Digital Copy that achieves a similar effect to Apple's new venture, most TV series collections still largely include just the original video and can be difficult or impossible to copy.



    Except of course for the fact that HD content is generally bought for the purpose of actually watching it in HD. So bundling a SD copy may be a nice bonus, but really it seems a bit pointless (as does the Digital Copy being included with DVD's and Blu-Ray's).
  • Reply 13 of 96
    I downloaded and watched a couple of episodes of Californication in HD yesterday. (btw: ).



    I didn't have *any* problem with the quality of the image in regards to the bitrate. There were no noticeable degradations to the image in fast-moving scenes as this article warns of. It's true that it doesn't have the freaky sharp look of Blue-Ray played on a top-of-the-line HD television, but it certainly isn't "smeared" or flawed in any other noticeable way.



    Watching on my 30" Apple Cinema Display, the real problem is the resolution of the image is so small that to fill the screen I have to watch it at double size. Obviously this makes the image considerably less crisp to the naked eye. The good news is that even at that magnification the image looks very good, it's very watchable (unlike the SD downloads from the iTunes Store, which look terrible when blown up to full screen on the 30"). Any softness comes across as more cinematic than as digital degradation.



    In the end, with the current format using 1 GB per 30 minutes of television, I would be less likely, not more likely, to purchase shows if they took up exponentially more hard drive space. Even if I bought a 1 TB hard drive just for my iTunes library I'd be concerned about running out of space if the HD downloads were 5 to 10 times as large.
  • Reply 14 of 96
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:

    Except of course for the fact that HD content is generally bought for the purpose of actually watching it in HD. So bundling a SD copy may be a nice bonus, but really it seems a bit pointless (as does the Digital Copy being included with DVD's and Blu-Ray's).



    The iPod and iPhone can't play HD content so bundling an SD copy with it is a good practice. While buying an HD copy means you intend to view it on your AppleTV or in iTunes, people do watch content multiple times or the may need or want to transfer the content to their iDevice after watching it part way through in HD. The benefit here is that Apple thought ahead for once on this front.
  • Reply 15 of 96
    tenobelltenobell Posts: 7,014member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Cory Bauer View Post


    \ Are you for real?



    The difference in quality is very, very apparent. GIzmodo is not blowing things out of proportion. An upconverted standard definition DVD looks better than what Apple passes off has HD. Gizmodo clearly state that there is noticeable pixelation, and even back their claims with photo proof.



    From what I've seen some iTunes HD downloads exhibit more artifacting problems than others. The blame for this lies sqaurely with our internet service providers. Apple is working within real world bandwidth limitations.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by caliminius View Post


    Except that with up to about 50GB of space to play with the small assortment of MPEG2 Blu-Rays don't really need to more efficient compression to far exceed iTunes videos. Maybe it might come close to cable TV, but as a point of reference after some initial missteps, my HD from Comcast has actually vastly improved (ditching their crap cable box that I had replaced 3 times for a Tivo HD has also helped my satisfaction).



    Yes Blu-ray clearly offers a better picture than any internet download is capable at this point. That is a temporary difference as bandwidth speeds increase download quality will increase.



    Quote:

    If iTunes had been offering HD TV a few months ago, it (and an AppleTV) may have been a potential cable replacement. But at $3 an episode, keeping cable could quickly become a cheaper alternative. And comparing prices, it's not much cheaper buying a season from iTunes than it is to get it on Blu-Ray (example, Heroes Season 1 is $64.95 from iTunes or $69.99 for Blu-Ray from Amazon.com).



    This depends on how much television you watch. My cable bill is around $120 a month, around $720 for an entire television season. A season for a couple of shows would be far cheaper. This would be a great deal if iTunes offered lower cost television rentals.





    Quote:

    It doesn't help that Apple seems to be soon retiring the iPod Classic which would actually have the capacity to hold a decent amount of HD content.



    That doesn't matter as no iPod is capable of playing HD.





    Quote:

    Except of course for the fact that HD content is generally bought for the purpose of actually watching it in HD. So bundling a SD copy may be a nice bonus, but really it seems a bit pointless (as does the Digital Copy being included with DVD's and Blu-Ray's).



    The point of the SD version is to have the ability to watch your purchase on a portable device that cannot play HD.
  • Reply 16 of 96
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Am I missing something here- did anybody actually really expect these HD downloads to rival Blu-ray? The good thing here is that we are finally getting a download worth watching on our HDTVs - that is convenient and you can finally own. And 2 versions at that! Everybody needs a realiity check and just get a grip- this is fantastic. No physical media to clog up shelf space- excellent. And we're talking TV shows here not cinematic epics like The Lord of the Rings.
  • Reply 17 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TenoBell View Post


    Yes Blu-ray clearly offers a better picture than any internet download is capable at this point. That is a temporary difference as bandwidth speeds increase download quality will increase.



    No it won't. If downloads of lower quality are successful, why would they increase the quality? Cable and satellite providers have been lowering the quality of their broadcasts for years to cram more channels into their bandwidth and people eat up the "digital quality" crap (my cell phone shoots "digital quality"). It is in EVERY media provider's best interests to provide you with the LEAST quality that MOST PEOPLE are willing to tolerate. That's just good business. Any more and they're wasting money.



    I work in television on HD sports programming. A two-hour show can approach 1TB in size and it is amazing to watch on a $20,000 HD reference monitor, Apple compresses that down to 4GB. What you see when you watch material on one of our "HD" networks is a joke. What you are downloading from iTunes isn't HD anything. It's the same size as an HD frame, but it's compressed all to hell.
  • Reply 18 of 96
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pixelcruncher View Post


    I work in television on HD sports programming. A two-hour show can approach 1TB in size and it is amazing to watch on a $20,000 HD reference monitor, Apple compresses that down to 4GB. What you see when you watch material on one of our "HD" networks is a joke. What you are downloading from iTunes isn't HD anything. It's the same size as an HD frame, but it's compressed all to hell.



    It's still better than what they offered before in SD only- so who cares?
  • Reply 19 of 96
    wigginwiggin Posts: 2,265member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Cory Bauer View Post


    \ Are you for real?



    The difference in quality is very, very apparent. GIzmodo is not blowing things out of proportion. An upconverted standard definition DVD looks better than what Apple passes off has HD. Gizmodo clearly state that there is noticeable pixelation, and even back their claims with photo proof.



    Unless of course they are watching Apple's content on a 1080i TV with a crappy upconverter. Standard def DVDs look better on my 1080p Panasonic than HD content looks on some of my friend's low-end HD TV's. And it was vastly superior than Comcast's HD content before the finally got their head's out of their arse and addressed their compression problems. How they are connecting their Mac or AppleTV to their TV and where the upconversion is taking place can make a huge difference.



    I'm not saying Apple's HD is of superior quality, I haven't tried it yet (letting all the rest of you complete your beta testing of iTunes 8 before I install it ), but there are a lot of variables that need to be taken into consideration. But in general, I've found that Apple does a very good job of maximizing image quality within the bandwidth limitations.
  • Reply 20 of 96
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by teckstud View Post


    It's still better than what they offered before in SD only- so who cares?



    Precisely my point. The quality will not improve if the current level of compression is acceptable. Those who say "it'll get better" are just wrong.
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