iTunes 1080p Video Is Almost (But Not Quite) As Good As Blu-Ray

iTunes 1080p Video Is Almost (But Not Quite) As Good As Blu-Ray

Which hideous, blood-sucking vampire looks best? iTunes (left) or Blu-Ray (right)?

What’s better: 1080p iTunes videos or Blu-Ray? Blu-Ray, without a doubt, but it’s actually not as big a gulf in quality as you might think.

Ars Technica decided to take the new 1080p iTunes videos and put them in a head-to-head against a Blu-Ray copy of 30 Days Of Night. The result?

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. Am I being greedy in wanting both good-looking downloads for convenience, as well as buy-once-play-anywhere Blu-ray discs of my all-time favorite movies?

Here’s an obvious example of some of iTunes’s banding issues (top):

iTunes 1080p Video Is Almost (But Not Quite) As Good As Blu-Ray

That’s about what I’d expect. Blu-Ray’s amazing, and on a good home theater system, nothing comes close right now in matching all around quality of every element. Audio is especially the element that streaming video skimps on, so an iTunes 1080p video’s not going to match quality there.

Still, streaming video’s all about convenience, about the good enough. And 1080p iTunes Video is way more than good enough, indeed.

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  • joewaylo

    Not to mention cost affordable which most want. A good deal of iTunes videos are $5 less than Blu-Ray but sacrifices quality. 30 Days Of Night on Blu-Ray is $19.99 ($14.99 Best Buy). iTunes charges $9.99 for SD’s price and $14.99 for HD’s price regularly.

  • Brandon Dillon

    You can see a definite difference in quality in the pic, but once you press play and the images are in motion, it will be difficult to see the difference.

  • minimalist1969

    Actually motion makes it worse.   Heavy compression used to squeeze the iTunes version into a smaller file with a much lower bit rate results in macro-blocking during really active scenes.    Streaming HD always looks pretty good when things are stationary.  Not so good when the action kicks up and your screen blooms with postage stamp sized compression artifacts.

    Heavily compressed “1080p” can often look worse than less compressed 720 or 480 content.

  • Jonathan Ober

    The visual difference does not affect whether or not the story and plot is any better. Better study would be does the iTunes vs BluRay comparison change how crappy the Twilight stories are … hah…note this is internet sarcasm for anyone that doesn’t ‘get it’ . Though I am a firm believe in visuals quality doesn’t change the poor or good quality story of most hollywood movies.

  • Jonathan Ober

    The visual difference does not affect whether or not the story and plot is any better. Better study would be does the iTunes vs BluRay comparison change how crappy the Twilight stories are … hah…note this is internet sarcasm for anyone that doesn’t ‘get it’ . Though I am a firm believe in visuals quality doesn’t change the poor or good quality story of most hollywood movies.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    A lot of people would rather have better visuals. It’s hard to convey a whole story that usually takes place over long periods of time in one hour and thirty minutes. That’s why a book is usually the victor. One thing that books can’t do is lay out the world for you watch. Because the story will be gimped any ways, it’s important to have impressive visuals.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    He’s probably saying that because he’s never seen the “heavily compressed” 1080p video you’re talking about. I haven’t been able to see a difference between blu ray and iTunes 1080p content. When it’s good enough, you don’t see the differences, paused or in motion.

  • TheEJTV

    Sorry, Blu Rays are the best. 

  • djrobsd

    Blu Ray for me… Buy them used and on sale… Not paying $15 bucks for Apple’s version of it.  Glad you mentioned audio quality, nothing beats the audio quality of a real Blu Ray.  

  • James Barnette

    exactly the more changing of pixels in the frame the higher the required bit-rate. This is why on some Blu-ray players when you watch those Planet Earth Shots of 100,000 birds flying some crappy BD players will chug because the bit-rate suddenly climbs and the BD player cannot process fast enough. 

    So when the bit rate is capped at to low of a level you get sorta a block jpegy compression artifact and lots of banding

  • Paul Alley

    That is something I have always wondered about – the audio on downloaded video. Is it 5.1 or just stereo? That is what has always kept me on DVDs/Blu Ray. Why would you want to watch something like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings in 2.0 sound rather than 5.1…

  • minimalist1969

    You will easily see banding and artifacting in dark scenes with smooth gradient colors (oceans, night skies,etc).  You simply can;t achieve those silky smooth transitions without burning some serious bits.   Same with heavy action scenes.  Intense motion makes artifacts bloom up on your screen (explosions, sports scenes, fast chase scenes, etc).  Once you see them you have a hard time unseeing them each time they happen.  Again, you need serious bitrates to handles these kinds of conditions.  Simply having “1080p” picture isn’t enough.  

    In fact, having 1080p can make the PQ even worse if bandwidth is limited.  This is one of the reasons why ABC chose to go 720p as opposed to CBS’s 1080i for over the air television broadcasts.  Because its image is lower resolution, ABC can apply less compression to the signal which results in a picture less likely to bloom up with artifacts during sports, etc.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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