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iTunes 1080p vs Blu-Ray: Which is Best?

iTunes 1080p vs Blu-Ray: Which is Best?

With iTunes’s video quality now top class, how does it stack up against the industry leader in HD video, Blu-Ray? Ars Technica decided to find out and conducted a pretty through test. The result: iTunes 1080p (always left) comes very close, but Blu-Ray (always right) is still just that bit better. In some cases though, you really can’t tell the difference.

Iljitsch van Beijnum of Ars Technica describes the process:

I used the movie 30 Days of Night for the test. According to the Internet Movie Database, this 2007 moviewas filmed in the common Super 35 (film) format and then transferred to a 2k digital intermediate, in other words, it was edited in the digital domain. The iTunes download clocks in at a handsome 3.62GB (where 1GB = 2^30 bytes). It contains a stereo AAC track as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The video resolution is 1920×798. The BRD is a dual layer BD 50 and has a Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as a DTS-HD track, a number of special features and 30 seconds worth of unskippable copyright warnings.

Things started out well for iTunes with the movie’s titles, which look very sharp on both BRD and iTunes 1080p. The images below show the individual pixels. The iTunes image is always on top or to the left, the BRD image on the bottom or to the right.

An early scene that shows a ship on the ice-filled sea also shows that iTunes 1080p almost matches Blu-ray’s level of detail. At the top is a screenshot from the MacBook Air, where one pixel on your screen is one pixel from the original image. Below to the left is the iTunes version photographed from the screen, to the right is the BRD version.

Being a vampire movie that plays in (a fictionalized) Barrow, Alaska during the 30 days in the middle of winter when the sun doesn’t rise, this movie isn’t exactly filled with strong colors. But when they appear, both the iTunes and BRD versions show them off with equal gusto.

An example of iTunes struggling a bit is this scene where the camera tracks a moving car. The Blu-ray version of the telephone pole close-up shows much more detail—including noise or grain. The trouble with noise is that it’s random so it doesn’t compress well. This means the stronger iTunes compression needs to get rid of both detail and noise—which are the same thing to a compression algorithm—to hit its compression target. The BRD, on the other hand, can happily reproduce the noise as present in the source, burning up untold megabits and leaving details untouched.

And his conclusion:

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.

Considering that iTunes 1080p videos are much, much smaller in size, they’ll likely be a better choice for most users.