iTunes HD: is it or isn't it? Plus: SD Included!

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We greeted the arrival of HD TV shows for iTunes with as much joy as we greeted the return of the previously nixed NBC content: with great joy.

Part of our joy was a secret hope that since the iPhone can (technically) handle HD content natively, it meant we might someday be able to play HD video direct from the iPhone -- albeit through a dreamy-future-video-out capability since playing HD on the iPhone's screen seems a little pointless. Sure, HD takes up radically more space, but hey, we like options.

Well Gizmodo [via] threw some cold water on all that by pointing out that the HD iTunes streams up might not be all that HD. The issue is roughly that not all HD is created equal -- you need to check the resolution (720p or 1080i or whatnot), but you also need to give some thought to the bitrate. It's basically a function of compression and, well, the more you compress the worse it's going to look. So while iTunes is offering up HD content, that content is compressed into a size that's reasonable for most people to download.

AppleInsider points out that Apple's h.264 encoding is better than most at getting quality video into a compact package. Still, don't expect your iTunes HD to look like BluRay.

One nice tidbit: When you download HD content from iTunes, it includes a Standard-Def version, which is what gets transferred to your iPhone. Apple probably took a look at the 'options' we mentioned we liked and figured we were better off with the SD on our portables. We tend to agree.

Dieter Bohn

Dieter Bohn is former editor-in-chief of Smartphone Experts, writing across iMore, Windows Phone Central, Android Central, and more. You can find him on Twitter (and everywhere else) @backlon.

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There are 2 comments. Add yours.

Rene Ritchie says:

I have digital cable at home, and while they spare no bandwidth to make Discovery HD look mind-blowing, other channels are compressed down worse than old analog signals. Several of them are more noise than signal, even FX-heavy ones.
iTunes aren't Blu-Ray for sure, but they're at least consistent to my eyes across the library, and consistency is key.
Also, I think the iPhone display, while pegged at -- what? -- 320p? Would probably act like a 720p TV (i.e. 768px) and just take whatever the input signal is (720p/i, 1080p/i), downscale it, and display it -- and hopefully one day pass it through via HD video output cables...

Reaktor5 says:

Any word if I could upgrade let's say the Dexter Season 1 to HD without buying the entire season again? I think that'd be a really good idea similar to the iTunes Plus tracks.