Advice about iTunes 1080p HD versus Blu-ray (movies)
May 6, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Advice about iTunes 1080p HD versus Blu-ray (movies)

I have done basic research on the quality differences between these two "formats" since Apple starting posting 1080p HD films (and free upgrades for previous 720p HD buyers) this year. I am also aware that image quality comparison varies between the two formats from film to film based on compression quality issues such as motion, highlights and shadows where the more highly compressed iTunes 1080p HD suffers. Up until this year I was reluctant to start collecting iTunes HD movies but two things has made me reconsider:

1. Apple probably never supporting Blu-ray playback (I have tried the most common suggested ways of ripping/converting, but it's just a royal pain and you get spotty results on extras and features) ... and I do not wish to invest in a totally separate media system just for Blu-ray.

2. iTunes started making Criterion HD films available late last year ... a small selection, and without Criterion extras, but still, the film is most critical to me.

For me Criterion is the standard. I downloaded a couple Criterion HD films from iTunes that I have on Blu-ray (The Battle of Algiers, Solaris) and find a lot of subtle compression issues, but they are still watchable. I have no idea if Apple will over time upgrade HD quality, but I would assume it will not be soon because it seems tied to the quality of their devices and pixel density is unlikely to go up in the next couple years from my knowledge of existing technology and costs.

So. What I am asking is about other MeFite experiences, decisions and choices on this issue.

Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.
posted by buffalo to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For watching movies on PCs, I rip a DVD or Blu-ray to a disc image (.ISO) and mount with VirtualCloneDrive. The advantages of this are numerous:

1) No optical drive noise while watching a movie.
2) No time spent re-encoding a movie to another format.
3) No CSS, no AACS, no BD-Live, no iTunes DRM, no other hassles.
4) Full menus and PowerDVD etc. are fooled into thinking you have the physical disc.
5) No risk of damage to a physical disc.
6) No account needed.
7) Widely available user reviews on whether a particular disc mastering or pressing has some flaw (e.g. the awful picture quality in the original Blu-rays of Gladiator or The French Connection).
8) Re iTunes movies: Watching them in iTunes sucks.
9) All extras and features (but for phone-home garbage) included.

There is one downside:

-You need hard drive space; hard drive space is fortunately cheap.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:56 PM on May 6, 2012

I think the biggest concern is system lock-in. Once you start paying for DRM'd movies, you can't take them anywhere else other than an Apple TV. Not a problem for rentals in my view, but far more questionable for things you want to purchase outright.
posted by modernnomad at 3:18 PM on May 6, 2012

"invest" is an odd word for buying a blu-ray player.

Do you not have an HD television? Blu-ray players are not expensive at all, anymore. If you don't have a HD televisions, many monitors can also be used, as long as they support HDCP. Check your monitor's manual.
posted by Mwongozi at 4:40 PM on May 6, 2012

Response by poster: 1. Inspector.Gadget ... excellent advice. And true about hard drive space. Super cheap. You should see my music collection. Downside is my platform is all Mac. Thus, the issue of not having a feasible software Blu-ray player for the Mac. If I had a PC it would not be an issue. But, admittedly, that isn't going to change ... also, for me, watching in iTunes full screen is very clean and easy. I have no issues with it. Plus, one pleasure of iTunes movies (and Criterion discs, by the way) is no ads, no FBI warnings.

2. Regarding Apple and DRM, I generally agree, but you can watch iTunes films on (a) your computer (or any other computer you pick), or (b) on an TV or projector hooked into your computer (they are just peripherals after all), plus you can (c) travel with them on a laptop, iPad, etc. I can't tell you how convenient that is.

3. Regarding HD TV (or any television) ... I have never owned one. I am one of those people. Simple lifestyle, as few "appliances" as possible, never had/wanted cable service. But though I enjoy film, I could never take the step towards setting up a media/theater center. For film, I use a huge monitor or can use a good HD projector where the difference between and DVD vs Blu-ray is clear. Plus excellent headphones. But maybe it is worth rethinking that philosophy.

4. Lastly as an aside, and I never thought I'd say this, but having cloud access to anything I buy from Apple, for the foreseeable future, is huge. A mere year ago when I lost all a bunch of iTunes purchases and was told by Apple that I would get only one more download and then never again, I was not happy. Now, they have the complete opposite policy simply because they implemented iCloud. Crazy.

Anyway, thanks all.
posted by buffalo at 8:05 PM on May 6, 2012

1080p from iTunes won't same the same quality as a Blu-Ray, and almost certainly won't have the audio options -- forex, I'm pretty certain there's no uncompressed audio available. It's just a matter of bits, even with the very good H.264 4.0 High profile compression, there's just a lot more room for bits on a Blu-Ray (25GB per layer) than there is in your typical iTunes file (4-6GB, from what I've seen.)

Reviews say that the quality of 1080p iTunes files is quite good -- it's not as good as Blu-Ray, but still good. The audio is, at best, Dolby Digital 5.1, but often AAC 2.0. The info box on the film will mention the audio encoding (or at least the number of tracks). Since there are no audio-outs on the ATV, you'll need something downstream to decode the DD signal and drive a 5.1 speaker system.

The biggest issue is with large areas of nearly-the-same color, where banding appears. This is common in highly compressed videos. One of the reason for Blu-Ray's high storage capacity is to keep the video compression low enough to substantially eliminate banding, provided the video track is properly encoded.
posted by eriko at 6:01 AM on May 7, 2012

I've gone the iTunes route. Here are the factors that I considered. iTunes pros:

1. I'd like to limit the things I have to store. I have one bookshelf of movies and it's full, so moving away from physical media is a plus.
2. Portability. I can start watching something at home, then finish it on the subway. I can plug my iPhone into my parents' TV and play Winnie-the-Pooh for my daughter. When she's bigger, she can take the iPad on trips to keep her occupied.
3. For kids' movies in general, I think iTunes is great. They can watch them over and over and you don't have to worry about them scratching or losing a disc.
4. Quality. I'm listing this as a "pro" because the iTunes movies look good enough that I don't feel I'm compromising. Technically the videos look worse than Blu-Rays, but I'd only be aware of it in a side-by-side comparison, so it's moot enough for me.
5. No menus or previews that can't be skipped. These really piss me off and put me in a bad mood before I even start watching the movie.
6. iTunes remembers your progress better than DVD players I've owned.
7. Purchasing is very easy. No trips to the store.
8. With an Apple TV, you can stream movies from iCloud without having to deal with connecting to your computer and keeping it awake and logged in. I prefer to stream from my computer when I can, but sometimes someone else in the house needs to be on the computer.

iTunes cons:

1. Quality, if it's really important to you.
2. You don't get the volume of special features or commentary. I don't tend to watch these but there are some films I really do want to dig into.
3. iTunes has DRM. You can rip DVDs or Blu-Rays and strip it. In practice I haven't ever been slowed down by iTunes DRM, but a case could come up. It's possible Apple could stop authenticating movies suddenly, but I'll be on that not happening before Blu-Rays start to seem obsolete.
4. Closed captions are limited but expanding on iTunes. It should be criminal not to have them on everything.
5. You don't have to store everything locally if you can depend on iCloud, but for now at least I am, and that eats up a ton of space.
posted by davextreme at 7:55 AM on May 7, 2012

This site has a great side by side visual comparison of video quality. It only compares Apple 720p, but I find it still useful.

If I were making the choice, I'd go digital.
posted by reddot at 7:16 PM on May 10, 2012

Response by poster: ok, based on good feedback and other web research, i have this "answer" to my problem.

i will be going to all digital, embracing whatever is available, even if that is lower quality. mainly that means iTunes. it is pretty clear that within five years all film media will be available one way or another this way (iTunes, Amazon, etc) and to be honest, back in the day when i was hunting out film in the video store independent sections, i had no idea what i was getting VHS-wise, pan and scan, low rez, etc. i was just happy to see what i could. so if i can handle that i can handle Criterion on iTunes at lower bitrates. i also so hate the blu-ray hardware restrictions. it is insane. truly.

that said, if you are a film fanatic. buy every blu-ray you can and get a great video/sound setup. it will be a joy. but in ten years i doubt you'll need it. BUT, you'll have it, it will still work, and you can watch your films into oblivion. just need electricity.
posted by buffalo at 4:20 PM on May 15, 2012

Response by poster: Addendum:
This post came out right around the time I posted the above query, offering a better comparison between the two options than the ArsTechnica article that raised the issue in my mind initially. Even on a LCD monitor, the difference can be dramatic.

Also, the Blu-ray Player for Mac software has improved enough to make it worth looking at. Last May, it was pretty glitchy. Still lacks great functionality, but it will play the damn film on the Mac. Note however that the product appears to be packaged by at least three different companies ... implying a bit o' sketchiness there.
posted by buffalo at 5:15 PM on February 28, 2013

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