Why does non-HD content look so bad?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by jersey10, Feb 14, 2008.

  1. jersey10 macrumors regular

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    Jan 20, 2004
    #1
    The HD movies and HD trailers accessed through Apple TV look great. But why does all the non-HD stuff, both movies and TV shows, look so bad? I am far from an HD snob, but on my TV, the non-HD stuff looks far worse than DVD, digital (non-HD cable), or the movies I have converted via Handbrake (all of which I am quite happy with the quality of). It really looks comparable (or possibly even worse) than analog cable. And this seems to be the case with all the non-HD content.

    Is everyone else experiencing the same thing? The way it stands now, I can't imagine ever renting a non-HD movie via Apple TV. And for TV shows, I am better off buying the season on DVD and then converting it via Handbrake.
     
  2. powerbook911 macrumors 68040

    powerbook911

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    #2
    Yes jersey10 , you're spot on!

    It's absolutely pathetic in my opinion. The standard quality videos. I went ahead and got one because it was the only way it was available, and I won't be doing that again.

    The iTunes through computer is the worst quality of all (which is also the tv shows you can buy through Apple TV). I don't understand why Apple doesn't give us better quality. After all, the Apple TV is aimed at widescreen HD televisions.
     
  3. nando2323 macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    I disagree I think it looks perfectly fine. If you got a 1080p TV then obviously its going to look like crap no matter what you do because you are stretching the crap out of the picture. But on my Panasonic 720p 42" plasma it looks almost identical to my ripped mp4's at 2000 kbps especially the wide screen SD stuff. Before ATV the ITMS stuff did look like crap but the stuff thats on there now looks pretty damn good.
     
  4. Markleshark macrumors 603

    Markleshark

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    #4
    I must admit, I was looking through the previews of the Music Videos and they are poor, but the TV shows we have available in the UK look perfectly fine.
     
  5. jersey10 thread starter macrumors regular

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    #5
    I have a 1080i Panasonic, not 1080p. And the picture quality is terrible on the non-HD stuff, far worse than digital (non-HD cable) or Handbrake. It is not even close.
     
  6. tdhurst macrumors 68040

    tdhurst

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    #6
    Yeah...

    SD broadcasting SUCKS. My Mike and Mike video podcasts look ten times better.
     
  7. jersey10 thread starter macrumors regular

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    #7
    I guess my specific question is why don't the non-HD movies and TV shows available on AppleTV at least equal the picture quality of digital (non-HD) cable?

    I would of course prefer that the TV shows and more movies be offered in HD, but I would be content with non-HD, digital cable quality offerings. It doesn't appear to even approach that quality though.
     
  8. HobeSoundDarryl macrumors 603

    HobeSoundDarryl

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    #8
    Because the non-HD video is "below SD quality" by design. Combine that with tight compression (making it smaller files for ipods) and you get lower quality pictures which are much more obvious when blowing these pictures up on a large HDTV screen.

    Though you wouldn't be interested, you can achieve the same effect with Handbrake by rendering for AppleTV and rendering again for iPod from the same source (say- a DVD clip). On your HDTV, play the version you made for AppleTV and it will look pretty good. Then, play the version you made for iPod and it will not look as good.

    The HD on AppleTV is not as good as less compressed, higher (HD) resolution source material either (like BlueRay), so if you watched enough BlueRay and/or other less compressed HD (like over the air HD) until your eyes got used to seeing that standard, then switched to AppleTV HD, you might notice that it doesn't quite look as good as what you would have become used to seeing either.

    Apple (and/or the studios) is apparently making choices of quality for us. Much of the iTunes (non-HD) video is aimed at the much larger base of iPod (with video) people (smaller file size with lower resolutions) vs. AppleTV owners.
     
  9. killmoms macrumors 68040

    killmoms

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    #9
    Basically it's the compression trade-offs necessary to support the existing base of iPods, which require video encoded with H.264's "Baseline - Low Complexity" profile in order to get up to actual SD resolutions. The new iPod classic, iPod nano and iPod touch seem to support slightly higher profiles in higher sizes, but the rest do not. Since the iTunes Store has to cater to the lowest common denominator, that's the quality level they have to hit.
     
  10. tdhurst macrumors 68040

    tdhurst

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    #10
    Hmm...

    What about those with video iPods attached to TVs? The 640x480 or so resolution looks decent on my 32" Phillips 720p. No real complaints.
     
  11. pj4533 macrumors newbie

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    Feb 12, 2008
    #11
    Hmmm.....I think different stuff looks better or worse, especially the SD content. For example, I bought 'Chinatown', and I think it looks as good as I could hope. Definately on par with SD dvds that I rip.

    -pj

    ps: If you havn't seen Chinatown, do yourself a favor and watch it. One of my favorites ever.
     
  12. jersey10 thread starter macrumors regular

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    #12
    So, just to make sure I understand this:

    When I buy a TV show or rent a non-HD movie on AppleTV it is giving me basically the equivalent of iPod level video quality on Handbrake, rather than a higher setting like the Apple TV setting on Handbrake?

    If so, it is ridiculous that Apple has chosen to do this. iPod level video quality is always going to look terrible on a large HDTV. Why not enable you to choose a higher video quality when you are buying or renting something for viewing on your Apple TV and a lower quality when you are getting something for viewing on your iPod (where the file size is more important). Or why not start out with the higher quality by default when you buy anything through AppleTV with the ability to downgrade it if you end up wanting to watch it on your iPod?

    The way it is now basically makes all the non-HD offerings on Apple TV worthless because the quality is so bad on an HDTV. If Apple really wants to sell non-HD stuff to people using Apple TV to watch on their televisions, it needs to upgrade the quality. I know many more people have iPods, but aren't movie rentals more likely to be so people can watch them on their TVs? Regardless, Apple is handicapping the AppleTV right from the start with this current arrangement.
     
  13. nando2323 macrumors 6502a

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    #13
    I think its just like pj here says. Some stuff looks good and some still looks like the old ITMS crap. I think we are still in a transition period and sooner or later everything will be the same. Just like the youtube stuff before they converted it all to h.264 for the iPhone.
     
  14. leekohler macrumors G5

    leekohler

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    #14
    Yes- I've had some stuff look great and others bad too. But I'm loving ATV so far!
     
  15. BaldiMac macrumors 604

    BaldiMac

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    Jan 24, 2008
    #15
    The part that you don't understand is that iPod quality is close to DVD quality. Generally speaking, 720X480 vs 640x480. That does simplify it a bit, but anyway, the picture size is close.

    The difference is that the movies that you download from iTunes are more compressed, like an mp3 vs a CD. With a quality codec like h.264, the effects of the compression are minimal. Just like an mp3, most people won't notice or care about the difference, but some people will.
     
  16. jersey10 thread starter macrumors regular

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    #16
    Well maybe I don't understand, but the movies I have converted via Handbrake using the Apple TV setting are also compressed, but they look far better than what the Apple TV is giving me when I purchase or rent stuff off of it. And the differences I am talking about are not minor - they are dramatic. The picture on the non-HD stuff I have tried thus far on my TV (such as an episode of season 2 of 24) are terrible, everyone would notice it and be unhappy. It really looks like it is simply taking the iPod picture, which looks great on a 2 inch screen and simply blowing it up to 40 inches. The quality is horrendous. Maybe other available non-HD material looks better, but none of the few things I have tried yet.
     
  17. killmoms macrumors 68040

    killmoms

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    #17
    The AppleTV setting in Handbrake uses H.264's "Main Profile," as I recall, at a reasonably high bitrate. This produces better looking files, but they cannot play on iPods.

    I agree that Standard Def rentals purchased on the Apple TV should use a higher profile for encoding, since they cannot be transferred off the device. However, because TV shows and music bought on the Apple TV can be transferred to a computer (and then to iPods), those will probably never be available in a higher quality version. Well, when I say "never" I mean "until there's a low-power H.264 decoder chip for mobile devices capable of decoding Main Profile material without compromising on battery life AND that chip has been in iPod models for long enough that users of older models won't be left in the cold."

    Either way, technological progress unfortunately means that Apple has to keep catering to the lowest common denominator (or do some weird shifts on their end and/or agreements with studios to allow for different quality downloads of the same material).
     
  18. HobeSoundDarryl macrumors 603

    HobeSoundDarryl

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    #18
    jersey10, you basically got it with that answer. There are Apple fans here who will argue that it looks just about as good as DVD, but that's missing the point of your question (summed up best by clearly seeing the difference on your TV). Others have added some detail to the answer that indeed we are working to a lowest common denominator here (and that is previous generation iPod with video).

    Some are correctly pointing out eye-of-the-beholder point-of-views, but then some of their feedback might suggest they need to buy a better (HD)TV and/or get an eye exam.

    You are also correct that the optimal solution would be for Apple to have various versions of the video files available catering to the targeted playback device. For example, someone buying or renting a TV show through :apple:TV is most likely going to watch it via :apple:TV on a decent+ quality HDTV. When someone is looking at buying via iTunes, the simple solution would be to have a number of options available to buy the version for various generations of iPods as well as a version that maximizes what :apple:TV can output.

    BUT, that means more transaction choices- which might be seen as confusing to some. The "simple" drivers in Apple philosophy might not like that solution even if it would be a good way to deliver optimal video quality to the variety of Apple-created playback devices.
     
  19. BaldiMac macrumors 604

    BaldiMac

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    Jan 24, 2008
    #19
    I'd guess you are using Handbrake to encode the SD material (480p DVD) at an HD resolution (720p). So you are losing less information, but your filesize will be bigger. That's the tradeoff in downloads. You are comparing your HD file from Handbrake to an SD download from Apple. Of course the SD picture is going to be somewhat worse. And you can't expect Apple to send you a 720p file (HD) when they clearly call it a SD ("near DVD").

    I've purchase several tv shows and movies from iTunes, and they all seem to be about the same quality or better than a digital cable non-HD channel. Maybe I'm lucky or not very picky. And I have a 50" screen.

    That said, the quality of the picture can vary greatly depending on the source and the methods used to create the final product even at the same resolution. I don't know which part of the process Apple handles and which part the content provider (Fox for "24") handles.
     

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