Apple TV’s iTunes Digital Copies from iCloud are in SD

April 27, 2012

iTunes Digital Copies, included with select Blu-rays or DVDs, only stream in standard definition (SD) to Apple TV from iCloud. When I originally uncovered movies streaming from iCloud, I thought I found at least one example of a movie streaming in HD from iCloud: Star Trek. Looking at it in the “Purchased” section of the Apple TV movie app, it did not display the 1080P badge. However, when the movie appeared in other parts of the Apple TV movie app: Search, Wish List or browsing, it would display the 1080P or HD badge and the movie could be played from those spots. So, I thought it must be in HD. Well, while the Apple TV was reporting 1080P, I should have more thorough and followed my own advice: sit a little closer to the TV.

Recently, one of Tech of the Hub’s readers challenged that iTunes Digital copy movies were streaming in HD from iCloud (Thanks Jonathan!). To get a definitive answer, on the latest Apple TV, I compared the SD Digital Copy of Star Trek on my Mac versus the one from iCloud. Comparing the two, there’s no difference. The same picture artifacts could be seen in both copies. I then compared it to the Blu-ray and it was very obvious. I have a couple of screen captures below that illustrate this. The Star Trek iTunes Digital copy on my Mac is in 480P and encoded at 1.7 Mbps in a 2 GB file. I also looked at the Harry Potter films that I have iTunes Digital Copies of and they are also in SD. As a side note, most iTunes Digital copies do include a Dolby Digital soundtrack. The iTunes Digital Copy is a quality encode but it can’t be called HD.

To clarify, movies purchased or rented directly on the Apple TV do come through in 1080P if marked that way. However, this brings up a new question, what if I want to buy or rent the 1080P version but I already have the SD iTunes Digital Copy? It doesn’t appear you can do it from Apple TV. Maybe if you execute the purchase from iTunes on your Mac it will work.

While I’m still a fan of iTunes Digital Copies for their convenience, I am bummed the quality is not HD. Maybe Apple will offer a movie version of iTunes Music Match in the future that will upgrade them all to 1080P. ¬†Until then, I’ll keep watching my Blu-rays.


Star Trek from iCloud on Apple TV

Apple TV reports the Star Trek iTunes Digital Copy is available in 1080P from selected portions of the UI but it's actually SD.

iTunes Digital Copy version of Star Trek

iTunes Digital Copy version of Star Trek. Notice the lack of detail under and behind the ear.

Star Trek Blu-ray

Same scene from Star Trek but a Blu-ray source

Tags: Apple TV, Digital Copy, iTunes

5 Responses to Apple TV’s iTunes Digital Copies from iCloud are in SD

  1. Jonathan Munguia on April 28, 2012 at 2:37 am

    keep up the good work Gabe!

  2. Travis Ehrenstrom on May 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I really hope Apple TV gets better soon! The thing I hate most about renting movies on iTunes is that they aren’t streaming capable. I was excited to hear that Apple TV would offer streaming, but I hadn’t heard that the films are only streamable in SD.

    Do you know why Apple is doing this? Obviously the technology to stream HD movies is absolutely available, so why would Apple cut a corner here? It seems quite unlike them…

    • Gabe Gagliano on May 2, 2012 at 7:22 pm


      The new Apple TV can stream content at 1080P. Selected TV shows and movies that you rent and buy from the iTunes store are in 1080P. Also, Netflix on the Apple TV has 1080P content as well. This post only applies to iTunes Digital Copies that are included with Blu-rays and DVDs.

  3. Michael on August 22, 2012 at 1:26 am

    I believe this policy has changed. I have a number of existing iTunes digital copies and all of the are SD (there’s no option to download the HD version in iTunes), but I just got the new Jaws Blu-ray/DVD with UltraViolet and digital copy. I redeemed the code at Universal’s site and chose iTunes. Not only did it download an HD version in iTunes, but it also added a HDX version in Vudu (via UltraViolet), so at least Universal is now providing HD digital copies.

    • Gabe Gagliano on August 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

      Awesome! I hope the other studios start making HD versions of Digital Copies available via iTunes. Keep the reports coming.

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