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.