Ask LH: What Format Should I Buy iTunes Content In?

Ask LH: What Format Should I Buy iTunes Content In?
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Dear Lifehacker, When should I choose standard definition over high definition TV shows or movies from iTunes? Right now I have a Sony 1080P in my bedroom and a 42″ inch 1080p screen in the living room. Often I’m unable to see a major difference between the two definitions. Any advice? Cheers, Redefined

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Dear Redefined,

The visual benefits of high-definition video are dependent on a range of factors, including the size and brand of your HD screen, the quality of the video transfer (especially for older movies) and the distance you sit from the TV. It’s also possible that your HD display is badly calibrated, which could affect the image quality — click here to read our quick-fix guide.

In addition to all this, the perceived beauty of HD is very much in the eye of the beholder: some people refuse to tolerate anything less than 1080p, while others don’t really understand what the fuss is all about. In your case, it sounds like you’re pretty happy with DVD quality, so there’s very little reason to waste the extra money and bandwidth on high-definition downloads. We’d stick to standard definition.

On a related note, buying on DVD and ripping the content may actually be cheaper and more flexible than relying on iTunes for your movie fix. You can read a guide to the best DVD ripping tools here.

See also: Can The Splendour Of 4K Save A Crap Movie? | Ask LH: Is It Worth Buying HD iTunes Content For Tablets?


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  • To me this depends on the content i am purchasing. TV shows i generally buy in sd, mainly because they are the type of show i will watch on multiple devices- bedroom Apple TV, ipad, mac, mac connectd to lounge tv. My resolution and screen type varies but they still look great to me. Movies i generally buy in hd unless its an old movie where sd will suffice for its age and possibly if its 4:3 format.

    • Good point regarding TV content — I’d also add that the nature of most TV shows (bland interiors, talking heads, etc.) doesn’t benefit from HD resolution in the same way something like Lord of the Rings does. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but not that many.

  • Ripping DVDs seems to take forever to watch later on iPad on trips , is that normal ?

  • Apple heavily compress their 1080p content. So the difference in quality isn’t as good as it shouldbe

    • I was going to make a smart-arse iTunes comment but your comment is brilliant. Hats off to you, sir.

  • I just rip every DVD/BD to non compressed full quality, put it on my server, and it to Plex.

    If i want it on the ipad, I log into my plex web account at work, start the transcoding job on the server and it pushes it to the ipad when its done.

    Apple TV makes a great Plex front end, and you dont have to deal with Apples DRM.

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