Impressive image quality for new higher resolution video files available through online store.

iTunes 1080p movies near Blu-ray quality

Apple has launched 1080p high-definition movies on iTunes as the high-resolution iPad 3 and Apple TV devices arrive.

Previously the best Apple offered was 720p video, considerably less than that offered by the humble Blu-ray disc. Now in the iTunes 10.6 Store preferences, users can select which version of the movie downloads the user wants, either 720p or 1080p.

Apple is also encoding the higher resolution versions of the iTunes movies with a more advanced version of the H264 video compression standard which results in only a modest growth in file size.

Tech site Arstechnica set out to compare the new 1080p iTunes movies with traditional Blu-ray discs. Given that the downloaded files are much smaller than Blu-rays due to the more sophisticated encoding, Ars was nevertheless impressed and said the result was pretty close.

That said Blu-rays still have the advantage overall. Ars noted that the image quality of Blu-ray is still better and also noted that the physical disc format often offers uncompressed audio, language options and special features.

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