Video Capture Quality

The iPhone 4 shot excellent quality 720p30 video and remained arguably the best in that category for a considerable run. Recently though it has been outclassed by smartphones that are shooting 1080p30 with impressive quality which record 720p30 just as well. The 4S catches back up on paper and likewise can capture video at 1080p30. Like every prior iDevice, there are no toggles to change video capture size - it’s always at the device’s maximum quality - 1080p30. Apple also made note of their own gyro-augmented electronic stabilization which the 4S brings. Practically every other smartphone we’ve seen has likewise included some electronic stabilization which leverages the pixels around the target 1080p or 720p area.

We’ve captured videos from the 4S in the dual camera mount alongside the 4, an SGS2, and a reference Canon Vixia HF11 for comparison. I also shot a low light comparison between the 4 and 4S. Showing the differences in video between all of those is something of a challenge, so I’ve done a few different things. First, you can grab the native format 4S versus 4 videos here (442 MB) and the 4S versus SGS2 video here (289 MB).

It’s hard to compare those side by side unless you have multiple instances of VLC open and hit play at the same time, so I also combined and synchronized the comparison videos side by side. The frame is 4096x2048 so we can see actual 1080p frames side by side. Though I realize 4K displays are hard to come by, you at least can see full size images which I’ve synchronized.

It’s readily apparent just how much more dynamic range the 4S has over the 4 when you look at the highlights and dark regions. In addition, the 4S does indeed have better white balance, whereas the 4 changes its white balance a few times as we pan left and right through different levels of brightness and ends up looking blue at the very end of the first clip.

Then comes the SGS2 comparison, and I start out with some unintentional shake where you can really see the 4S’ anti shake kick in. I considered the SGS2’s electronic anti shake pretty good, however its narrower field of view in 1080p capture exacerbates the shaking. Subjectively the two are pretty closely matched in terms of video quality, but the SGS2 runs its continual auto focus a lot and has a few entirely unfocused moments. The 4S’ continual auto focus is much more conservative and often requires a tap to refocus.

The Vixia HF11 comparison gives you an idea how the 4S compares to a consumer level camcorder shooting in its own maximum quality mode. I’d say the 4S actually gives it a run for its money, surprisingly enough, though the 4S (like every smartphone) still has rolling shutter in movement. Finally I shot a low light side by side with the 4S and 4, again white balance is better, but the 4S video in this mode looks a bit noisier than the 4. In addition, the 4S exhibits more lens flaring (something I noticed while shooting stills as well) than the 4.

Subjectively video quality from the 4S is very good, but it falls short in other ways. The 4S shoots video at 1080p30 baseline with 1 reference frame at 24 Mbps, with single channel 64 Kbps AAC audio. If you’ve been following our smartphone reviews, you’ll know that although this is the highest bitrate of any smartphone thus far (Droid 3 we’ve seen at 15 Mbps, SGS2 at 17 Mbps), it’s just baseline and not high profile we’ve seen on Exynos 4210 or OMAP4. In addition, two channel audio is becoming a new norm.

Media Info from video shot on the iPhone 4S

The result is that Apple is compensating for lower encoder efficiency (quality per bit) by encoding their 1080p video at a higher bitrate. Other players are getting the same quality at lower bitrates by using better high profile encoders. We dug a little deeper with some stream analysis software, and it appears that Apple’s A5 SoC is using the same encoder as the A4, complete with the same CAVLC (as opposed to CABAC which the other encoders in OMAP4 or Exynos 4210) and efficiency per frame size. It’s just a bit unfortunate, since the result is that video shot on the 4S will use ~40% more space per minute compared with 1080p30 video shot on other platforms (180 MB for 1 minute on the 4S, 128 MB for 1 minute on the SGS2, and 113 MB for 1 minute on OMAP4).

iPhone 4S iPhone 4

One last thing to note is that Apple roughly keeps the same cropped field of view size as the 4 on the 4S when shooting video. You can see this behavior in the rollover above. The 4S field of view is just slightly narrower than the 4. Note that the actual area reported from the sensor when in video capture mode is almost always a crop (sometimes with a 2x2 binning) of the full sensor size with some pixels around the frame for image stabilization.

Still Image Capture Quality Battery Life
POST A COMMENT

201 Comments

View All Comments

  • medi01 - Thursday, November 03, 2011 - link

    Find contrast of BEAUTIFUL Galaxy phones on the charts pretty please... Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    Yeah the 'beautiful' screens...

    The Galaxy screen is what, 480 x 800? on a 4.27 inch screen?

    The iPhone 4s is 640 x 960 - on a 3.5 inch screen.

    A much higher resolution.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Sunday, November 06, 2011 - link

    "1) Ridiculous BS sentences about "improved vibration" that obviously come straight out of Apple's marketing mouth"

    I'm sorry you feel that way, but the vibration unit is indeed different, and lends a completely different feel from every other device out there which just uses a spinning counterweight.

    I'd encourage you to try it on your own.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Great review, thanks Anand! If I weren't so stubborn I'd get an iPhone (because they really are great phones) but I just can't do the Apple thing. I like the openness, tweakability and choices provided by Android phones, but for the general population, the iPhone is pretty much the best option for the high-end market. Reply
  • zanon - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Hoorah, the definitive review is here at last! Thanks as always for your hard work on this.

    And yeah, the 543MP2 is a sick monster of a chip. Imagination Technologies really hit a home run with this one, simply amazing performance. Not just Apple either, I believe the Vita is using the MP4 version of this chip. With the show they've put on this time, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what they do for the Series 6 Rogue ones that I think are still due next year. Or for that matter even if they do an update/shrink of these ones.

    Great to see so much competition between graphics in the mobile world, practically every major player has a foot in the water at least. I think this stuff will start to matter more and more too for items beyond games. Applications like further advances in augmented reality seem like they could use plenty of power, and are uniquely suited to mobile platforms. Things will get really nuts when retinal projection displays or some equivalent finally start filtering down into the main market.
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    It's not really about the architecture, though, but about the size of the GPU = more performance. It's 2x the size and has 1.5-2x the performance of Exynos' GPU. Not that surprising.

    I'm not entirely sure why they had to use such a powerful GPU, though. Is it to make it easier to support higher resolutions? Because it can't be about the games. Why would it get 7x the performance of the previous iPhone 4 GPU, when it can only use 2x of that anyway?
    Reply
  • loganin - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    That's a pretty weak and factually wrong claim to discredit Apple's product, not that it's surprising coming from you.

    "Exynos SoC Same Size As Apple A5 In iPad 2"

    http://www.itproportal.com/2011/06/07/exynos-soc-s...
    Reply
  • zanon - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    loganin already addressed your claptrap regarding size, so we'll just ignore that. A few other bits stand out, however. The first is that, fundamentally, even if you were right so what? You don't win any points for improving in one way vs another, what matters is the result at the end. Regardless of the method PowerVR used the fact that the 543MP2 utterly demolishes the competition, and that it's a beast, would not change.

    Second, you failed to mention in your "1.5x-2x" the performance bit the fact that it's also clocked *50% slower* then the Exynos. Again, even pretending you were correct, your size difference *still* wouldn't explain the kind of gap we're seeing. Unlike size, which is not perfectly correlated with performance, clock rate pretty directly is. If the 4S's A5 was running at 1.2 GHz, it would be more like 2.8x the performance of the Exynos at the high end.

    >>Because it can't be about the games. Why would it get 7x the performance of the previous iPhone 4 GPU, when it can only use 2x of that anyway?
    Also, this bit is just WTF. You might have noticed that PC GPUs continue to increase in power? Despite resolutions not continuing to increase? WTF do you mean "you can only use 2x of that"?? At least until the level of complete photorealism with full real time physics modeling of everything is achieved there's always room to spend more power just making the scene look better. Duh.
    Reply
  • metafor - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Erm, GPU clocks are independent of what the CPU is clocked at. I.e. just because the A5's CPU is clocked at 800MHz doesn't mean the GPU is.

    Apple never really releases what the internal clocks of their various components are running at.
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Do you even know what 50% slower means? It means half the clock speed. It's not 50% slower. It's 30% slower than Exynos CPU.. It's the Exynos CPU that is "50% faster" than the A5 one.

    But that's not even what we were talking about. I was talking about the GPU, not the CPU. The GPU has a difference frequency.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now