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
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  • metafor - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Fair enough. But that really doesn't take away from the fact that the A5 is a relatively large chip and from the UV-scans of it, looks to use quite a bit of that die area for the GPU.

    I don't know if a similar scan has been done of Exynos but one can't safely say both chips are far bigger than SoC's traditionally used in this space.

    Though that trend appears to be moving forward with MSM8960 and Tegra 3.....
    Reply
  • PeteH - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    That leads to an interesting question: will Apple always have the largest SoCs, and thus (most likely) the highest performance in the mobile space?

    The reason I could see this happening is that Apple doesn't have to sell their SoC's at a profit, so they're paying closer to cost for the chips (excluding the fab mark up). Other manufacturers (like NVIDIA) need to make a profit on their chips.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, November 03, 2011 - link

    "I'm not entirely sure why they had to use such a powerful GPU, though. "

    And you know EXACTLY how Apple use the GPU do you?
    Does Siri run some of its workload on the GPU? Does the faster camera stuff (eg fast HDR) run on the GPU? Does Apple already have OpenCL running (for internal use) on iOS?
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    He must be an Android fan.

    Androids new marketing campaign will offer a revolutionary 'new' feature - the ability to have a slower GPU than other phones!!!

    Magical.
    Reply
  • InternetGeek - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    They might give AMD and nVidia a run for their money if they ever tried creating desktop products... Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Kyro 2 was a good chip, but obviously went to focus on the desktop market. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Maybe, but there's a reason such crossovers usually take so long. Look at Intel trying to get into this space, I don't doubt they will be good at it but it takes years of development. Imagination specializes in low power, it would take lots of development effort to get into the high power desktop game. Reply
  • _tangent - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    I think this might be intentionally ironic given they got out of that game a long time ago :P

    On point though, anyone would given AMD and nVidia a run for their money with the right up front cash and expertise. I imagine the barrier to entry into that market is truly colossal though. Point is, the SGX543 MP2 is no evidence one way or the other.
    Reply
  • lurker22 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Before buying many people who got a 4s on AT&T told me how much better it was than their prior AT&T iphones.

    Anand, thanks for confirming and explaining the reasons.
    Reply
  • LordSojar - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Can't we have reviews as detailed as this for the really big name Android phones? They are always far less detailed and lack a lot of the testing put into this.... thing....

    Apple makes a few adjustments, tweaks a few things, adds in the same processor that's in the iPad 2, and we have a highly detailed, scientific review that covers every single aspect, even if said aspects are the same. Samsung releases a new phone that has overall better features, faster CPU, faster NAND, a different and arguably better (or at least equal) screen, and mums the word?

    The bias is getting a bit out of hand at this point... We get that you're big time Apple fans, but cmon... At least do a major review of this caliber for the Droid RAZR and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S2 Skyrocket (LTE on AT&T!). Even if you combine them into one review, just make it THIS detailed for once instead of giving Apple the huge, super detailed ultra review!
    Reply

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