Video: Finally High Profile H.264

Section by Brian Klug

There are a few things different with video capture on the iPhone 5 thanks to improvements to both the ISP inside Apple’s A6 SoC, and also software UI changes. First off, because the iPhone 5 display is now 16:9, there’s no cropped view by default or aspect-correct view with letterboxing for video capture. Instead the iPhone 5 video capture window takes an iPad-like approach with transparent UI elements for preview and shooting video.

What’s new is the ability to take still images at 1920x1080 while recording video by tapping a still image capture button that appears while recording. This is a feature we’ve seen onboard a ton of other smartphones and works the same way here. Note that you can’t magically get a wider field of view or the whole CMOS area while shooting video, it’s essentially dumping one frame from video capture as a JPEG instead of into an H.264 container.


In addition the iPhone 5’s tweaked Sony CMOS still uses a smaller center region for video capture. The difference in field of view is pretty big, but nothing that users haven’t already dealt with in the past.

The iPhone 5 brings two main things to video capture. The first is improved electronic image stabilization tweaks and improvements to ISP. The difference is visible but not too dramatic unless you know what you’re looking for. I would wager most users won’t notice a huge step forward from the 4S but if you’re using an iPhone 4 this will be a marked improvement.

The other improvement is video encoding. The iPhone 5 now shoots rear facing 1080p30 video at 17 Mbps H.264 high profile with CABAC. This is a huge step in encoding from the relatively absurd 22–24 Mbps baseline H.264 that the iPhone 4S would shoot at 1080p30. The result is vastly more quality per bit on the iPhone 5, for a big reduction in storage space per minute of video. I did some digging around and found that the A6 uses an Imagination Technologies PowerVR VXE380 for encoding and VXD390 for decoding, which is what I thought was in the previous SoC as well but perhaps wasn’t clocked high enough for encode at high profile. This brings the iPhone 5’s encoder on paper up to match what I see other smartphones running their 1080p video at as well (17 Mbps high profile).

On the front facing camera Apple is shooting 720p30 at 11 Mbps H.264 baseline, as opposed to the VGA at 3.5 Mbps that the 4S shot. Interestingly enough both front and rear shooting modes still are just mono audio, 64 kbps AAC. I would’ve liked to see stereo here since almost all the competition is shooting stereo, and it’d put those 3 microphones to use.


To get a feel for video quality, I stuck my iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 in my dual camera bracket with pistol grip and made a series of three videos. I then combined them and put them side by side for ease of comparison. I’ve uploaded the result to YouTube, but you can also grab the original videos (548 MB zip) if you’d like from the site directly without the transcode.

Overall the most dramatic improvement is the front facing camera, which is obviously night and day. Better image stabilization is noticeable while I’m walking around being intentionally shaky, but nothing hugely dramatic. The main rear facing video improvement seems to be an increase in sharpness (watch the power lines and wires in the native resolution version) and slightly wider field of view. That’s to say nothing of the fact that this quality comes at a bitrate that’s lower than the previous version but with better encode settings.

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  • grkhetan - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Multiple display reviews conclude that the iPhone 5 has the best display in a smartphone (And much better than a Samsung Galaxy S 3)

    http://www.displaymate.com/Smartphone_ShootOut_2.h...

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6334/iphone-5-screen...
    Reply
  • rarson - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Your second link doesn't compare it to anything but the iPhone 4. Your first link ONLY compares it to the S3. Neither link supports your statement ("best display in a smartphone"). Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    A quote from his second link:

    'To put this in perspective, in the past few years I've reviewed probably 30-40 different displays, from PC monitors to TVs to projectors. Not a single one, out of the box, can put up the Gretag Macbeth dE numbers that the iPhone can, and perhaps one projector (which listed for $20,000) can approach the grayscale and color accuracy out of the box.'
    Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Those pesky facts are annoying! Reply
  • Obsoleet - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    No, it's not. There's many reasons the GS3 is the better choice based on the software and hardware, mainly that the MaxxHD only matches a 5 month old phone in hardware specs and tosses on a bigger battery as the only clear win (but you get stuck with a Motorola phone vs most people's preferred choice Samsung).
    But the killer reason is that the charger is on the left hand side.

    For many of us lefties, that is a deal breaker. As a right handed user, you don't realize this. I want the ports on the top or bottom, and I just ordered a GS3 because of this being a tipping point.

    The original Maxx had the ports on the top! Motorola is clueless.
    Never again.
    Reply
  • Ckaka1993 - Thursday, December 06, 2012 - link

    Ppi does make a difference. Go see the videos of droid dna(has 440) ppi and you can make out the difference. iPhone 5 doesnt have true 720p but that doesn't matter cause it's quite close to 720p. Anyways iphone5 is behind so many smartphones at present. Nokia lumia 920 is a treat to watch with its 332 ppi pure motion hd+ display and high refresh rate, u can make out the difference. But nexus 4 is the smartphone which gives u the best worth for money at ony 350usd it is freaking awesome Reply
  • makken - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    The Physical Comparison table lists the iPhone 5's resolution at 1136 x 960, instead of 1136 x 640. Threw me off for a second there =P Reply
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Oops, fixing. There's always something in the table that needs fixing it seems :P

    -Brian
    Reply
  • DukeN - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    And always favorably on the Apple side.

    Maybe you took a picture of the pixel count with the iPhone's camera...
    Reply
  • Alucard291 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I know I love how their own benchmarks show how the battery life is worse in just about everything than the 4s and yet and yet "its better" >.> Reply

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