How to Download High-Quality 1080p HD Movies from iTunes

download 1080p HD movies from itunes
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All HD content looks noticeably better than standard-definition movies or TV shows, but there are actually multiple levels of HD quality. When the iTunes Store started offering content in HD, it only supported the lesser of the levels: 720p. As the higher-quality option, known as 1080p, has become the standard for HD devices and content, the iTunes Store has upgraded, too.

Getting that higher-resolution content isn't the default, but it's definitely what you want.

Luckily, with one small setting change, you can ensure that you always get top-quality 1080p movies from the iTunes Store.

The Difference Between 720p and 1080p HD

The two dominant HD standards—720p and 1080p—are both high definition and may be hard to differentiate using the naked eye, but they're not the same. That difference will be most noticeable when watching 720p content on a device that supports 1080p. The picture quality, in that case, won't be as good as 1080p content on a 1080p device.

The 720p HD standard offers a 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, while the 1080p standard packs in 1920 x 1080 pixels. Needless to say, 1080p images contain more information and more pixels, leading to a more detailed and high-quality image.

It's worth knowing that because the 1080p content has 2.25 times as many pixels as 720p content, it takes up more storage space and will take longer to download. That said, Apple's compression technology allows it to create 1080p files that are just 1.5 times bigger than 720p files, according to Ars Technica, which means content from the iTunes Store downloads faster and needs less storage than you might expect.

Apple Devices That Support 1080p HD

As noted above, for the first few years of HD support at iTunes, content was only available in 720p. In keeping with that choice, Apple's devices only supported 720p HD content. With the introduction of 1080p at iTunes, that changed. As of this writing, the following Apple devices support 1080p:

Of course, any 1080p HDTV can also display 1080p content from iTunes.

Always Download 1080p HD Content from iTunes

Since not all Apple devices can play 1080p content, Apple gives users a choice of which kind of HD content they'd prefer to download. You don't make this choice at the iTunes Store when you buy or rent movies or TV shows. Instead, you make the choice in the iTunes program itself. To do this:

  1. Make sure you're running iTunes 10.6 or higher. If not, download it
  2. Then open Preferences (on a Mac, this is in the iTunes menu. On a PC, it's under Edit)
  3. In the Preferences window, click on Store
  4. In the middle section of the window, look for the option titled Download full-sized HD videos. Check the box next to it
  5. Click OK to save that change.

Your iTunes is now set to download 1080p content whenever possible—but there's one catch.

The One Limitation

Not all content in the iTunes Store is available in the 1080p format. Just beneath the Download full-sized HD videos option is a note that says 1080p movies will be preferred over 720p.

With that setting, you'll get 1080p HD content whenever it's available. If it's not, you'll get 720p.

There's no specific warning that iTunes provides when it's going to give you a 720p movie, so if you care about that you need to check out the information about the item you're interested in. To find that, go to the movie's page in the iTunes Store and look for its price. You'll see what HD formats the item is available in.

What About 4K?

These days, 720p and 1080p aren't the only HD standards. There's also 4K, an even higher resolution (technically it's two resolutions: 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160).

As of this writing, the iTunes Store doesn't offer content in 4K, so there's no option to make sure you download movies in that format. Presumably, Apple will offer it eventually and then this tutorial will help you get 4K movies from iTunes.

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