Compression Depression & the iPhone 4 (Updated)

Yes, I stood in line for hours.  Yes, I’m a nerd.  And yes, the new iPhone is awesome.

One of the biggest reasons I was willing to get up at 5:00 a.m. and trek off to the dreaded mall is the new camera features.  Front and back, flash and high definition.

Which is all great.  In theory.  Unfortunately, I have run into two hurdles that are all but killing my iPhone video buzz.

Buzz Kill 1: Too Much Compression.

Videos shot on the new  iPhone look great, on the iPhone.  And it simply could not be easier to upload video from the iPhone to YouTube.  The big, massive, honking problem is that somewhere between the iPhone and YouTube the video is compressed so much, it looks like something from the nineties.  As in the 1890’s.

Here’s the way my test clip looks on YouTube.


Now on Vimeo

That’s a lot better, although it still looks a little grainy when you view it full screen (see the little icon with four arrows).  Why in this age of infinite cloud storage and broadband do we compress video at all?

There’s no excuse for over-compressing it the way the YouTube process does.  In a few years we’re all going to have the same dilemma we faced after initially ripping our CDs at 128 Kbps.  Those who forget history, and all that.

All of this makes the iPhone largely unworkable as a camcorder substitute, particularly if you aren’t near your computer, because. . .

Buzz Kill 2: No Easy Way to Move Videos

Even if I was willing to forego the convenience of an immediate upload and work with the native video files, there is no way to easily move video files off of the iPhone when you aren’t in front of your computer.  Sure, Dropbox lets you upload video files easily, but they are over-compressed before they are uploaded, even if you select the highest quality in the app settings.

32GB is a lot of space when you’re near home, but not when you go on a vacation.  And plan to take your iPad in lieu of a laptop.

There may be a workaround for this series of problems, but I haven’t found it yet.

I’m still mourning my buzz.


It looks like the inability to upload videos in HD over the air is a known and much bemoaned feature deficit with the new iPhones.  The man himself says we’ll be able to upload in HD “in the future.”

A commenter on the post above says that the Pixelpipe app will upload HD video to YouTube now, but I don’t have that app so I can’t verify it.

5 thoughts on “Compression Depression & the iPhone 4 (Updated)

  1. Wow. Agreed on the youtube compression fail. Except I've seen several iPhone4 videos that are shot in HD and give much better quality than this. There doesn't seem to be an option to view yours above 360p, where others are available up to 720p. Maybe that's a function of your camera settings or upload settings? I've uploaded a video shot on my Nexus One using it's default sharing function and it was heavily compressed too. Photos however are surprisingly good. As far as uncompressed video, I think it's a pipe dream, at least for now. I think miniDV video is around 200MB per minute uncompressed and a video I recently shot on my Canon 7D in 1920×1080 mode was about 460MB for something like 1.5 minutes. Clearly compression is required. The quality of that compression is where the innovation is happening (ie. h264, VP8 etc). ps. It's amazing how great stuff can look on a 3″ screen isn't it? 🙂

  2. The irritating thing about the iPhone in general, is that its designed not to break At&T's fragile data network. Which is fair. But what Apple should do, and must do is to allow, a) the use of wi-fi to unload and download data without the same restrictions and b) allow international carriers to turn those restrictions on and off at will.

  3. Those better looking YouTube videos may have been manually uploaded, like the Vimeo one I did (which looks a lot better). I don't see any way to change the compression for the immediately uploaded videos, which is a huge problem.I wasn't clear on the no-compression thing. What I meant was that there shouldn't be any further compression beyond the MOV file that is initially recorded onto the iPhone. Those files are of manageable size and seem to work OK.This is a bummer, but otherwise the new iPhone is pretty awesome.

  4. I didn't make the connection, but you're right. This is another example of ATT screwing up our iPhone experience. Apple should figure out how much it makes per phone with the ATT exclusive deal, open up the iPhone to all carriers on terms that will result in as close as possible to the same amount, and spread the network load.

  5. Yep, I agree that it's an AT&T fail. On Apple's side, it'd be nice if they allowed us to upload HD over WiFi, just as watching YouTube vids on the phone over 3G is fairly low res, but watching over WiFi automatically pipes in the higher res version. For now, I guess it's still the old “plug the phone into the computer, open YouTube, open the file in the iPhone, and upload” if we want HD quality. On the hopeful side, 4G is coming (Sprint is off and running with it) in the next several years, so sooner or later HD uploads shouldn't be a problem. Congrats on your new phone! 🙂

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