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Quality of videos sent via Messages

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Q: A friend from across the country sends me video texts from his iPhone 4S. He always uses the front camera that has the lower resolution, rather than the back camera. The videos are sent to me through via text message. The videos he sends me usually have a resolution of 640x480. I connect my iPhone to my PC and drag his videos to my desktop. When I play them with media player, they look pretty good. With ones he has sent me recently, however, I have noticed that the quality of the video has dramatically degraded and they look pixellated. When I right click on the file in media player and hit detail, the resolutions are 320x240 or even 223x128. What would make the resolution change and get smaller?  Thanks for your help.

- Gary

A: The most likely issue here is that the lower-quality videos are being sent via your carriers’ SMS/MMS networks, rather than through Apple’s iMessage servers.

iMessage transmits videos and photos in their original, full resolutions. Since a video recorded with the front camera on the iPhone 4S would be 640x480, that is the quality of video you normally receive, which is what you’ve been seeing in the the past. In fact, if your friend used the rear camera, you’d actually be getting his videos in 1920x1080 (1080p) resolution.

However, most carriers also allows videos to be sent via their traditional text messaging services, using a protocol known as Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS. Photos and videos sent via MMS are almost always scaled down to 320x240 or even smaller, with lower bit rates and frame rates, depending on the carrier involved. This downscaling is based on a size limit set by the carrier rather than an arbitrary resolution, so in the case of videos, the longer the video the greater the downscaling.

Size limits vary from carrier to carrier, with some only allowing 300KB per MMS message, while others going as high as 1MB or 2MB. These limits are specified in each carrier’s settings within iOS so that the Message app knows how to downscale multimedia content before sending it to the carrier’s MMS network.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around this other than to ensure that you’re always using iMessage to send photos and videos between the two of you. This should be the default if you’re both using iPhones and have iMessage enabled under Settings, Messages, but there are situations where your iPhone may “fall back” to MMS, such as when one or both of your are out of data coverage. This fallback is controlled by the sending device and can be disabled by turning off the “Send as SMS” option in Settings, Messages. With this setting disabled, outbound iMessages will remain pending until both devices are within data coverage to allow them to be delivered.

For more information, see our Guide to FaceTime + iMessage: Setup, Use, and Troubleshooting.

 

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