Mac FaceTime 1.0 Adds 720p FaceTime HD - But Only For Brand New Macs? | iLounge Backstage


Mac FaceTime 1.0 Adds 720p FaceTime HD - But Only For Brand New Macs?

A day after leaks revealed that Apple was planning to rebrand Mac iSight cameras as “FaceTime” and “FaceTime HD” cameras—the former at the 640x480 resolution of iPhone 4, iPod touch 4G and earlier Mac iSight cameras, the latter at a then-unknown but likely higher resolution—it’s official: FaceTime 1.0 has arrived for the Mac at a $1 asking price, available through the Mac App Store. (The free beta version of FaceTime continues to work, too, if you’ve already downloaded it.)


The big difference between the beta and final versions? FaceTime HD. As we sort-of guessed yesterday, FaceTime HD leverages the higher-resolution video cameras found in the most recent Macs to deliver 720p (1280x720) video, assuming that you have the extra broadband bandwidth to make and receive calls. Apple requires 1Mbps on both the upstream and downstream sides to make FaceTime HD calls, versus 128Kbps for standard FaceTime connections—around eight times the bandwidth for three times the resolution. This isn’t a huge surprise: Apple’s FaceTime video codec requires the same bandwidth as Logitech’s previously-released 720p-capable video cameras, as just one example.



There’s one big hitch. Yes, FaceTime HD works with “the most recent Macs,” but by “most recent,” we mean “the ones released today.” For reasons unknown, Apple appears to be limiting FaceTime HD solely to today’s just-released MacBook Pro computers, rather than allowing it to work on all of the past Macs with 1280x1024 iSight cameras built in. While owners of the MacBook Air never had a chance at HD calling thanks to the 640x480 iSight camera inside—note that Apple’s MacBook Air tech specs page currently refers to this a “FaceTime camera,” though the 11” MacBook Air’s box calls it an “iSight camera”—purchasers of three-month-old and even three-year-old iMacs technically have cameras capable of HD video, as do many prior-generation MacBook and Cinema Display owners.



As we suggested yesterday, it’s possible that Apple is using FaceTime HD as an opportunity to improve the camera hardware inside all new Macs; it’s also possible that it’s just a change in how the old cameras are being marketed. (Updated: One of Apple’s new MacBook Pro pages claims “improved low-light performance,” hinting at the former.)



Another discovery: at least for the moment, it doesn’t appear that Apple allows third-party 720p-capable video cameras to use FaceTime HD. The Logitech C910 camera we’re using can technically even handle 1080p output, but FaceTime 1.0 isn’t putting out higher-resolution video when we’re using it to make outgoing calls to other machines with FaceTime 1.0. For the time being, it looks like you’ll need to buy a whole new Mac—not just the app, or the accessory—in order to make those HD calls.

One more thing. Yes, the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G have rear video cameras that support 720p recording. No, they don’t appear to be capable of making FaceTime HD calls—we’ve tested them and the video calling resolution appears to be capped at 640x480 on both cameras, even when connecting to Macs running FaceTime 1.0. Apple could conceivably flip a switch on this to enable FaceTime HD resolution support in a subsequent iOS release. Or it could require users to purchase new iPhones, iPod touches, or iPads for HD video calling. (Update: Apple says that “receiving HD video calls requires a supported Intel-based Mac,” suggesting that the iPhone and iPod touch can’t receive FaceTime HD calls. The page showing which Mac models are supported isn’t live yet.)

(Update 2: The original URL shown on Apple’s FaceTime App Store page (“”) contained a typo, which has now been fixed on the page, and the Apple Knowledgebase article is now live. The correct URL,, shows that most Mac computers released since 2008 with 2.4GHz or faster processors are capable of receiving HD calls. However, MacBook Airs cannot receive or make HD calls, and “if either Mac on a call can only send and receive standard video, then both Macs will only send and receive standard video.” Thanks to reader Matt for the tip!)

Surprising? As expected? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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I think it’s rather surprising that Apple is charging for the FaceTime software for owners of older Macs. Even though it’s only $1, I would think Apple would simply make it free as their ultimate goal is making FaceTime a communications standard.

Posted by cxc273 on February 24, 2011 at 11:11 AM (CST)


Charging for it? It’s quite likely that the only reason they’re charging is for tax related issues. Just like the 802.11n enabler they charged $1 for…

Don’t blame Apple. Blame the IRS and the State of California.

Posted by Erin on February 24, 2011 at 12:07 PM (CST)


As usets of older macs can not do hd calls then why will they purchase that 1 dollar FaceTime 1.0 app???I think with further updates or as soon as that page goes live…will see that older macs are allowed to do hd calls…and remains the thing about iPhones n iPod touch then Jailbreak apps will find solution their also!!!
Otherwise skype is best for HD Video calling n supports all platforms!

Posted by tushar on February 24, 2011 at 12:14 PM (CST)


I tried using my Logitec HD Quickcam plugged into my 2009 MBP and called my mom on her iPhone 4 through FaceTime. She said the image was HD… Maybe she’s mistaken, but she noticed a real difference from using the built-in camera on my laptop.

Posted by DecoderRing on February 24, 2011 at 4:40 PM (CST)


What, no HD calling from my original Firewire iSight and my 1st generation MacBook Pro?  ;-)

I would like another explanation of what exactly those “tax reasons” are.  I got lucky with my 802.11n update and bought right after the software shipped with my unit, but still.  Why exactly can’t the middle generation of built-in iSIghts do it? (they better not claim not fast enough machines.  If so, then they’re just getting greedy.)

Come on Apple, be a team player for once.

Posted by Brianbobcat on February 24, 2011 at 5:23 PM (CST)


#4: The image wasn’t HD, just superior 640x480 pixel-level quality because the lens and sensor in the Logitech camera are better than the ones in Apple’s laptops.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on February 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM (CST)


#2 I’d say no way it’s got anything to do with tax law.  The 802.11 n thing was supposedly because they couldn’t give a free update to a product that had already been sold.  Facetime is an app that was given away free in beta, they give away other free apps - remote for example - no reason they couldn’t give this one away as well. Don’t blame the government. Blame Apple :)

Posted by Scott on February 25, 2011 at 4:12 PM (CST)


I believe at least part of the answer is that the Sandy Bridge CPU/GPUs have a built-in H.264 video encoder that’s leveraged for FaceTime HD calls.  Perhaps the exclusion of older models is due to the lower quality of the older cameras (more low-light noise) combined with the lack of fast, dedicated video encode hardware.

See the MacBook Pro > Performance page, half way down, under “energy-efficient graphics.”

Posted by HJ on March 2, 2011 at 6:15 PM (CST)


Not to sound rude, but are people actually complaining about spending $.99 for great software?  More than likely, they spend $4.00 on a cup of coffee today.

Posted by toby ringle on March 10, 2011 at 5:42 PM (CST)


I would rather have them include that dollar in the price of my Mac rather then paying a dollar separately.

Posted by rexx on March 12, 2011 at 8:05 PM (CST)


“I would rather have them include that dollar in the price of my Mac rather then paying a dollar separately.”

Do you mean include that dollar in the price of a computer that did not have this software to begin with or in the price of a new computer? For a computer that did not have this software when the computer was sols, how the heck are Apple going to add prices for unknown software that is yet to be released into the computer price?
For a new computer, it is included. The price would be $1198 instead of $1199 if they removed the software. :-)

Posted by Lance on September 10, 2012 at 7:01 PM (CDT)

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