In an undisclosed and largely unnoticed update to its QuickTime video playback and conversion software, Apple has quietly added an “Export to Apple TV” feature capable of creating high-definition videos viewable on the Apple TV accessory. Unlike Export to iPod, which currently creates sub-DVD-quality 640 by 480 videos, Export to Apple TV creates not only full DVD-quality 720 by 404 videos, but also 1280 by 720 videos. These videos are viewable in iTunes, but cannot be transferred directly via iTunes to an fifth-generation iPod.
The 1280 by 720 pixel resolution, also known as 720P, is one of several high-definition video formats supported by current televisions. Using the H.264 video compression codec, Apple TV supports 720P playback at 24 frames per second – the frame rate used by movies, not TV shows – at substantially higher bit rates than prior iPod- and iTunes-created videos. A 2.5-minute 720P sample we converted with QuickTime yielded a 4214kbps, 76-Megabyte file from a 5708kbps, 102-Megabyte original, suggesting that feature-length, 90-minute HD movies formatted for Apple TV will require around 3 Gigabytes of hard disk space.
Notably, Apple has not yet announced plans to sell HD movies through the iTunes Store, and has not gone out of its way to advertise Apple TV’s 720P video playback functionality. It has instead focused on the device’s ability to play iTunes Store and iTunes library content – typically formatted at 1/3 the device’s peak 720P resolution – as well as music and high-definition still photography.