x264Encoder vs the Apple Codec

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By | 2010-08-30T00:00:00+00:00 August 30th, 2010|Articles|Comments Off on x264Encoder vs the Apple Codec

If you’re looking for the highest quality H.264 output, and encode on the Apple platform, you should try the x264Encoder encoder, which you can download here. This article contains comparison images that accompany my comparison review for Digital Content Producer (link to come).

This review debuts a new streaming test video comprised of clips from stock footage company Artbeats and from independent producer Connie Simmons of SimmonsArt, from her award wining PBS Series Landscapes through Time with David Dunlop. My old test tape was comprised of DV, HDV and AVCDH footage, and the footage was often shot under less than ideal conditions. I wanted to step up the quality of my starting point, and thank both Artbeats and Ms. Simmons for supplying their high quality clips. Since some of the source clips lacked audio, I filled in the blanks with a track from the always handy SmartSound collection.

You can view the clips themselves at http://www.doceo.com/h264comps/Main.html. As you’ll see, there are about 25 clips in the test file; on this page, I’ll display four or five of the scenes most representative of the quality disparity between the two codecs.

640×360@750 kbps

This was the easiest configuration that I tested; in low motion sequences, the difference between the Apple and x264 codec is minor; once the motion or scene complexity picks up, x264 pulls far head. In this talking head shot, the two codecs are close.


x264 starts to pull ahead in the higher motion barrel roll event.


This is a simulated flyover of Bagdad; lots of motion and high detail. Again, the Apple codec shows the strain.


This is a time lapse shot; lots of detail and motion. Again, the difference is very noticeable.


720p@800 kbps

I encoded my previous 720p test file at 800 kbps, but there’s much more motion in this one so I bumped the data rate 1.5 mbps. Still, even at 800kbps, x264 can produce presentable quality at many clips, while the Apple codec completely falls apart.



720p@1500 kbps

Enough pain. Now let’s look at some comparisons at 1.5 mbps. Let’s start with a relatively low motion clip that the Apple codec clearly couldn’t stomach.


This was a slow zoom into a beautiful garden in France, and the Apple codec didn’t fare any better on a vegetarian diet (on a roll here).


Blocking is desirable in football; not so much when encoding football games.


To be fair, if motion was low, the Apple codec was credible. The overall point, though, is this. If you’re encoding with the Apple codec in Compressor, you should start with a clean slate and try the x264Encoder.



#1SusanSaid this on 09/02/2010 At 05:40 pm

Stunning. I left alone the "options" (for now, because I wouldn't know where to begin...), and the results are measurably better than Apples H.264. And for free?  Thank you!

#2JanSaid this on 09/02/2010 At 08:14 pm

Great, good to hear. Be sure to test all the way through your distributio channel. See comments here:


Thanks for sharing.

#3Felix ArenasSaid this on 09/16/2010 At 12:20 pm

Jan, I read you on EventDV every month. Sometimes your info is above my head, but I'm very interested in this subject. Do you have any info on the Sony Vegas platform which I use? So, do I understand you correctly that if I shoot in 24p, encode in 24p, but if it's being watched in an old tv set, I'll lose the effect?

#4Jan OzerSaid this on 09/16/2010 At 01:53 pmIn reply to #3I'm assuming that you're asking about the 24p column that I wrote? if so, the answer is yes - the DVD player has to send an NTSC signal to the older TV set, which means 29.97 interlaced.

Why don't you send any follow up questions to me at jozer@mindspring.com.