Whatever happened to Apple's iFrame?

When iMovie ’09 was introduced in, well, 2009, it also introduced iFrame, a new video format developed by Apple. So whatever happened to what the company was proposing as a new standard?

iFrame captured video at a resolution of 960 x 540 at 30 frames per second and uses a 16:9 aspect ratio (a la all the HD and DVD standards). It was slightly lower in quality than 720p and took up at least a little less space. iFrame worked with Mac and PC video-editing applications such as iMovie '09 and used industry-standard codecs such as MP4, H.264, AAC and QuickTime. 

According to Apple at the time, "iFrame is designed to make importing and editing video fast and easy without taking up a lot of space on your hard drive.” Devin Coldewey for CrunchGear wasn't impressed. 

"[iFrame] is nothing but a resolution and wrapper. So why am I losing my mind over it? Because the way iFrame is being positioned and propagated is misleading and harmful to consumers. Oh I know, what an alarmist, right? It’s just a video format!” he wrote. “But with personal video becoming more and more ubiquitous and invading class after class of gadgets, these former trivialities are becoming more important by the day. And for once, we are actually gravitating towards a couple unified standards in both encoding and resolution — and then Apple butts in with this ugly stepchild of a format."

Coldeway said your TV is 720p or 1080p, so you’ll have to stretch the video to make up the difference, and "despite what you’ve heard about upscaling (it’s nice), more resolution is always better for definition. His complaint: "Thousands will buy cameras capable of (and designed for) shooting 1080p, and Apple will have them defaulting to shooting at a quarter of that resolution. Joe Consumer won’t question it, and he’s not getting his money’s worth."

Neither was AfterDawn, a web site that covers modern media, impressed with Apple’s technology. Here was their take: "By comparison a 720p video at 30fps, which is what iFrame uses, would come in at just under 4GB per hour. If you have even a small modern hard drive that's a relatively trivial difference. Unless you're using your computer for long term home video storage that probably won't matter to you. What may matter is the quality you'll lose if you convert your video to a standard HD resolution like 720p or 1080p. And that's exactly what you (or your playback hardware) will have to do if you want to watch it on a HDTV. the end it looks like iFrame is a solution in search of a problem. It trades quality and compatibility, the two things most consumers want, for decreased file sizes they probably don't need."

Christian Zibreg, writing for Geek.com, was a little kinder. He points iFrame's 960 x 540 resolution equals to a quarter of the full HD resolution and says "this makes iFrame suitable for easy up and down sampling."

"Put simply, the content recorded in the iFrame format goes to your computer intact, unlike the content recorded in other video formats that needs to be transcoded into an intermediate coded (usually the Apple Intermedia Codec or AppleProRes) when you transfer a video to a computer.," Zibreg says. "That said, the iFrame enables a dramatically speedier transfer and results in smaller file sizes, thanks to the efficient and storage-savvy H.264 and AAC codecs that compress video and audio content in an iFrame stream, respectively. Because iFrame lets you edit video in its native recorded format, editing and sharing is much faster as well. 

And Discrete Cosine -- a site of video news, reviews and opinions -- liked iFrame. Here's why: "Anyone who's tried to edit video from one of the modern H.264 cameras without first transcoding to an intraframe format has experienced the huge CPU demands and sluggish performance. Behind the scenes it's even worse. 

"... you've probably also notice the amount of time it takes to export a video in an interframe format. Anyone who's edited HDV in Final Cut Pro has experienced this. With DV, doing an "export to QuickTime" is simply a matter of Final Cut Pro rewriting all of the data to disk -- it's essentially a file copy. With HDV, Final Cut Pro has to do a complete reencode of the whole timeline, to fit everything into the new GOP structure. Not only is this time consuming, but it's essentially a generation loss.

"iFrame solves these issues by giving you an intraframe codec, with modern efficiency, which can be decoded by any of the H.264 decoders that we already know and love.

"Having this as an optional setting on cameras is a huge step forward for folks interested in editing video. Hopefully some of the manufacturers of AVC-HD cameras will adopt this format as well. I'll gladly trade a little resolution for instant edit-ability."

As far as I can tell, iFrame never caught on. Of course, Apple didn’t exactly bang the drum to promote it. Go to Apple's web site, search for "iFrame" and see what I mean.