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iPhone users should definitely change this video setting

Newer iPhones record videos in a special format. Curiously, this is not compatible with many MacBooks. To be able to watch and edit iPhone videos on a Mac later, you only have to change one small setting in advance.

Even if you don’t currently own a Mac or MacBook, it may be worth adjusting the setting. After all, you never know what will happen in the future and whether your iPhone videos will end up on an affected Apple computer. But what is actually the problem?

Compatibility issues with iPhone videos

In the discussion forum of the Apple site, users repeatedly complain that videos recorded with the iPhone do not work properly after transferring them to the Mac. A variety of problems can occur: Sometimes, for example, the file can’t even be loaded into editing programs like Final Cut Pro because the start and end points aren’t recognized or videos can’t be played in the first place. If the upload works, however, it can happen that there is no sound.

But what is the reason for this? The short explanation: newer iPhones record videos in a very efficient format to save space on the iPhone and in iCloud for the very memory-hungry 4K resolution. However, the format requires certain prerequisites that are often not present on older Apple devices.

High Efficiency versus Maximum Compatibility

The detailed answer: Apple has already brought the very efficient HEVC and HEIF codecs to its devices with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. The high-efficiency codecs – HEVC stands for High Efficiency Video Coding and HEIF for High Efficiency Image File Format – were introduced to address the problem of videos and images getting bigger and bigger. HEVC (also: H.265) and HEIF replace the older formats AVC (also: H.264) for videos and JPG for images.

AVC and JPG have been available on almost every computer, cell phone, and smartphone since about 2001, making them much more widespread. AVC and JPG are thus much more compatible with older devices. Any reasonably new computer – and all smartphones and tablets anyway – can play back these two codecs without a problem. So in Apple terms, it’s High Efficiency vs. Maximum Compatibility.

Usually no problem on new devices

The high-efficiency codecs can save up to 40 percent storage space compared to AVC/JPG for the same picture quality. Newer smartphones, laptops and tablets have built-in hardware support for the new codecs. This means they can decode iPhone images and videos in this format quickly and efficiently. Older devices often do not have specific hardware, for example in the form of an additional image processor. They therefore have to play back HEVC and HEIF via the detour of software decoding. That’s why it can happen that an HEVC video stutters during playback on an older laptop, for example, when other programs are still open.

Just as an example: MacBook Pros before 2016 do not have an integrated HEVC decoder and therefore have to use the processor to play back a video encoded in this way. However, since the processor is also responsible for running all other programs, there can be delays during video playback. Newer MacBooks no longer have this problem, as their Intel or M1 processors have a special HEVC decoder that is only there to play back this codec efficiently.

When you should switch the codec

Simply put, you don’t have to worry about video compatibility if you still have an iPhone with a 3.5 mm jack. HEVC and HEIF aren’t supported until the iPhone 7, and the even more efficient 10-bit HEIF format isn’t even supported until the iPhone 8, but Apple has made sure that you can still open HEVC video and HEIF image recorded on a newer iPhone on older iPhones. iPhones that can’t record the new codecs but can play them are the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and the iPhone 5S.

If you have a newer iPhone and a Mac that was launched before 2016 or is still running macOS Sierra or older, it’s best to switch the video format to Maximum Compatibility. You can easily reach the option for this on the iPhone under Settings > Camera > Formats. By default, High Efficiency is selected here, so switch to Maximum Compatibility.

Screenshot iPhone video settings
How to switch the video format to Maximum Compatibility Photo: atechbook

But beware: On iPhones, HEVC is required, among other things, when videos with particularly high resolution or particularly smooth videos are to be recorded. For example, 4K resolution with 60 frames per second (FPS) is only supported with the high-efficiency codec. So is slow-motion video recording in 1080p resolution at 240 FPS. If you switch to one of these options in the camera settings, the codec is automatically switched back to High Efficiency.

Also interesting: 15 secret iOS features you should know about.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve already filmed in HEVC

If you’ve recorded an HEVC video and can’t open or process it on your Mac, there’s a relatively simple solution. Open the video using the Quicktime player and click the File tab in the taskbar. Then navigate to Export As and select the highest resolution available. Save the video to a folder of your choice. After the conversion process is complete, the video should be compatible with all programs.

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