Small video setting that iPhone users should change

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

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

Compatibility problems 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. However, if the upload works, there may be no sound.

But what is the reason? The short explanation is that newer iPhones record videos in a very efficient format to save the very memory-hungry 4K resolution space on the iPhone and in the iCloud. 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 brought the new and 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 around 2001 and are thus much more widespread. AVC and JPG thus much more compatible with older devices. Any reasonably new computer – and all smartphones and tablets anyway – can play back these two codecs without any problems. In Apple terms, this means: 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 image quality. Newer smartphones, laptops and tablets have built-in hardware support for the new codecs, which 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, and therefore have to play HEVC and HEIF via the detour of software decoding. For this reason, it can happen that an HEVC video is jerky during playback on an older laptop, for example, if other programs are still open.

Just as an example, MacBook Pros prior to 2016 do not have an integrated HEVC decoder, so they must use the processor to play back video encoded in this way. However, since the processor is also responsible for running all other applications, video playback can be delayed. Newer MacBooks no longer have this problem, as their Intel processors have a special HEVC decoder that is only there to play back this codec efficiently.

When you should change the codec

Simply put, you don’t have to worry about video compatibility if you still have an iPhone with a 3.5mm 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 access the option to do this on the iPhone under Settings youkuohao_52f27gfH$32J Camera youkuohao_52f27gfH$32J Formats. By default High Efficiency is selected here, so switch to Maximum Compatibility.

Screenshot iPhone video settings
How to change the video format to maximum compatibility Photo: atechbook

But beware: HEVC is needed on the iPhones, among other things, when videos with particularly high resolution or particularly smooth videos are to be recorded. Thus, 4K resolution with 60 frames per second (FPS) is only supported with the High Efficiency codec, as is slow-motion video recording in 1080p resolution with 240 FPS. Switching to one of these options in the camera settings automatically switches the codec back to High Efficiency.

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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 with 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.