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QuickTime 7 Review

(This review was written in 2005 and topped in Google search results for the query “quicktime 7 review”. The links in the text were last updated in June 2015; dead links were removed.)

QuickTime 7 is finally out for “the rest of us,” and I’m testing it right now. Generally, it’s a very good update, and has very few quirks, especially for a x.0 version. I’ll leave the trouble of detailed analysis to somebody else and quickly go over a few things I find worth mentioning (in no particular order).

Apple encourages you to experience the world of high-definition video. Here’s a snapshot from around that time via Wayback Machine. Even though Apple warns that “you’ll still need a G5 system to display so much media,” I decided to give it a shot with my beloved but somewhat outdated 1.25 GHz single-processor MDD G4 with ATI’s Radeon 9000 Pro. While the selection is noticeably leaning in the direction of teenage entertainment, two videos have attracted my attention. Namely, the WildLife HD Reel and NASA Space Shuttle. The first clip I tested was the former. Hm, how shall I put it? Amazing, that’s the word. The Wildlife video is encoded with H.264 and has the dimensions of 960 × 540 pixels @ 30 fps. My good-old G4 managed to play it back at full framerate both in a window and full screen mode. While having some artifacts most evident in the very beginning (around the eagle’s head) and in the scene where three goats browse in the meadow (look at the blue patch of the sky in the upper-left corner), the picture is astoundingly clear even during most vigorous motion (running water in the scene where bears catch fish). I looked closely at that scene frame by frame and have found no artifacts. How did they do it? The next (and last) HD clip I downloaded was the NASA video. 1280 × 720 pixels @ 30 fps is a little too much for my computer. It seems that Apple was right about their warning. My machine maxed out at 21 fps averaging at 18 fps (15–21 fps). Even though it has a much greater resolution, it is not as impressive as the Wildlife clip, and the artifacts around the shuttle’s flame (around 38 seconds into the clip) spoiled my impression completely. Generally, I believe that H.264 is an amazing codec. As for the artifacts, well . . . I can name quite a few DVDs that have worse artifacts in similar scenes.

HD Update: Having read mixed reviews of HD playback performance by people with various hardware particularly testing the Batman Begins video, I decided to test it myself. I didn’t expect much of a performance after testing the NASA video, and was quite surprised to see that my machine was capable of playing it almost at full framerate. Compared with the NASA video, Batman Begins is only 1280 × 544 @ 24 fps. Quite a difference! I was able to get full 24 frames per second during almost the entire clip (see screen snapshot). Occasional slowdowns did happen, however, when playback dropped down to 18 fps. This occurred during some fast-pace scenes. If I understand the technology correctly, this is due to the fact that the movie was encoded at varying bit rate and, naturally, scenes with a lot of motion require more processing power to decode. Still, not bad for a machine from August 2002. I have made an interesting observation: if I paused the clip during a scene that couldn’t play back at full framerate and then hit play again after a moment, it would play at 24 fps for a short time. Does this leave us hope that Apple might optimize the decoder in future updates to QuickTime?

HD Update #2: With Flip4Mac’s WMV Component, I was even able to play back WMVHD (Windows Media High Definition Video) directly in QuickTime Player. Encoded at 1280 × 720 @ 24 fps, it was noticeably choppier than the NASA video (see above) and maxed out at 14 fps only toward the end of the clip (see screen snapshot).

My little experiment has shown that despite Apple’s warning, the G4 is quite capable of playing back HD content. It would be interesting to test a few other Macs equipped with G4 processors; dual-processor MDDs, and the 1.42 GHz Mac mini are of particular interest.

One last note, which, perhaps, might be more important than all of the above. All of the additional codecs I had installed (DivX, AC3, MPEG2, and Flip4Mac’s WMV importer) work perfectly well in QT 7.

P.S. I’m gonna watch that Wildlife video again!

Ast A. Moore

Update: Those who run QuickTime 7 in Panther, might notice that the A/V Controls window is lacking the “V” part. Namely, there are no controls for Brightness, Color, Contrast, and Tint. Whether this is a bug or a feature is a mystery to me, but I found the way to bring these features back. This innocent hack does not require any advanced skills and can be accomplished in a few simple steps.

  1. Locate QuickTime Player (in your Applications folder)
  2. Control-click it and choose Show Package Contents from the context menu
  3. Navigate to Contents/Resources/English.lproj
  4. Notice two .nib files: AVControls.nib and AVControlsMinimal.nib
  5. Now, swap their names. In order to do this, you’ll need to move one of the files temporarily to another location, say, the Desktop. (For example, move AVControlsMinimal.nib to the Desktop and rename it to AVControls.nib. Now, rename the AVControls.nib file in QuickTime Player.app/Contents/Resources/English.lproj to AVControlsMinimal.nib. Finally, move the .nib file on your Desktop back where it belongs)
  6. Relaunch QuickTime Player, open a video clip, and hit Command-K. Magic! You have a full-featured A/V Controls window now!

Update #2: Alas, but I was wrong in my previous update. Here’s Apple Developer Connection document describing the difference between two A/V Control windows. To quote Apple, “A new video controls panel is also available . . . This option, however, is only available for users with a special video card on Mac OS X v10.4 where Core Image support is provided. The video controls let the user adjust for brightness, color, contrast, and tint.” It is sad to see that another useful feature was taken away from us. Also, note that you can’t change instruments in MIDI files from QuickTime Player any more. Another feature gone . . .

Update #3: Many people, including yours truly, have been disappointed by the fact that the release of QuickTime 7 took away several features found in previous iterations of the Player application (MIDI instruments editing, arbitrary resizing and rotation of a movie, etc.). Some even sacrificed the new features and advantages of version 7, uninstalled it, and reverted to QuickTime 6.5.2. Rejoice, my dear fellows, for you can have your cake and eat it, too! I have two hard disks in my computer. My primary HD has Mac OS 10.3.9 with QuickTime 7, and another HD (that came with my Mac) still has 10.2.8 with QuickTime 6. My curiosity was rewarded when I went to the Applications folder on the old HD and double-clicked QuickTime Player 6.5.2. It launched and ran without a hitch! Moreover, I didn’t lose my QuickTime Pro registration for it and was able to take advantage of the new H.264 codec (see screen snapshot of QuickTime 6 and 7 running side by side).