Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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QuickTime 7

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One thing we got with X.4 – and that’s available for X.3 as well now – is QuickTime 7. I’ve been fascinated by the Moving Images ever since I saw my first QuickTime film back in 1993 – using QuickTime 1.5 if I’m not mistaken. The films back then were tiny, perhaps 160×120, and only few of them had sound. Yet what you saw seemed unseen before and so cool. Even today I remember the QuickTime logo movie which featured the QuickTime Q – all flat and just with a few lines rotating around… hm, I just indulged in a bit of QuickTime nostalgia:

Stills from old QuickTime films

How many of those films do you recognise? – Anyway, I mostly used QuickTime for viewing stuff. Apart from trying out new features after updates I think the number of QuickTime films I created is two. They were both made when we could use Morph, an application that took a start and an end image and morphed them into another. For this to work you had to specify some points or lines in the beginning and end image, so the program had a rough idea of what had to go where. In retrospect, even with that help and the many minutes that the computer needed to compute the image, the results aren’t all that exciting.

The two morph films I made back then can still be viewed, which is a nice aspect of a long-lasting software like QuickTime. We made one of them for our school newspaper: Somehow we thought it was funny that all three of the Nazi eagle the German eagle and the peace dove look essentially the same. So we wanted to make a morphing animation going from one to the other to the last. We entitled the page on which we printed it ‘Hope’. (Yup, we obviously couldn’t use the film in the paper itself – we did have it on our website, though… e-paper in 1996 – you can still read it today.)

The other one was more personal. I had to wear braces for ages when I was at school. Sadly this was actually necessary as some of my teeth came out in really strange places. After the treatment was finished, I asked the doctor for the X-rays he took and then went to school to make ‘high quality’ scans of them with the AppleOne Scanner there. As the images all had to fit on a disk as well and handling large images was quite a pain at that time, yesterday’s ‘high quality’ turns out to be a meagre 300 by 600 pixels today. Then I went through a lot of pain to adjust the grey levels of the images to be reasonably close to each other and made the morph, which documents what happened.

I still think that the movement in teeth is quite impressive and it was suggested that I should sell that stuff to the doctors so they can show it to potential patients… I never even tried as I didn’t want to go back to the practice and wasn’t particualarly keen on helping the doctors to squeeze even more money out of people.

See both films today if you have QuickTime 7 or another MPEG4/H.264 capable player on your computer. The new codec managed to squeeze the file size to a tenth of what it was ten years ago. As the film with the birds consists mostly of line graphics, compressing it harshy was more critical and the encoder needed a higher bitrate to prevent the details from being all fuzzy. The start of the birds film may look a bit irritating because of the subject – so be warned. See the birds and the teeth. Thanks to Steffen for helping me with the compression.


QuickTime Player But I was writing about Quicktime before getting distracted. I think the only point I wanted to make is that my main use for it is the fact that it gives media playing abilities to many applications. Its media creation abilities may be great, but I don’t really care. And, for a change, I think most people are with me on that. QuickTime has a great history of sharing its power with other applications – and still does so today. However, its skills at actually playing modern media files are quite poor. And that’s a bad thing because it diminishes QuickTime’s usefulness.

Of course QuickTime can still play all my old QuickTime files and also all the sound files on my computer. But once I go to the internet, there are many files whose names end in ‘avi’ or ‘wmv’ or ‘rm’. And QuickTime tends to have problems in dealing with them. Some won’t open at all, others might play but without sound and just a few will play normally. So the world’s ‘greatest’ media technology doesn’t even give me access to many of the media files on the internet. Of course that situation can be improved by downloading plugins from the internet, but that’s hardly what I or other people want to do.

VLC Icon And looking outside the cosy world of Apple Computer, there are applications like VLC which are open source and magically can play most of the files that QuickTime can’t play. They don’t even look worse than QuickTime Player and get the job done. In fact whenever I get a file these days I don’t even bother to try QuickTime Player, because VLC ‘just works’ and even seems to have better performance than QuickTime on files that both can play. It will even let me view films full-screen or on a secondary screen (TV) connected to the Powerbook at the click of the mouse. (Well, it used to – the feature doesn’t seem to work anymore in X.4.)

Of course I have to bitch a bit about QuickTime Pro here… you want to see a film full-screen in QuickTime Player? Or you want to save a file in QuickTime Player or even QuickTime’s Safari plugin? [As for the latter – WTF?! This used to work just fine for ages and they paid someone to make it work less. Your tax money at work… Could someone please find a way to make that work again, by nicking the appropriate files from ~/Library/Caches/QuickTime/, say? It seems to be another task that’s too complex for Automator to lend itself to a simple workflow.]

QuickTime begging

The poorly localised dialogue box asks you to get your credit card out and donate thirty dollars or so to Apple – for the ‘great features’, probably so that Steve Jobs can afford buying a new Miele washing machine. The QuickTime Pro thing is wrong all over it. I understand that developing software like QuickTime is expensive. The most expensive parts are probably the codecs as they need a lot of research, development and probably even licensing fees. As charging for the decoding would probably kill the decoder right away with the many free options that are available, charging for the coding seems like the only reasonable option.

That probably would still be ironic, seeing that Apple are keen to throw in a copy of iMovie and iDVD with any new Mac and thus giving away two presumably expensive encoders for what essentially feels like free. This narrows down the things to charge for even more, so saving files in the new MPEG4 formats should be it. That’s probably what costs a lot of money to develop right now anyway.

But Apple chose not to do it. You can do all the exporting you want with your ‘non-Pro’ version of Quicktime. All the expensive encoders are yours to use for free. And that’s probably good for spreading the format. The only thing you can’t do is trigger the encoding process through the UI of QuickTime Player. Any other application with support for QuickTime will do. And with Cocoa’s new QTKit making things reasonably easy, I guess it won’t take long for people to have alternative QuickTime players – although the particular bit of saving to different formats doesn’t seem to be easily available to Cocoa at this stage.

QuickTime Player will let you do many of the supposedly ‘Pro’ actions using AppleScript. You can record audio and video, you can present a film and you can save a file. Presenting the film only seems to work on the main screen though.(could anyone try to confirm whether that’s a bug in the Player or a restriction for the non-pro version? As VLC is having the same problem of not being able to present on the second screen, I wonder whether this is a general bug.) Saving the file works fine but it’s not easy to get sufficient control over the file format. It’s probably best to have someone send you the configuration files or to extract them from existing films.

QT Player export triggered by AppleScript

What all this boils down to is that thirty dollars buy you mostly that you won’t have to look at the ugly menu items Apple has made for the non-Pro users. They managed to break a handful of HIG just to make those ‘work’, I guess. Enjoy the ugly and distracting graphics. Deliberately broken QuickTime Player menu Enjoy the fact that the text’s colour isn’t the same as that for inactive menu items (why don’t programmers get this right?!)… because the menu items aren’t inactive – note that their keyboard equivalents work just fine and will present you a nagging message. All you pay for when registering for QuickTime Pro is that Apple’s programmers can ignore HIGs and that people other than you will have to suffer from it. And if many people are buying it there might even be some coke for Apple’s marketing people or a new washing machine for Mr Jobs.

Money well used? Or will a few AppleScript one liners sitting in your Script Menu be good enough? Automator also has a few actions which are ‘Pro only’. They won’t be displayed for the rest of us (which is quite a neat feature of Automator, btw). But if you’re lucky enough to get hold of a workflow that a QuickTime Pro owner made with those actions, all you have to do is to open the workflow, say that you’re willing to take the risk of using an action that may not work on your computer and then drag it to any other workflow you might be creating.

So that’s what’s in QuickTime 7 for the slackers among us: not much. Actually slightly less as you can’t even save files from your web browser now. People who actually work with QuickTime will probably enjoy it. Or they’ll enjoy it in a few years time. That new H.264 codec seems to be a cool part of MPEG4, judging from what I’ve read and heard. Personally I take the liberty not to care right now because my computer is too slow for all but the simplest usages of the codec anyway. My screen doesn’t even have enough pixels to display the examples Apple gives. And my processor only manages to decompress a picture every few seconds or so…

May 20, 2005, 8:31

Tagged as Mac OS X.


Comment by Scott: User icon

You know, I buy a Pro license every time a new version comes out, but not for anything like full screen playback. I get it because QT Pro is a really nice way to do quick edits of audio/video files. I would mention exporting video, but ffmpegx does that for free—and faster, too. But QT sure has a less daunting interface.

May 23, 2005, 6:44

Comment by ssp: User icon

Addendum: For saving films from the web browser, it seems that using the QuickTime 6 browser plugin will do the trick. Just remove the two (?) QuickTime plugins from /Library/Internet Plug-Ins and move the old plugin there. That did the trick for me.

If you don’t have a backup handy, asking a friend or extracting it from some old installer, like the QuickTime 6 reinstaller are ways to achieve this.

June 14, 2005, 17:22

Comment by Brian Moffet: User icon

Presenting the film only seems to work on the main screen ? though.(could anyone try to confirm whether that’s a bug in the Player or a restriction for the non-pro version?

This appears to be a problem for Quicktime pro as well, I’m currently talking to Apple about it.

August 3, 2005, 22:28

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