Quick! Time 4 A Movie!
April 23, 1999
If you haven't yet downloaded QuickTime 4 Preview Release, get right to it. Because all it takes is a relatively tiny 368K installer and a further download starting from as little as 2.2MB to give yourself a foretaste of Apple's latest all-in-one multimedia software. (Remember, it's a beta.)
Added to its wide repertoire of over 30 different media formats, this latest version of QuickTime now notably handles MP3 and Shockwave files as well to make it just about the only player you'll ever need, on the Web or not. And with its brand-new interface that's pretty darn cool to play with, you'll be like a kid again who can't resist fiddling with every button and dial on the car stereo, or pulling out drawers to see what's inside.
Here are some of my notes on QuickTime 4 Preview Release (or more precisely, QuickTime 4 Player, which is what the real excitement is about after all, isn't it?). Remember, they're just my personal observations and may not reflect the experience of other users, which so far appears to be rather varied anyway (bug-wise) from what I've read.
Downloading QuickTime 4
Netscape does it with their SmartUpdate feature, as does Macromedia with their demo software releases, but neither manages it quite as elegantly as Apple (though Macromedia comes close). I'm talking about the compact 368K QuickTime 4 installer that you first download from Apple's QuickTime site, before actually downloading the QuickTime 4 software suite itself.
With the installer, you select exactly what you need from a number of options: Basic Playback (2.2MB), Deluxe Playback (2.7MB), QuickTime Authoring (5.6MB), or Custom. Only after you've made your choice are you prompted to go online again to download the configuration you want.
Besides that, QuickTime 4 comes with a QuickTime Updater application which will enable you in the future to upgrade your QuickTime software incrementally by helping you download only those portions of software updates that you need. Which should come in handy when the final version of QuickTime 4 is ready for public release.
That Cool QuickTime Player
As undeniably cool as the QuickTime Player looks, there is room for improvement to make it cooler still. The pull-out drawer for favorites would be a bit more useful if the icons of selected favorites weren't so generic. True, keyframes of selected movies appear as thumbnails in the drawer, but these aren't always identifiable, as I've noticed. What if we could choose the keyframe that best identifies the movie and use that as the thumbnail instead? Well, you actually can.
Scroll forward in any paused QuickTime movie until you come to a clearly identifiable keyframe. Then pull down the "Movie" menu, and select "Set Poster Frame". Now, add your movie clip to the drawer by pulling down the "Favorites"menu and selecting "Add Favorite". Now you have the keyframe that you want as a thumbnail for your movie. The same goes for Shockwave clips.
As for sound files, maybe a simple filename would work just as well as, if not better than, a generic icon. Alternatively, how about a tool-tip style pop-up that shows the filename when your cursor hovers over the icon?
Like most people, I checked out some of the streaming sites on my iMac to test the quality of QuickTime 4's real-time streaming. While the throughput from the Bloomberg site was less than satisfactory, I found the overall streaming quality of the BBC World site to be comparable to RealPlayer webcasts, if not better. The movie clip I caught on HBO was similarly quite satisfactory visually, although it sounded funny, like it was synthesized. For a broader and more accurate assessment of QuickTime 4's streaming performance, we would honestly have to experience more of these QuickTime webcasts as they proliferate on the Web. It's certainly too early to deliver a verdict on the streaming quality of QuickTime just from these few samples in its first week, not to mention it's still a beta release.
Sound distortions have been one of the more widely-reported complaints from users so far. With QuickTime 4 installed on my iMac, I detected slight distortions in some of Mac OS 8.5's default Platinum sounds, specifically that of icons snapping back to grid on the desktop after they've been dragged out of position. This minor glitch occurs sporadically, and disappears when I revert to QuickTime 3. So take heart if you've encountered this anomaly, because you're not the only one. On the other hand, if you haven't, good for you. But being the optimist that I am, it didn't take long before I succumbed to the withdrawal symptoms, bit the bullet, and loaded QT4 once more into the iMac. It's just sound effects after all. Curiously, the problem did not surface at all on my Power Mac 8500/150 (connected to an AppleVision AV display). It probably just needs a minor tweak somewhere, maybe in QuickTime 4's Sound Manager extension, which I hope Apple will look into.
Listening through the speakers of my AppleVision display, I found MP3 files to sound about the same on QuickTime 4 Player as they do with either MacAmp (with flat equalization) or SoundApp. No better, no worse. MacAmp however has the benefit of an 8-band equalizer, which offers finer sound control over QuickTime Player's bass and treble controls. I was hoping to experience a marked improvement in QT4 Player's sound quality after having read AppleInsider's flattering report, but it didn't turn out that way. MIDI files played with QT4 Player sounded sometimes identical, and sometimes with a richer "presence" than with SoundApp, depending on the MIDI file selected.
Comparisons with QuickTime 3
I ran the Phantom Menace trailer (the 25MB, 480 by 216 pixel version) with QuickTime 4 Player on my Power Mac 8500 and was impressed with the noticeable improvement over QuickTime 3. Previously, using QuickTime 3 Movie Player, the Star Wars clip was irritatingly choppy during playback, dropping so many frames that the images continually lagged behind the sound. QuickTime 4 seems to have addressed these problems and proved to be more accommodating towards slower pre-G3 Macs. The same movie clip ran smoother with an evidently higher frame-rate (though still dropping frames), and the video was much more in synch with the sound this time round. On my bondi blue iMac, playback was virtually flawless. I can't imagine how much better it would be on the new 333MHz iMacs, although I'm certain there will be a difference in the playback of the latest 640-pixel-wide version of The Phantom Menace, which remarkably remains at the same file size of about 25MB.
Incidentally, you might like to give QuickTime 4's Shockwave capabilities a spin at any of these sites:
- KEO <http://www.keo.org> — You
can read more about the ambitious KEO project here.
- Gabocorp <http://www.gabocorp.com>
- Macromedia's Shockwave site <http://www.macromedia.com/Shockwave/> — Many fine specimens of Shockwave content here.
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