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Multimedia Playback: QuickTime 7
QuickTime is Apple's digital media engine that processes everything from MIDI to movies and still images. If you've viewed streaming media online or downloaded and viewed movie files on your computer, chances are you've used QuickTime. Tiger introduces QuickTime 7, including advanced payment-required Pro features, the H.264 codec for improved video quality with higher compression rates, and a new streamlined interface.
Setting Up QuickTime
There are two places you're most likely to run into QuickTime media through the QuickTime player and via a web browser. Before you can use either, you should first configure QuickTime through its System Preferences pane. Failing to do this might cause your system to display the lowest-quality video streams. Open System Preferences click the QuickTime icon to configure your QuickTime settings.
There are five settings panes: Register, Browser, Update, Streaming, and Advanced. Let's review those now.
Registering QuickTime Pro
To register QuickTime and gain access to the Pro features (we'll review these a little bit later), click the Register button. The pane will refresh with the appropriate registration fields.
If you've already purchased QuickTime Pro, enter your registration information, if not, click Buy QuickTime Pro to launch Safari and begin the purchase process.
Setting Browser Preferences
The QuickTime Browser plug-in is used when movies are viewed in your web browser. To change how it functions, click the Browser button in the QuickTime System Preferences pane. There are options: Play Movies Automatically, Save Movies in Disk Cache, Cache Size, and Empty Download Cache.
If you've checked Play Movies Automatically, QuickTime starts playing a movie after enough of it has been buffered. This applies to nonstreamed movies. If this option is not selected, you must click the Play button to start viewing a movie. If you want to save movies that have played in your browser, click the Save Movies in Disk Cache check box. This speeds up commonly accessed movies and is great for those days when you repeatedly keep pulling up the one funny video clip to show your coworkers. You can adjust the amount of drive space reserved for movie caching using the Movie Download Cache Size slider, or empty the cache by clicking Empty Download Cache.
Updating QuickTime Components
QuickTime supports automatic updating in much the same way as the operating system itself. Unlike Tiger, however, QuickTime checks for updates outside the normal system updater context. Click the Update button to open the QuickTime update settings.
To activate automatic updates, click the Check for Updates Automatically check box. After that check box has been selected, the software will occasionally scan for updates and additions that can be downloaded. To manually force the system to look for updates, click the Update button.
The QuickTime Update pane can also be used to add third-party software, such as new codecs, to the system. Click the Install button to launch Safari and load the QuickTime components page.
Configuring Streaming Options
Use the Streaming pane to configure the type of network access QuickTime can expect your computer to have.
Choose your network speed from the Streaming Speed pop-up menu. This is not the speed you wish you had, but rather the actual speed of your line. This choice helps QuickTime choose the appropriate type of media to display depending on how fast it can be received. By default, QuickTime attempts to automatically determine your connection speed. In some cases, it might be right; in others, it might assume too high or too low. Manually setting this option is the only way to be certain.
Click the Instant-On button to enable the QuickTime 7 Instant On feature, which starts displaying QuickTime movie virtually immediately after it has been accessed. Use the Play slider to choose how long QuickTime should wait for (and buffer) information before it starts playing.
Advanced QuickTime Settings
The final configurable QuickTime options are found in the Advanced pane. This is a rather esoteric collection of settings that, chances are, an average user won't need to change.
First is the QuickTime Synthesizer. QuickTime supports multiple plug-in synthesizers when playing MIDI music. By default, it uses the QuickTime Music Synthesizer.
If you install software that offers another synthesizer plug-in, you can select it from the list in this preferences pane. Highlight the item you want to use by default and click Make Default. This sets it as the default synthesizer used by any application playing QuickTime MIDI files.
Next, the Transport Setup button to choose the protocol used for streaming. By default, QuickTime attempts to choose the best transport based on your network topology. It's best not to change these settings unless you know your network supports them. Users behind a firewall can choose the ports used for either HTTP or UDP transports. It's best to talk to your network administrator before changing anything.
Users interested in using QuickTime in kiosks can limit the end user's access to QuickTime controls by clicking the Enable Kiosk Mode check box. This isn't needed for normal use.
The MIME Settings button opens a list of all the MIME types that QuickTime can handle and everything it is currently configured to display. Some items are intentionally disabled (such as Flash) because they are better handled by other software (like the official Flash plug-in).
Finally, Media Access; some media files can be secured with an access key. The Media Keys button opens a dialog to enter keys directly into the QuickTime preferences, enabling the files to be accessed transparently at any time. Use the Delete, Edit, and Add buttons within the dialog box to modify your access keys.
Using the QuickTime Browser Plug-in
Many QuickTime movies play from within your browser window. This is probably the most common place you'll view streaming media, so let's take a look at the controls of the QuickTime browser plug-in. Figure 2.30 shows a QuickTime movie playing in the Safari browser.
Figure 2.30. Most users experience QuickTime through their browser.
The movie controls are located across the bottom of the video. If you've used a VCR or other media player, you've certainly seen these before. There are, however, a few shortcuts you might want to know. The volume control, for example, can be instantly muted by Option-clicking the speaker icon. You can also control the volume level using the up arrow and down arrow keys on the keyboard. To increase the volume beyond its normal limit, hold down the Shift key while dragging the control.
Playback can be activated from the keyboard, negating the need to mouse around on your screen. To toggle between playing and pausing, press the spacebar. To rewind or fast forward, use the left arrow and right arrow keys, respectively.
At the lower right of the control bar area is the QuickTime menu. This provides quick access to QuickTime settings. QuickTime Pro users can use this menu to save movies to their hard drive. (Note: Saving a streaming movie saves a reference to the movie, not the actual contents of the movie.)
If the movie being played is streaming from the remote server, some of these controls might not be available. For example, live streams can't be fast-forwarded or rewound, but streamed files can be. The available controls depend entirely on the movie you're viewing.
Using the Standalone QuickTime Player
The QuickTime Player application (path: /Applications/QuickTime Player) provides another means of viewing movies and streams. In fact, many users might be surprised to find that they can use the Player application to tune in a variety of interesting streams ranging from news to entertainment without the need for a web browser.
Playing QuickTime Content from the Online Content Guide
To start using the QuickTime Player, open it from its default home in the Dock or from the System Applications folder. The QuickTime window should open directly to a featured Content Guide item something Apple thinks you should be interested in, but you probably aren't.
Clicking in the guide window launches Safari and takes you to the advertised content piece. Clicking the Click Here for More Content button also opens Safari but takes you to Apple's online content guide. Choose from whatever interests you, and the content will stream back either in the browser or within the QuickTime Player, as shown in Figure 2.31.
Figure 2.31. The Content Guide can help you find free online QuickTime media.
When QuickTime starts to load a streaming video clip, it goes through four steps before displaying the video:
If the player stalls during any of these steps, there might be a problem with the remote server or your transport setting. Try another streaming source, and if it still fails, use the QuickTime Preferences pane to select an alternative transport.
Choosing Other QuickTime Sources
You can use the QuickTime Player to play information from other sources in addition to the Apple-linked content. You can open local movie files by choosing File, Open File (Command-O) or by dragging a movie file onto the QuickTime Dock icon. If you have a streaming server URL, you can select File, Open URL in New Player (Command-U) to directly open the stream.
QuickTime refers to any media type as a movie. For example, you can open and play CD audio tracks and MP3s using the Open Movie command. Even though there aren't any visuals, these media types are still referred to as movies in QuickTime's vocabulary.
By default, QuickTime will open new movies in a new window rather than reusing your existing QuickTime windows. You can change this behavior within the QuickTime application preferences. You can also use the preferences to automatically enable playback as soon as a movie is opened.
Controlling QuickTime Playback
The QuickTime Player, shown in Figure 2.32, works much like a VCR. The top of the window holds the video pane. Directly below the video is a status bar to display the progress of the player and any feedback it needs to provide to the user.
Figure 2.32. If you've used a VCR, you can control the QuickTime Player.
The status bar has four components: the elapsed time, the playback progress, a scene pop-up menu, and a miniature equalizer. Dragging the triangle above the progress bar quickly moves the current position in the movie (except in the cases of live streams, for reasons that should be obvious).
The scene pop-up menu, if available, can be used to jump between scenes in the movie, if they have been set.
Below the status bar are the main playback controls that provide the basic control over movie playback: volume, skip to start, rewind, play/pause, fast forward, and skip to end, respectively.
Because many video clips are small, the QuickTime Player window can be resized by using the window resize handle in the lower-right corner. By default, QuickTime Player resizes the window to maintain the same aspect ratio. To squeeze or stretch the window, hold down Shift while resizing. To switch between common sizes, use the Movie menu to select from Half Size (Command-0), Normal Size (Command-1), Double Size (Command-2), and Full Screen (Command-3).
Minimizing a QuickTime Player movie while it is playing adds a live icon to the Dock. The movie (with sound) continues to play in the minimized Dock icon.
Controlling Video and Audio Output
New to Tiger is a single control window for changing your audio and video settings from bass and treble on your sound to tint and contrast on video. To access the settings, choose Window, A/V Controls (Command+K). The window shown in Figure 2.33 will appear.
Figure 2.33. Control the appearance and sound of QuickTime movie playback.
Use the audio and video sliders to adjust the sound and picture quality, respectively. The sliders at the bottom of the window can be user to scrub forward and backward through the video (Jog Shuttle) and to change the playback speed to anywhere from one-half to three times the regular playback speed.
The QuickTime application preferences also have a few settings for audio and video including a High Quality video setting that provides better playback at a cost of significantly higher processor usage. The preferences also have the ability to enable or disable simultaneous audio output from multiple QuickTime player windows and sound playback in background windows.
Bookmarking QuickTime Favorites
To keep track of your favorite movies (either local files or streaming), you can use the QuickTime Favorites menu, which works just like a lame version of your favorite browser's bookmark menu.
When viewing a movie that you want to bookmark as a favorite, choose Window, Favorites, Add Movie as Favorite (Command-D). You can now select the movie from the Favorites menu itself.
To remove a favorite item, choose Window, Favorites, Show Favorites. A window with a list of all the favorite movies appears. Highlight the item to remove and press your Backspace key. If you'd rather organize than delete, dragging the items in the Favorites window reorders them.
Getting Movie Information
To display information about a movie, choose Window, Show Movie Info (Command-I). QuickTime will display a window with the codecs used in the file, FPS, duration, and other useful tidbits, as shown in Figure 2.34.
Figure 2.34. The expanded Movie Info window contains summary data on the currently playing file.
The type of information shown depends on the type of movie being played. Streaming video, for example, includes network data such as bit rate and quality.
Adding Codecs and Playing the Unplayable
As much as we all like QuickTime, there are, frankly, a large number of files that it simply can't handle such as most Divx, Xvid, and most Windows media files. In the event that QuickTime encounters a file that it doesn't have the codec for, it will ask to check online to see if it can find the necessary component. Unless you're extremely lucky, it won't find a thing.
Thankfully, you can easily add to the QuickTime codecs by dropping new codecs in the /Library/QuickTime directory (or your ~/Library/QuickTime folder for personal playback only). There are a number of free codec add-ons any playback engines available at http://www.pure-mac.com/video.html.
One of the easiest solutions for media incompatibility is to change players entirely. The Video LAN Client player, pictured in Figure 2.35, supports a huge number of video and audio formats and often plays files back more smoothly than even the properly codec-enabled QuickTime player. You can download VLC for free from http://www.videolan.org/vlc/download-macosx.html.
Figure 2.35. VLC can play what QuickTime can't, won't, or struggles to display.
QuickTime Pro Features
For most users, the standard version of QuickTime is probably more than enough to handle their media needs. If you're interested in creating or editing digital movies, you can upgrade to QuickTime Pro and gain access to some interesting new features. There isn't anything additional to install, just a registration code to enter, so it's easy to get up and running with QuickTime Pro.
Upgrading gives you access to a number of video editing functions, such as copying and pasting portions of video tracks, applying effects filters, altering video codecs, and working with the Internet standard MPEG 4. Users can extract and convert audio and video tracks even export video tracks as image sequences.
Probably the best new capability of QuickTime Pro is audio and video recording. Apple provides no other built-in means of recording media in Tiger, so, if you're willing to pay ($30) about half the cost of the iLife suite (which obviously also features video and audio input), you can get almost 1/10th of the features!
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