People say QuickTime and they mean a lot of different things. In this section from Real World Video Compression, I try to breakdown the different things that they might mean by that.
QuickTime Player is part of QuickTime, a multimedia framework developed by Apple to handle various formats of text, animation, still images, and interactivity. It is available for Classic Mac OS (OS 9), Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows operating systems (Windows 98 SE and newer). QuickTime and QuickTime Player are distributed free of charge and QuickTime Player will play back any audio or video that QuickTime can natively decode. This covers a large collection of codecs (see “Codecs” later in this chapter for specific examples), though only a handful of them are considered modern ones—the rest of the codecs are there as part of the legacy of video that QuickTime Player supports. QuickTime Player (Figure 2.1) is most closely associated with the file type .mov, but it can play back a variety of other formats as well.
Functionality: QuickTime Player vs. iTunes QuickTime Player is a stand-alone desktop application and a plug-in. This means content can be played in a self-contained QuickTime Player or embedded in a Web page. QuickTime Player is not, however, a media library, allowing users to organize their content in addition to playing it back. That is the job of Apple’s free application, iTunes, which is built on the
QuickTime framework. iTunes allows users to import, play back, and manage their audio and video content. Additionally, iTunes allows users to synchronize the content with external devices such as the iPod or iPhone (for portable playback) or AppleTV (to view on their TV).
QuickTime is free to use. Apple made it hard to understand this by making the free player continually launch a window prompting users to upgrade for $29.99 to the QuickTime Pro version, which makes many more features available to the end user. This window prompt has always really annoyed end users because they thought they were using a piece of crippled software. Let me say it again for those in the cheap seats: If you are not in the business of making content or preparing content for delivery, you can use the free version of QuickTime until the end of creation, and you’ll be just fine. However, if you are in the business of creating or preparing content (and compressionists are in that category), then QuickTime is a key part of your toolkit, and you’ll most likely need the Pro version to get your work done. QuickTime Pro keys are specific to the major version of QuickTime for which they are purchased. If you bought a Pro license for QuickTime 6, when QuickTime 7 came out, you would have to buy a new version. Since the version numbers for QuickTime roll over only every few years, this is still not an unreasonable price for all the functionality you get (though, again, this has really angered some users). Using the Pro key does not require downloading anything new; it just unlocks functionality of the player you already have. Features enabled by the Pro license include the following:
- Editing clips through the Cut, Copy, and Paste functions; merging separate audio and video tracks; and freely placing the video tracks on a virtual canvas with the options of cropping and rotation
- Saving and exporting (encoding) to any of the codecs supported by QuickTime
- Exporting video and audio to other wrappers and formats also supported by QuickTime (such as MPEG-4, 3GPP, AIFF, WAV, image sequences, and so on)
- Exporting to other normally unsupported formats through QuickTime component plug-ins (specifically, Adobe Flash and Windows Media Video)
- Exporting video to a video-capable iPod, AppleTV, and the iPhone (QuickTime Pro 7 only)
- Saving existing QuickTime movies (.mov) from the Web directly to a hard drive
The very flexible framework that QuickTime provides makes it easy to extend the playback and export features of the QuickTime Player by using component plug-ins. These plug-ins are small pieces of software developed by third-party companies that extend the functionality of the player. For example, Flip4Mac, a division of Telestream, makes available a component that allows QuickTime to play back most Windows Media Video (WMV and ASF) files on the Mac. Since Microsoft chose to discontinue the development of its own Mac-based player in 2003, this was a very valuable plug-in for any Mac user wanting to play back such content. Microsoft has even officially sanctioned the plug-in, making it available on its Web site for download.
Another good example is the open source project known as Perian. Perian extends the QuickTime Player by making it possible to
play back the following formats:
- AVI, FLV, and MKV
- MS-MPEG-4 DivX, 3ivX, H.264, FLV1, FSV1, VP6, H263I, VP3, HuffYUV, FFVHuff, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video, Fraps, Windows Media Audio 1 and 2, Flash ADPCM, Xiph Vorbis (in Matroska), and MPEG Layer II audio
- AVI support for AAC, AC3 Audio, H.264, MPEG-4, and VBR MP3.
- Subtitle support for SSA and SRT files