QuickTime 7 is one of over 200 new features in Mac OS X v10.4 (Tiger), but it's considered a milestone for the multimedia platform (one and a half decades old), which drives the iTunes Music Store and powers the iPod. If you ever wondered what QuickTIme Pro can do for you, read on.
QuickTime is popular multimedia software that lets you watch movies on a Mac or PC. If you spend £30 for a license, you can use QuickTime Pro, which offers more advanced features. It will also encode your own multimedia content to share with others, using Macs, PCs, 3G phones, handheld devices or Linux computers.
For the first time, QuickTime 7 offers H.264, a scaleable codec that supports different multimedia applications, from streaming to 3G mobiles through to next-generation DVD standards for High Definition. H.264 "is very modern, very scalable. From 3G to iChat A/V to HD and beyond, with one codec. This has never been done before," said Frank Casanova, senior director of product marketing at Apple and QuickTime team's strategic leader: "Even Windows Media is old by comparison and, therefore, not nearly as scaleable", he said.
It all adds up
Over 450,000 QuickTime downloads happen each day. That's about 13.5 million copies a month or about 162 million copies a year. According to a recent study by Frost & Sullivan QuickTime has surpassed Real Media in terms of market share, caught up with Windows Media and is likely to leave both behind.
QuickTime has beaten codecs like DivX and even major multimedia platforms such as Real Media have been eclipsed by it. This remarkable achievement implies users should know their data will survive the test of time. Using QuickTime, you are compatible with existing standards, while Apple has never discontinued support for any QuickTime-supported codec.
QuickTime's success contrasts with Apple's 5 per cent computer market share. It means the cross-platform standard has made enormous inroads into Microsoft's Windows world, which commmands over 90 per cent of the computer market.
You probably ask yourself: "How could this be?" "How did Apple beat Microsoft's Windows Media advantage?
The iPod helps. Every PC user who buys one needs iTunes and QuickTime 7. Apple also has strategic alliances with partners such as AOL and HP. The AOL deal means every PC manufacturer that bundles AOL 9 with its own PCs also bundles QuickTime 7. Apple also enjoys broad distribution in the digital camera market, many of which ship with QuickTime. 3G phones are compatible because they use standards QuickTime supports: H.264, for example, the official successor to MPEG-2 and MPEG-4.
"This video codec will change the world of broadcast," said Casanova, "The entire industry including the cable, satellite, mobile, Internet and movie industries will benefit from its efficiency, scaleability and quality. H.264 is the result of many companies’ collective experience and knowledge and no one person or company calls the shots," he said, "Only Microsoft controls what Windows Media does".
The H.264 codec which QuickTime 7 pioneers also brings a quantum leap in quality and bandwidth consumption. "The modern approach also gives us incredible quality and efficiency. This means we can get higher quality images at lower data rates than ever before. This is a huge advantage for broadcasters of media in all industries... why? It saves bandwidth... this is a good thing" he said. "With QuickTime 7, we'll start to hyper-distribute H.264 across the globe furthering it's reach and it's utility."
Why go Pro?
Apple continues to insist that users must pay to use QuickTime Pro, the full-featured release. The free version of QuickTime offers more unusable features than usable ones, with all Pro commands unmistakably marked as unusable in the free version. Apple wants you to use your credit card, but does it pay off to ‘go Pro’?
QuickTime Pro can export data in several industry-standard multimedia formats such as 3GPP and 3GPP2, offers versatile support for a variety of codecs (more on that later) and can produce media capable of being streamed over the Internet in an efficient way by Apple’s equally versatile streaming server.
While the moderate charge for these Pro features could be explained by the licence fees Apple must pay in order to support formats such as MPEG-4 or H.264, other functions, such as its search function (‘Edit > Find...’) and commands such as ‘Loop Back and Forth’, seem locked for no reason.
Some users may be frustrated by Apple’s no-discount policy. With each new major release of QuickTime everyone must again pay full price to have the Pro features unlocked. Each year the cost mounts up.
For multimedia professionals of many types QuickTime Pro is critical technology, but it offers advantages for 'the rest of us' as well. Some useful innovations in QuickTime 7 are available through the ‘File’ Menu. Using the command ‘New Movie Recording’ or ‘New Audio Recording’ you can create a multimedia message to send using email to friends or publish in the Internet using .Mac and QuickTime 7's ‘Share’ command.
Streaming in HD quality
Some of the latest and the greatest movies are beginning to appear in High Definition on the Internet. Along with its QuickTime trailers site, Apple offers its QuickTime 7 HD Gallery which streams clips from recent films in HD quality, such as Warner Brothers' 'Batman Begins'.
You need QuickTime 7 to watch these (a Windows version of which is "coming soon"), but to save such streaming files to your hard drive to watch offline when you want them, you need to go Pro.
AppleScript for the rest of us
The free version of QuickTime 7 plays movies in normal or double size, but what if you own one of Apple’s 30-inch displays and want to watch your movies in full screen mode? You need to go Pro.
However, this particular limitation (at least) goes away simply by building a small and simple AppleScript which tells the player to scale your movie to full resolution. It's not a secret - nearly anyone who flips through the AppleScript documentation can write it themselves:
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Once the script is saved as an application (download), simply drop a movie file on it in the Finder and it will display it in fullscreen mode.
From Avid to Apple: another reason to ‘go Pro’
Have you ever worried that running an Avid DS Nitris is way too expensive? You paid £120,000 for something which (in our opinion) isn't half as good as a cheaper Final Cut Studio-based editing suite. You would probably switch from Avid DS Nitris 7.5/7.6 to Apple's award-winning Final Cut Studio and a bunch of Xserve G5s, Xserve RAIDs and an Apple Xsan in a trice, if you could figure out how to migrate your footage in High Definition, 2K or 4K.
Avid, tries to make it a secret. By default all you see on your Avid Unity Media Network are Avid storage systems such as MEDIArray ZX. Final Cut Pro can’t read them. With High Definition entering the mainstream, Avid may not be an option: migrating data to a tape library might be achievable, but it's not the most affordable or efficient solution. To access your footage you'll have to move it back to some form of hard drive storage.
Then there is another problem: all your footage is ‘locked’ in an Avid codec (for example the DNxHD) and you don't know how to transcode it to Final Cut Pro 5. It's not obvious. Macworld UK is about to reveal what your Avid reseller never wanted you to find out. Migrating HD, 2K or 4K footage from Avid to Final Cut Pro 5 takes a QuickTime Pro key for Microsoft Windows 2000/XP (in addition to the Pro key for the Mac which is bundled with Final Cut Studio). Don't let anyone tell you you cannot do this. Look for a folder called "OMFI Folder" on the boot partition of the Windows XP PC which hosts your Avid NLE software. Expect mysterious file names, as Avid has nothing to gain by making the transition to Final Cut easy for you. Open these clips in QuickTime Pro on Windows XP. By doing so you'll learn the resolution (for example, 1,920-x-1,080) and the framerate (24 fps, 29.98 fps, and so forth). Write this down and then export your footage as a QuickTime movie without any compression at all (choose "none").
When you are done, move these files to a Mac and open them in QuickTime 7 Pro. From here, you can save them using any codec of your choice (e.g. 10-bit uncompressed for Final Cut Pro). Do not allow QuickTime to guess the right frame rate or resolution. Make definitely certain you choose the same setup (resolution, frame rate, and so on) you originally used on the PC. If you transcode the file with the right resolution and the correct framerate you'll be able to import the footage into Final Cut Pro 5 without hassles.
For video professionals at least, the utillity of a QuickTime 7 Pro license is easy to see. Apple's professional video applications ship with QuickTime Pro keys, so many may already own one.
Is Apple right to force the rest of us to buy QuickTime 7 Pro, when so many other applications on the system are free?
The answer's complex. Sure, it would be nicer if Apple gave away a Pro license with every copy of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or new Mac. This is unlikely to happen though becasue Apple must pay considerable license fees for each installation. While Apple can't opt out, you can. If you don’t mind not having the full features of QuickTime Pro, you don't need to pay for them.
If you do choose to bite the bullet and pay for Pro, rest assured that no other comparably-priced encoding software offers the encoding quality QuickTime 7 Pro does. That's truly a good thing. QuickTime 7 Pro will also allow you to cut and trim clips, extract tracks and even wrap your media in a ‘skin’ of your own making. But that’s another story.