Why Mavericks' movies may not preview properly

Reader Arlen Andrews has a concern about his movie files. He writes:

I recently upgraded to Mavericks and now when I attempt to preview a movie file I see only a window telling me that the movie is zero KB in size, which I know isn’t true. When I double-click on the movie, it opens in QuickTime Player X but then immediately converts. What’s going on?

This appears to be another under-the-hood change designed so that the Mac OS better mimics the iOS. If you have one, find a movie file that ends with .m4v. Dollars-to-doughnuts, if you select that file and press the space bar, Quick Look will behave exactly as it should and show you the movie. Now try it again with one of your .mov files. No dice, right?

Right. And that’s because Mavericks is very particular about the kinds of movie codecs it allows. For example, I created a movie with Telestream’s Screenflow 4 and exported it using the application’s Lossless format (which uses the Animation codec by default). When I attempted to preview the resulting movie with Quick Look I saw exactly what you did—a seemingly empty document. When I double-clicked on it, QuickTime Player X launched, up popped a conversion window, and I had to wait for that conversion to complete before I could view the movie. (And now I had two copies of the movie—the original Animation-codec version and the converted version that used the Apple ProRes 4444 codec.)

However, movies using H.264 encoding previewed perfectly and opened in QuickTime Player without requiring conversion.

So, in regard to encoding movies in the future, the trick is using codecs that conform to QuickTime’s whims. The Animation codec is clearly codeca non grata, but H.264 and MPEG-4 movies (using QuickTime’s MPEG-4 codec) are aces. Also Apple provides a package of codecs for the professional user as part of the ProApps QuickTime Codecs package. (Your Mac must hold a copy of Final Cut Pro, Motion, or Compressor to install this package.) The package adds support for the Apple Intermediate, Apple ProRes, AVC-Intra, DVCPRO HD, HDV, XDCAM HD / EX /, HD422, MPEG IMX, Uncompressed 4:2:2, and XAVC codecs. I encoded a movie using the Apple ProRes 422 codec and it previewed and played as it should.

As for those of you who simply want to play your now ill-favored movies I’m afraid there’s currently no Quick Look solution. Until Apple or a third-party creates a Quick Look plug-in that allows these affected files to play you’re going to have to open and convert them and then preview the converted version.

However, if you don’t care about previewing them but rather want to play them without the conversion step, you have a couple of choices. Zongyao Qu’s free MPlayerX will play these movies without converting them, plus it supports .avi files, which QuickTime won’t touch.

The venerable (and oh-so-much-more-capable-than-QuickTime-Player-X) $30 QuickTime 7 Pro still works under Mavericks and it too will allow you to open and play these movies without the conversion step.

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