After months of delay due to MPEG-4 licensing issues, Apple has finally released QuickTime 6. Available in two versions — the free Standard version and the $30 QuickTime Pro — the latest iteration of this venerable multimedia technology is worth the wait. Both versions allows you to play MPEG-4encoded movies and more easily navigate streaming Web content. In addition, QuickTime 6 Pro (the version we review here) lets you create audio files smaller — and of higher quality — than those encoded in the ubiquitous MP3 format, and it offers MPEG-4 video encoding.
Big Sound, Small Files
QuickTime’s significant improvements lie beneath the surface. Likely to pique the interest of audio enthusiasts is the inclusion of Dolby Laboratories’ Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec — the audio arm of QuickTime’s MPEG-4 encoder. This codec can create audio files nearly indistinguishable from the uncompressed original, at around 7 percent of the original file’s size. We encoded a 4-minute, 40.4MB AIFF file with QuickTime 6’s AAC codec (at the default resolution of 96 Kbps) to produce a 2.8MB file. This file sounded distinctly clearer than a 4.4MB file produced with iTunes’ MP3 encoder (at the default resolution of 160 Kbps).
Regrettably, AAC encoding is absent in most QuickTimerelated applications. Although iTunes can play MPEG-4 audio files, for example, it can’t encode files in this format. Likewise, you can’t export MPEG-4 audio from iMovie.
Although video compressed with the included MPEG-4 video codec lacks the clarity of video encoded with Sorenson Media’s Sorenson Video 3 Pro codec ($299; 801/287-9400,
www .sorenson.com ), the Sorenson codec can’t match MPEG-4’s encoding speed. On a 933MHz Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X 10.1.5, we encoded a 78.1MB, 1-minute, 320-by-240-pixel QuickTime movie at best quality with the MPEG-4 video codec, the Sorenson Video 3 Pro codec, and the standard (free) version of the Sorenson Video 2 codec. Sorenson Video 3 took 2 minutes and 7 seconds to compress the file to 48.4MB, Sorenson 2 spent 4 minutes and 3 seconds encoding the movie to 33.2MB, and QuickTime 6’s MPEG-4 encoding took a speedy 40 seconds to compress the file to 45.2MB.
The file we encoded with the Sorenson Video 3 Pro codec most closely matched the original movie in detail and color accuracy. In comparison, the MPEG-4encoded version looked slightly washed out, and its edges weren’t as crisp. However, the MPEG-4 version was clearer than the file encoded with the free Sorenson 2 codec. In fact, the 33.2MB Sorenson 2encoded file looked only as good as the MPEG-4 version of the movie encoded at medium quality — which was a very small file at 16MB.
QuickTime 6 introduces the Instant-On feature, which allows those with broadband Internet access (112 Kbps or faster) to view streaming content more quickly and move from one location in the stream to another with little pause in the action. This is a welcome feature when it works. In our tests, Instant-On was less than instant on a congested network — leading to stuttering playback and pauses when we scrubbed to a new location. Also, you must have access to Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) ports 554 and 7070 — ports commonly blocked by firewalls — to realize the full benefit of Instant-On. Although you may be able to unblock those ports on a personal firewall, your company’s IT staff is unlikely to agree to uncork them at work.
A Change of Face
Apple has dispensed with QuickTime TV channels within QuickTime Player (the QTV menu is missing from QuickTime Player 6) and moved channels such as CNN, HBO, Disney, and the Weather Channel to Apple’s Web site. In place of channels, you’ll find buttons that link to additional Web content in the right side of the QuickTime Player window (see “A Word from Our Sponsors”). Besides being less useful than the channel links of old, the new links bear the distinctive scent of advertising.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Although QuickTime Player’s interface is somewhat commercial in nature, the benefits of the AAC codec, MPEG-4 video, and Instant-On streaming (for those able to take advantage of it) make this one of the most compelling QuickTime upgrades in years for those with more than a passing interest in multimedia — and one well worth the paltry price of admission.