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ATPM 17.03
March 2011


How To



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How To

by Sylvester Roque,

Making Use of QuickTime X

As I was wrapping up this month’s article, I got a call from my brother. The confirmed Windows user needs a couple of Windows Media Player video files converted to QuickTime movie files. I got the call because he doesn’t do this often and isn’t sure his Windows box has anything on it to take care of this problem. Initially, QuickTime converted the video portion of the files but left the audio behind, but an assist from VLC media player and MPEGStreamclip resulted in a workable set of files. Score one for the Mac.

The whole time I was working on this project, I thought about a project a few years ago where QuickTime files played better on the target 486 computers than the AVI files widely used on Windows at the time. After a week or so of adjusting settings on AVI files trying to get acceptable playback performance, I tried QuickTime’s MOV format because I read that QuickTime would play acceptably on some hardware that would not play other formats. To make a long story short, it worked like a charm.

The good news is that you, too, can amaze your family and friends with QuickTime’s abilities. If you don’t know what QuickTime is capable of, it’s time to find out, because almost everything you do with audio or video on a Mac relies on QuickTime.

What Is QuickTime, and What Does It Do?

QuickTime made its initial appearance as an optional installation in System 6 and System 7. Several major OS revisions later, it has become an application (in the form of QuickTime Player); a framework of components critical for encoding, decoding, and transcoding multimedia files; and a means of adding support for additional file formats by adding additional codecs. The result is something that’s an integral part of the Mac multimedia experience. Even if you have never launched QuickTime Player, if you have been playing audio or video on your Mac, chances are, the application you are using has been making use of its components.

Initially, QuickTime Player met most of my multimedia playback needs. I wasn’t doing much audio or video editing editing at the time, so there wasn’t much need to transcode files. Over time though, that changed. As QuickTime’s capabilities improved, some of my friends became interested in its ability to convert audio and video, and came looking for help. QuickTime Player couldn’t handle that, but for less than $30 I could get a license for the Pro version. In exchange for a few of my hard earned dollars I got the ability to perform some basic audio and video editing. The most important thing for me, though, was the sudden ability to export files in other formats. It was almost like having the digital equivalent of a multi-tool. It was also possible to get a Pro license as part of Final Cut Studio or Logic Pro.

With the release of Snow Leopard came the release of QuickTime X. The Player window was revamped a bit and looks more like the player window in iTunes than previous versions. Saving and exporting video in QuickTime X appears to be significantly faster than it was under QuickTime Pro 7. In exchange for the increased speed, some features are reduced compared to QuickTime 7 Pro. The Cut, Copy, and Paste options are gone from QuickTime X, and exporting video is limited to four formats. There are also no discernible application preferences. The current version of the QuickTime Player lacks an upgrade path. There isn’t a Pro version at this time.

The missing features and absence of an upgrade path are the bad news about QuickTime X. The good news is that if you are upgrading to Snow Leopard and already have QuickTime 7 installed, it will still be present when the upgrade is complete but it will have been moved to the Utilities folder. If you have the Pro version installed, your serial number is still recognized as valid, and no functionality is lost. It’s also an optional install on the Snow Leopard disc should you decide to add it later.

Enough History. What Can I Do With QuickTime Player?

Some functions may have been crippled a bit in the new version of QuickTime Player, but some things have been simplified. To see the difference in philosophy, all you have to do is look at the changes in the recording process. Under Quicktime 7 Pro, making an audio or video recording often meant tinkering with the preference settings to set the audio and video sources. There were also several general preferences affecting movie playback.

With QuickTime Player X, the recording preferences are gone. Starting a recording is as simple as going to the File menu and choosing to create a new movie (using the built in iSight camera), audio recording, or screen recording. Each of these options has a keyboard equivalent if you prefer to do things that way. Press Record when the player controls appear, and you’ve started the recording.

If you choose to create a screen recording, directions appear which tell you how to stop the recording. This is necessary because the window of player controls is not visible, to keep from taking up screen space. To stop a screen recording you have to either press the Stop button that appears in the menu bar or press Command, Control, and Escape simultaneously.

Once a recording is completed and you have pressed the Stop button it is time to save your work. Choosing Save As from the File menu brings up a dialog to choose where the file will be saved. The Format section of the Save As sheet contains several saved presets commonly used for the type of recording you’ve chosen. Choose the appropriate preset and choose Save. By default, recordings are saved in the Movies folder inside your home folder, but you can save them elsewhere.

There is also a “Save For Web” option available in QuickTime X. This option also produces an option to save your work, but there is an important difference here. This dialog saves the file as a “reference movie.” The reference movie is a way to “negotiate” so that the version of a movie which gets downloaded is of an appropriate size and quality for the device used to download the file.

Editing Movies With QuickTime X

If you make enough recordings, eventually you will need to do some editing. There are a number of excellent audio and video editing programs available for the Mac ranging from relatively inexpensive to very expensive. You could edit your recording in another application such as iMovie, but what if you just need to trim away a mistake or two? QuickTime X can probably complete that edit in the time it takes to launch iMovie or Final Cut Express. Let’s try it now to see how well things work.

If you didn’t already try the recording function while reading the previous section, go to the QuickTime Player File menu and choose a type of recording. Make your recording relatively short since this is just for practice.

Now that we have a short recording, let’s perform a quick edit to see how things work. Moving the mouse into the QuickTime Player window causes the playback controls to appear, but there are no apparent editing controls there. It took me a minute or two to figure this out so I’ll tell you the secret: To see the editing controls choose Trim (Command-T) from the QuickTime Player Edit menu.

A miniature time line of your movie appears at the bottom of the player window where the controls normally appear. The time line is outlined in yellow with a handle at either end. Drag the left and right handles until the footage you want to keep is within the area enclosed by the yellow handles. You can hit the Play button to check to make sure that you have things as you want them. Once you have the edit like you want it choose Trim in the bottom right of the window.

If you make a mistake you can either undo the change from the edit menu or choose Cancel at the right of the time line. The Edit menu also has an option to select everything excluding silence. Once things are as you want them, choose an appropriate Save option. While you are experimenting with the player’s options, don’t forget to check the Share menu: options in this menu facilitate sharing files to iTunes, a MobileMe gallery, or YouTube.

Do I Need QuickTime 7 Pro?

With the editing features provided by the new QuickTime Player X, do you still need QuickTime 7 Pro? The answer depends upon the type of editing you do. If you need more than basic trimming of footage, there will likely be times you need more editing capability than QuickTime Player X offers. I personally find editing with previous versions of the player a bit cumbersome, but I still do so from time to time. In deciding whether to upgrade version 7 of the player to the Pro version, you may want to launch version 7 and look at the menu items that are greyed out. This will give you an idea of what a Pro license enables. The QuickTime 7 user guide may also be helpful.

Since the two versions of QuickTime don’t conflict with each other, there is another advantage to having both versions installed at the same time. QuickTime Player X can make use of any additional codecs that you may have already installed.

What are Codecs?

As it is commonly used in multimedia, a codec is essentially a program capable of compressing and decompressing a stream of digital information. The term is most often used to discuss how computer systems handle a wide variety of digital information. Without getting bogged down in the details, codecs essentially tell the computer how to prepare a data stream for transmission or decode it for playback or editing.

For our purposes, it’s that last bit of information that is important. When QuickTime encounters a type of media file that it cannot display properly, adding the appropriate codec may solve the problem. Adding new codecs is one way to extend QuickTime’s ability to deal with unknown files. It’s not the best analogy, but it may help you to think of adding codecs to QuickTime as similar to teaching it a new language.

As far as I know, there isn’t a structure available for adding new codecs to the new version of QuickTime Player, but it will recognize codecs you have added to QuickTime 7. A friend and I discovered this shortly after I upgraded to Snow Leopard. His QuickTime Player X would not play some files I had no trouble playing. After a bit of trial and error we concluded that I had a codec installed that he did not have. There are a wide variety of codecs available for QuickTime.

Which Codecs Do I Need, and Where Do I Get Them?

I have a rule of thumb about codecs that may not be the greatest but seems to work well for me. Unless I am consistently having trouble playing a certain type of file, I don’t go in search of new codecs. Having said that, I find Perian incredibly helpful even though it doesn’t open certain types of MPEG files. In order to open those files I added the MPEG-2 Component. Perian doesn’t open everything but takes a big step in that direction.

Since it’s almost impossible to surf the Web without encountering something in Windows Media format, I’ve added Windows Media Components for QuickTime. Some Mac forums still refer to this series of components simply as Flip4Mac. Even with this component installed, there are some Windows Media files that do not open properly on a Mac. These files are usually either copy protected or created with a version of Windows Media newer than this package is capable of translating.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for this month. Hopefully I have given you a glimpse of another marvelous free component that is found on your Mac. Try putting some of QuickTime’s recording features to work. They’re pretty basic, but you don’t have to spend a lot of time being bogged down in choosing the right settings. The resulting files can usually pulled into other software if additional editing is needed.

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