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Playing Media Rant - when will this get better?

So here's the deal. A buddy (Jeff) sends out some MPG files of a recent trip to friends. One of the friends responds that she cannot view the files on her Mac. Jeff sends a note to me on AIM:

Jeff: yo macboy
what app do you use to view MPG files

Nice to know that I am now "macboy". I feel like the Jive Lady in the movie Airplane... "Oh stewardess! I speak Mac".  I look at the MPG files that Jeff sends me and sure enough I can't view them. QuickTime Pro, which I recently upgraded to, gives me this:


I had already installed Flip4Mac into QuickTime but that didn't help me. A quick search turned up VLC, which I posted about earlier today. Finally, I could see the videos.

As a techie I am accepting of the challenges of technology. I understand why it all exists - that each vendor has their own way of recording the video that may take advantage of their hardware and hundreds of other issues. But when I put on my consumer hat I get more than a little pissed off that I have to go through so much crap just to watch a video that someone created.

If someone sends me an image file chances are I will be able to view it. It's going to be in JPG, GIF or PNG in all likelihood. My Mac, Windows and Linux machines will be able to view them easily right out of the box. Sure there are tons of file formats out there, but people have figured out that if you want the largest possible audience to view your files you need to put it in one of those formats.

When it comes to videos the options are staggering. At what point will we need to stop guessing which format will work best and have a standard, common format that everyone will be able to play reliably? Will this ever happen? Did I miss some piece of technology on the video side that makes this a non-issue?

YouTube got pretty damn close with their service, though I did have to install a Flash reader on each machine in order to view videos there.

Video recording technology is as pervasive as digital photography now. You can't buy a modern phone without getting a little video recorder built in and virtually every non-DSLR camera that comes out today has video capabilities. The need is clearly there to make it so that non-technical people can grab a file from any device and simply play it without having to download a bunch of stuff to make it work.

Somehow I don't think this is going to get better any time soon.

14 comments:

Spamkip said...

Did you try Perian?

Anonymous said...

Yo Winbot, what backward thinking piece of propriety crud did you use to create the video file.

David Alison said...

@spamkip: Yep. Didn't work with that installed either.

@anon: Touché (yes, I know how to use that word because I have a Mac). He's got a Panasonic SDR-H40 that generates MOD files. He lost the software that came with the camera to convert the videos and Panasonic doesn't make the software available on their web site.

Anonymous said...

Try Mplayer, it is much better than VLC in my opinion. With the extra codecs pack, I have yet to see a video it cannot play.

Eldfisco said...

Another very interesting player: Chroma
Unfortunately, it's not free...

Hendrik said...

I actually think it has been and still is getting better.
Flash pretty much solved the problem for the web.
And H.264 seems to be the winning codec for nearly everything else. I think this codec is on its way to becoming the JPEG of video.

David Alison said...

@Hendrik: I really hope you are right. Every time a member of my family wants to watch any video that's not on a DVD or through a web site there's a 50/50 chance I'll hear a "DAVID..." or "DAD...". Granted, it is nice to feel needed but figuring out which video codec should work is just painful.

Tom said...

What type of MPEG was it? If it's MPEG2, Perian and Quicktime do not natively support it. There is however a $20 component to add it (likely Apple never mass paid for an MPEG 2 license for some reason)

http://www.apple.com/quicktime/mpeg2/

David Alison said...

@Tom: Based on what I could find on the interwebs it looks like the Panasonic MOD files are indeed MPEG2.

Marco said...

Wow, lots of comments, must be a popular topic. I just wanted to chime in and say that ever since I went to the "White Side" I have had MUCH less problems with codecs in general. After installing Flip4Mac for Windows Media and the Divx codec, I haven't had any videos that wouldn't play on my mac. Granted I don't watch a ton of videos, but a decent amount.

Jeff Bellamy said...

David,

Could you post a file so I could see how it opens on my computer. I'm just curious if I'll have a problem or not.

Jeff Bellamy
http://timetraveluniversity.com

Charles said...

Hi David,

You are dead right. Codecs & specifications; compatibility of this and that - the end user doesn't and shouldn't have to care.

I have a massive personal issue with this as i am often drafted in by my colleagues, customers & family to sort out 'their problem'.

In regards to Video, this is something that the industry got right, screwed it up, and is now getting right again.

Apple helped/did create firewire - creating a singular spec that all camera makers could use for Digital Video editing. It works brilliantly. Irrespective of which manufacturer, if the camera has firewire, the software (pc or mac) can control the camera and download the video. (Sony calls firewire i.link which is again another example of proprietary names confusing consumers [some could argue that firewire is also a confusing proprietary name] but they're both another story)

For a few years all was sweet... then the 'clever' manufacturers decided that dvd recording and hdd recording players were what consumers wanted... (great in theory and often cheaper to produce = win-win ?? NO) The problem with these products are that they use inferior quality standards (i say inferior as mpeg2 is a lossy format) and there is no industry standard.

Case in point being if you were to buy a Panasonic hdd camcorder. It only has USB. You think ahh!! USB is compatible between all platforms - I'll be fine. However, Panasonic only make a Windows XP version of their propriety software. So without jumping through a few hoops and using some specialist software/plug-in, it will only work on XP. No mac, No Linux. Then 3 years goes by. Panasonic have created new products in a new format; They've long ago discontinued the software for your camera... and because it wasn't using an industry standard - your 3 yr old camera is suddenly useless. No software to get the footage off the camera digitally, and you need to buy a new camera. THAT. SUCKS. !!! From a consumer perspective they will not and should not have to be aware of such problems 3+yrs ahead when they buy their camera.

Thank god the industry is now thinking again with the consortium of the AVCHD standard (based on h.264) this will help consumers have a choice of software & have the assurance of being able to use their hardware into the future.

As a short additional note, one of the worst offenders of not supporting a standard is Microsoft. They have so much proprietary, that flies directly in the face of industry's best standards... They continually cause compliance issues for the entire industry, and because of this create headaches for normal users.... "No you cant use this browser on this site because we use a Microsoft only technology" "Huh ? i just want to do my banking!!!"

This is another reason i appreciate Apple's outlook with open source....

(for another example of Microsoft making it confusing for consumer just look at office 07/08 formats not being compatible with their older office products. There are no plug-ins for office 03/04 to enable reading. no pop-up boxes to explain why you cant open your colleagues file - just confusion. I wonder how much money is wasted through non-standards compliance by Microsoft and others ?? ) These guys think it'll be cheaper in the long run:
PC Shop Switches to Mac


Apple may not be perfect but i would argue that they're one of the best players out there for looking at the bigger picture for the consumer....

(sorry for the length of the response - years of frustration built-up here ; )

David Alison said...

@Charles: Wow man, that's the first time I've had someone post a comment that was longer than the original post! Glad you were able to get that out though - some good and interesting information in there.

I don't know about you but I always feel a little relieved after a good rant ;-)

ProMo~ said...

How about you use to 'Movist'.

The Movist's blog url is
http://cocoable.tistory.com/30
(It's written by Korean.)

and Download url is
http://movist.googlecode.com/files/Movist_v0.5.zip

It is the newest version at 2008.05.18.

Simply, this application is support FFmpge & Quicktime.

I hope this application will helps your Mac Life.