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Magnificent Seven: What's New for Users in QuickTime 7

by Chris Adamson

The release of Mac OS X Tiger brings with it a new release of QuickTime, the backbone of Mac OS X media applications such as iTunes, iMovie, and more. QuickTime 7 is included in Tiger and is also available as an update to Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther).

This scenario is similar to the way QuickTime 6.4 accompanied the release of Panther in 2003 (and had a companion release for those still on Jaguar), but while that release included some "nice to have" features--VideoCD support, the Pixlet codec, and a QuickTime for Java that worked with Java 1.4--QuickTime 7.0 includes "gotta have" features, in addition to major changes to the user experience, the developers' API's, and the underlying architecture.

Covering all these changes requires a two-part series. In this first article, I'll describe the user-visible features and changes in QuickTime 7, including QuickTime Pro, changes to the QuickTime Player application, and the use of the powerful new H.264 video codec. In the second installment, I'll cover the developer-oriented changes, including new functions in the straight-C API and the all-new, Cocoa-friendly QTKit framework.

Go Pro (Again)

First, let the bells ring out, and cheers rise from towns and villages: the much-hated QuickTime Pro "nag dialog" is gone. This dialog, shown in Figure 1, would typically come up every time you played a QuickTime movie and hadn't paid to upgrade to QuickTime Pro. It was an annoyance to many, particularly to sysadmins overseeing large installments who didn't want to (or couldn't afford to) upgrade dozens or hundreds of machines.

QuickTime 6 nag dialog Figure 1. The QuickTime 6 Pro "Nag Dialog"

Of course, I wouldn't be noting its absence if it weren't for the fact that Pro registration is an issue again in QuickTime 7. The new version requires the purchase of a new Pro key to get access to the Pro features: all the editing- and authoring-related features like copy-and-pasting movie data, exporting to different formats, saving movies from web pages to your hard drive, as well as some non-editing functionality, like the ability to view a movie in full-screen mode. Until you upgrade QT7 to Pro, menu items for these features are disabled and show a little "PRO" icon. Figure 2 shows these menu items in QuickTime Player, and Figure 3 shows them for a movie in a web page.

Disabled QT Pro menu items Figure 2. Disabled QT 7 Pro Menu Items in QuickTime Player
Disabled QT Pro menu items Figure 3. Disabled QT 7 Pro Menu Items in Safari

Playing with QuickTime Player

The QuickTime Player has received a major overhaul, gaining more than just the "live resize" feature often cited in Apple's PR. Besides, how often do you resize a playing movie anyway? There's better stuff to check out.

If you've upgraded to QuickTime Pro, you'll be able to use the File menu's "New Movie Recording" and "New Audio Recording" features. These items allow quick access to your capture devices--microphones, webcams, etc.--bringing up a simple preview window with a red dot button to start the recording, as seen in Figure 4. The feature allows you to dash off a quick video or audio clip, which is then opened as a new movie that you can edit and save.

New Movie Recording window Figure 4. New Movie Recording Capture Preview Window

To save your movie, the Player has a new simplified "Share..." menu item, which replaces the confusing "Import..." of earlier versions (since "Open..." does an implicit import, the separate menu item was little-used). "Share..." is like a dramatically simplified "Export...", reducing the user's choices to "small", "medium", "large" or "actual size". This feature, shown in Figure 5, allows you to save the captured movie--or any QuickTime movie you've opened--with a minimum of fuss, and with an estimate of how large the file will be. As you can see in the figure, it exports to H.264 video and AAC audio, and thus assumes that whomever you send this to also has QT7. Of course, the traditional export dialog is still available, so you can specify formats, codecs, bitrates, and more, down to whatever level of detail suits you.

Share... dialog Figure 5. "Share..." Dialog

Another major improvement in the QuickTime Player is the presentation and use of controls. QuickTime 6 offered controls that made use of a rather tortured analogy to the controls you'd see on a television or other consumer electronics product, overlaid on top of the video as seen in Figure 6. This had many disadvantages, not the least of which was the fact that many users didn't even notice the small up-and-down triangles that would allow them to advance to controls other than "Brightness".

Video controls in QuickTime 6 Figure 6. Video Controls in QuickTime 6

In QuickTime 7, these overlay controls are replaced by a single controls window, shown in Figure 7, which offers more familiar slider widgets to adjust the video and audio presentation. It also contains two new "playback" controls, a "jog shuttle" that adjusts the playback rate only so long as the slider is held in a non-default position, and a "playback speed" slider that allows you to change the playback from half-speed all the way to 3x speed.

Controls in QuickTime 7 Figure 7. Controls Window in QuickTime 7

Similarly, the Movie Properties window has undergone a major overhaul. This Pro-only feature allows you to inspect and change various settings for the movie and all its various tracks. But a problem with the old presentation, as shown in Figure 8, is that the GUI gave no sense of relationship or importance. Little-used properties were as prominent as commonly-used ones, neither visual nor sound properties were grouped together, and some properties were patently mislabeled (for example, the balance control was part of the sound track's "Volume" property GUI).

Properties GUI in QuickTime 6 Figure 8. Properties GUI in QuickTime 6

In QuickTime 7, the Movie Properties window is a multi-paned editor. At the top is a short table showing the various tracks in the movie. Clicking any of these brings up a properties overview in the bottom of the window. In the case of a video track, as seen in Figure 9, the properties have four major groupings: annotations, resources, visual settings, and other settings. The visual settings tab brings together many of the properties that had previously been spread across multiple properties, forcing you to view and edit them in isolation.

Properties GUI in QuickTime 7 Figure 9. Properties GUI in QuickTime 7, with video track selected

There are other little conveniences to be had throughout QuickTime Player, such as the fact that Pro users will now only see the editing selection points when they're actually mousing over the scrubber bar, the idea being that if you're not actively selecting in- and out-points, then you don't need to see these selection pointers. It's a nice idea, but it takes some getting used to. As you work more with QuickTime Player, I'm sure you'll find other points of interest. But on to the main attraction...

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