Apple QuickTime is the worst H.264 codec in the world

UPDATE 10/7/2008 – Unsurprisingly, the 1080P QuickTime movies work fine on a Mac Mini!  Apple simply won’t write good Windows software.

One of the most interesting developments in the digital camera space is the convergence of HD digital video on to traditionally still cameras.  We saw this first with consumer point-n-shoot digital cameras with 720P capability and now we’re seeing professional grade cameras like Canon’s EOS 5P Mark II implement 1080P video capability.  The downside of this is that nearly all of these camera makers are adopting Apple’s QuickTime MOV format and this is highlighting the gross inefficiencies of Apple’s video playback software.

(We won’t get started on the hundreds of critical vulnerabilities in Apple QuickTime that endanger your computer)

Apple’s codec is so poorly coded – at least the Windows version – that my Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz desktop system with NVIDIA 8800GT can’t play 1080P H.264 QuickTime movies (2 samples on bottom of this page) smoothly.  Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has even told me that he gets rough playback on his high-end Intel QX9650 Quad-core desktop with ATI 3870 crossfire dual GPU.  This situation is ludicrous because it’s possible to play Blu-Ray H.264 1080P videos on a low-end dual-core computer with a low-end $35 ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics adapter.

This just doesn’t affect 1080P video clips, it affects 720P video clips that consumers are far more likely to deal with.  Those clips do not work well on dual-core computers with integrated Intel graphics adapters.  You can forget about using an Intel Atom NetBook with 945 integrated graphics to play back 720P clips from your point-n-shoot camera smoothly and you can forget about using typical desktop systems with common Intel integrated graphics.

Interestingly, the 3rd party QuickTime Alternative DOES indeed play these 720P clips smoothly on low-end systems and 1080P clips on dedicated discrete graphics systems, but the audio does not work.  I’ll try to email the QT Alternative developers to see if they can fix this.

Meanwhile, Adrian will run a test on his Mac Mini to see of the Mac version of Apple Quicktime is equally incompetent.  I would not be surprised if it turns out to work well because Apple likes to point out the inferiority of the Windows platform by personally ensuring it to be true.  Apple for example criticized Windows for being virus prone only to prove it by shipping a Windows virus with the iPod.  Apple criticized Windows for being bloated with Crapware only to prove it by shipping iTunes.  We’ll have to see what Adrian finds on his Mac Mini.

31 thoughts on “Apple QuickTime is the worst H.264 codec in the world”

  1. I don’t know anyone who wants to install iTunes or QuickTime on their computer. Ed Bott in the last link I included in the blog does show you how to at least manage a more stripped down installation of iTunes.

    In my case (or for anyone who owns a video capable camera), we’re kind of stuck with an audio-less smooth playback with QT Alternative or a bloated, buggy, and jerky playback from Apple QuickTime.

  2. I’d be lucky to get jerky playback in QuickTime… all too often, it takes 5+ minutes to start to do something, and then all I get is a few seconds of video, then it freezes and I get the rest of the audio track. QuickTime is, by far, the worst application on my PC except for Acrobat Reader (which has improved recently, thankfully… a few years ago, Acrobat took longer to start than Windows!). On top of that, its updater keep harassing me to install iTunes and Safari. You would think that the fact that I keep telling it "NO" would clue it in… tak about crapware!


  3. I had people complaining about the servers I built them with Acrobat being slow, but it turned out that they installed a really old version that was buggy. I fixed it by installing the latest Acrobat and shut them up.

    But you should read Ed’s article I linked to in the end. It tells you how to install iTunes piece by piece without most of the crap and the updater.

  4. The way I understand it, the Quicktime program uses software-only decoding. So does VLC, which despite it’s reputation, is weak when it comes to 1080p. In order to get GPU acceleration for your video, you need to do the following:

    Download a trial version of Cyberlink PowerDVD 8 (it’s the only software I know that has a decoder that uses GPU acceleration). Install it, but don’t let it associate itself with anything. Don’t even bother loading the program itself, it’s the decoder we’re interested in.

    Next, download Media Player Classic (it’s only the program I know that lets you select exactly which decoder to use for each codec). In the options, go to "external filters", then "add filter". Here, you’ll see a list of every decoder on your system, including the ones from Cyberlink. Select "Cyberlink H.264/AVC Decoder". Now, any time you load a file that uses the h.264 codec, MPC will use that particular decoder, regardless of the file type.

    So now you can watch h.264 video smoothly using Media Player Classic. I know it’s a convoluted method, and you have to use a different media player from the one you’re used to, and I also wish it was more straightforward than this. But this is the state of computer video as it stands today. Unless you’re using the industry standard "Bluray disc to Windows Media Player", the system isn’t friendly at all.

    Oh, by the way, I’ve also heard that encoded video can be "extracted" from their containers. So you should be able to extract the h.264 video out of the quicktime mov container, and wrap it in a different container such as wmv. Sorry I can’t elaborate, I haven’t tried it myself, and I don’t remember what forum I saw this on.

  5. Just to let you know I downloaded the MVI_5500 video and it plays back fine on my Intel Core 2 2.66 Ghz, 2 GB, Nvidia GTS 8800 running Vista 32-bit and Quicktime 7.5.5

  6. I found a nifty .pdf reader (free, edit tools for a reasonable fee) called Foxit at that you might like to try. Smaller footprint than Adobe and so far I haven’t hit a file it wouldn’t load in readable form.

  7. You claim that there are hundreds of flaws in QT that "endanger" you….

    You link to Secunia…. and they report ZERO unpatched vulnerabilities for QT.

    This smells like a beat-up – not journalism.

  8. There are dozens of NEW QT vulnerabilities every quarter. Every time they have a hacking contest, QuickTime is the first thing they look at for a zero day.

  9. At least from what I’ve seen it appears that way.

    And it doesn’t matter what you run it on, QT for Windows will run like a dog on the same hardware as QT for Mac. Even friends of mine with a pair of 4870×2’s or a trio of GX280’s (and yes, I have friends that spend money on this stuff like it’s going out of fashion) complain about how slow and choppy iTunes and QuickTime video playback are compared to VLC and Windows Media at 720p and 1080p.

  10. You know, I followed along with your last QuickTime article with John Carroll. Truth be told, I don’t use QuickTime as a general rule, but H.264 comes into use in other situations.

    What I found was with openSUSE 11.0 running on an HP Pavilion dv2000z AMD Turion 64×2 and using mplayer that the ‘test’ movies played smoothly ‘if’ I turned off Compiz-Fusion. So, you might want to try turning off Aero George and see how it goes then.


  11. And the worst software I’ve ever seen on a Mac is software from Microsoft. Apple wants to take care of Apple Hardware and Microsoft isn’t interested in helping Apple. The only thing here is who is gaining market share faster than any other company in the US, well, that would be Apple. If you want QT to work flawlessly, buy a Mac. Ever try Windows Media Player on a Mac? It is the worst thing in the world. This isn’t going to change anytime soon.

  12. Checkout GOM player — light weight player that automatically identifies and downloads the specific codec required based on the video/audio format. Handles MOV and many others.

  13. I ended up upgrading to QuickTime Plus so that I could export the MOV file to AVI. I then pull the AVI into Windows Movie Maker to add titles etc. The AVI after conversion runs fine on Windows VISTA Pro.
    Shooting MOV with a Canon 5d Mk2 DSLR.

  14. Yeah but Harry, does that do a re-encode or does it just strip the content out of the MOV wrapper? I believe there are free command line tools to do this without a re-encoding.

  15. I don’t really know what the heck I’m doing. So I don’t know. All I know is i need to get rid of the one second burps in playback of the 1080 MOV file. And someone had suggested the Quicktime Plus export option to AVI which appears to smooth it out but don’t know what it does as far as re-encoding and quality… there such a thiong as 1080 HD AVI or is it downgraded in the conversion?

  16. It’s simple to figure out. Is the export process fast or horribly slow and CPU intensive? If it takes hours to render an hour of video while exporting, then it’s re-encoding which causes an encoding generation loss. If it’s relatively quick, like a few minutes, it’s just converting the form factor.

  17. I’ll check that wen i get back to the studio computer. Thanks. Are there some free form factor changing apps then? MOV to AVI ? That keep everything at 1080 resolution?

  18. Actually, the H.264 compression mode saved my soul when I converted an Apple Keynote ’08 animated presentation on my mac to quicktime and then ran it on my client’s pc laptop under Vista at a trade show. It ran perfectly, as if it was running on my mac.

    Explain that if you can.

  19. Exported from Adobe Media Encoder a high-res (5mb+ ps) clip @ 720p and Quicktime player chokes. My CPU (2.13 ghz dual core / xp sp3 / 4gb RAM) is sitting @ 30% so it’s not even being taxed in the least. Try it in Windows Media Player (I think my CoreAVC kicks in) and less CPU, 1/4 of the RAM usage and plays smoothly. Quicktime on the PC does suck balls but who cares. The reason I’m not on a Mac in the first-place is I get other software to do what I want without being tied into the incentious (sp?) world of all that is Mac. Apple prob implemented it like this for one to say ‘holy crap, my PC’s slow but a Mac handles it well so it MUST be a better, faster coomputer!’. Anyway thanks for article, it backed up my suspicions nicely.

  20. Funny thing is that the H264 (by Adobe) clip WILL be played at a tradeshow on a Mac Mini in Quicktime Player! So even though it plays poorly on my PC (in the same player) I stand firm in my belief it’ll be perfect on the Mac. How bizarre that in ’09 with QT @ v 7.6+, this is still an issue. My suspicions are that Apple could have sorted this out ages ago. Alterior motives?!

  21. You guys should not use quicktime alternative or quicktime.. Ive found VLC to be the best solution for anything video related.. was able to watch 1080p video on an old emachines with an amd athlon xp @ 2.1 xp home sp2 with a geforce 4 mx 4000 128mb pci card and 512 mb ram.

  22. I’ve read that VLC video quality isn’t as good as Media Player Classic.

    Quicktime Alternative v1.8.1, with CoreAVC, FTW.

  23. The problem is not if Apple is doing good or bad software. The problem is that Windows and pc lost the train of progress. The future is without windows dear sirs. Just give you a present, give you a Mac and all that crap you were used to wil disappear.

  24. I’ve got no love for Apple because of their business practices, have never owned (and will never own) a POS Mac, thanks anyway blowhard John H., but christ you guys are a bunch of whiny apple-haters. iTunes and QuickTime work pretty darn flawlessly on windows, much better than the average Microsoft-backed crap. I submit that crashes and whatever else you’re experiencing are more likely due to head-butting programs and/or the surplus of malware you inadvertently downloaded via all those porn sites.

    iTunes is bloated – so what. If you don’t have a friggin’ iPhone, stop worrying about what the cool kids are doing and get over it. If you do have an iPhone, appreciate the better-than-average iTunes interface, get a computer that can handle a 64MB download ffs and then get over it.

    As far as QT goes, if you don’t like it, don’t use it! The only thing it’s mandatory for is viewing Apple websites anyway. Since that’s the case, who cares if it has security flaws?! DON’T USE QUICKTIME TO VIEW YOUR PORN. There, problem solved.


  25. The H.264 camera codec are highly compressed video codecs designed for capture only and in camera storing. That’s why they are so light! And you can fit about one hour of full resolution HD video in a small 64 GB memory card. They are not designed for playback and especially not for editing. This is way you transcode the material when you ingest it into a editing software, like Final Cut Pro, to Apple Pro Res codec for instance. It has nothing to do to with the Apple H.264 codec. When you finish your edit and output your video to a distribution H.264 1080 mov file, it plays back nicely on any system and software that reads .mov files, such as quicktime or VLC, on any laptop computer. The key concept here is: camera H.264 mov files are not video, they are codes – that you have to decode in order to play or edit. This makes them light, but not playable on consumer systems. They are exchange format files, an intermediate between camera and editing suite, that only the logging software can play in order to log and transfer the material from card to hard drives on set. And you do not drag and drop these files into a software, just because they are .mov files.

    Now the consumer counterparts probably come with their manufactures’ software and plugging that do this job. Either that or they have a link for download on their products’ website.

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