Video on PowerPC: Part 2 - Playback on G3
The recent news of the new Mars rover being powered by a 200 MHz G3 is making some reevaluate their perception of the G3's ability. The early G4 chips are fundamentally just a G3 with an added Altivec unit. The final Power Mac G3 and the first G4 tower even share the same logic board and CPU socket. In terms of video playback though, the lack of Altivec is a big hit on performance, but there is still lots you can do with the right codecs and software.
I started out watching and collecting compressed digital video on a regular basis in 2002. This was in the late OS X 10.1 days. Then in August that year when 10.2 was released a big swarm of BSD and Linux software started getting ported over, thanks to the BSD based kernel. As I mention in my previous video article for G4/G5, it was this mid-late 2002 era when digital video playback really took off on the Mac. The classic and early OS X days were limited to half a handful of very sloppy, didn't work more than they did, DivX based QT codecs.
Your best friend with DivX/XviD and the like will be Mplayer (1.1 from 2002), because newer versions of it don’t like G3 CPU’s. This is because they rely heavily on Altivec. The same goes with versions of VLC past 0.5.3. To be fair, the versions that don’t run well (if at all) on G3 are from 2004 on, which is 5+ years after the G4 was introduced. The lack of Altivec is a hindrance on video playback, but I will now move on to the tools that will help you get all the video goodness you can out of your G3.
The Software (OS X 10.2 – 10.4)
Mplayer OSX 1.1 – Download
For best results open preferences and check the drop frames option, and also turn on cache. The drop frames option sounds bad, but it will make choppy video look quite smooth by dropping 2-5 frames a second in an orderly fashion so the end result is smooth. This exact version may be the second most efficient playback app ever made on Mac OS after CorePlayer.
VLC 0.5.3 – Download
As I noted already, the newer versions don’t work so well on G3 in my experiences, but your mileage may vary. You may also want to try some of the 0.6.x and 0.7.x builds, but don’t expect much better than 0.5.3. The archive of old versions is found here.
Apple DVD Player
Mplayer and VLC can play DVD also, but not as well (or with as little CPU) as Apple DVD Player can. DVD playback is something G3’s have done well for a long time, and will keep doing as long as they are still around to use.
It needs to be noted that early G3's like the beige desktop and tray load iMacs do not have DVD playback capability because they lack DVD decoding. On a beige tower/desktop you can upgrade the video to a late model Rage 128, or any compatible GPU with DVD decoding. The rev.1 B&W G3 had a special piggybacked decoder on the graphics card, but only on the DVD model of the tower. Later revisions of the Rage 128 had DVD decoding built in.
Any slot load iMac or white iBook with a DVD drive can play DVD. Any G3 tower with a DVD drive and a 100 MHz Rage 128 (vs the 75 MHz orig.) or better GPU can also play them.
When it really comes down to it, any computer is only as capable as the ability and imagination of the user. A G3 still has many capabilities if you use it with the right software and computing habits. I encourage everyone who owns a G3 still, and loves video to try my methods and the tools mentioned here. Let your G3 show you what it can really do. It may surprise you.
Published on Thursday, August 23, 2012