A summary of players


I'm a big advocate of Linux and BSD for security, but when it comes to offline things, like playing video files and DVD's, I am very pro-Mac OS PowerPC.  To me, there is no better OS to play video on than Mac OS X, and especially on Tiger (10.4) and Leopard (10.5), which as I'm sure you all know were the last two Apple OS to support PowerPC.

All my life I have been a big user and collector of video since before I ever even used computers, but from 2002 on I have been willingly engulfed in digital video on Mac OS X.  In all that time I have learned a thing or three about all the playback applications available, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.  These are my findings.


VLC

VLC is the all-round most stable and capable player ever made available on any OS in my opinion.  It's no MPlayer or CorePlayer in terms of CPU efficiency, but is still a lightweight compared to true resource hogs like Quicktime.  I recommend you use 0.9.10 on Tiger, and 1.1.12 on Leopard.  For Leopard users, the 2.xx versions are a bit more resource needy, and only worth running if you have a dual CPU system; because 2+ is more SMP optimized, but that is really the only true advantage.  So Leopard single CPU users should stick to 1.1.12.

Strengths:
  • stable
  • most codec capable player
  • most tweak-able player (via its vast extended preferences)
  • the best audio and subtitle sync repair of any player

Weaknesses:
  • not as resource efficient as others
  • the expanded preferences can really overwhelm some
  • the "Media library" below the playlist is sketchy at best


MPlayer

MPlayer is much more a lean and raw player compared to VLC and others, but it's quite resource efficient, and scrubs through video in a truly beastly manner.  There are various versions by various developers, but there are three versions that are very worth the HD space they use.  Those three are comprised of two versions of MPlayer OSX (one optimized for G3 and one for G4), and the rev14 version of MPlayer OSX Extended (Tiger users need rev11), which is by far the best thrid-party real media player.

I have some very old real player formatted video I downloaded years ago, but would never install Real Player on any system of mine, nor should you, as it is spyware VLC can play real media also, but it plays very jerky, and with lots of resources available.  The extended version, while newer, is less efficient and has some interlacing issues, so I use it strictly for real media, and a combo of MPlayer OSX and VLC for everything else non-HD.  Bottom line...  use extended for real media only, and the regular OSX version for all your other MPlayer needs.

Strengths:
  • efficient all-round
  • scrubs/scans through video better and more aggressively than any other player
  • frame dropping feature to help it smoothly play video that is slightly beyond your systems capability
  • very effective disk cache option which will offer smooth playback from very slow media, like old CD-R
  • very simple and straight forward preferences (if that's what you prefer)

Weaknesses:
  • struggles with some audio and some x264
  • not anywhere near as codec capable as VLC
  • limited preferences/settings
  • only the "Extended" version is really usable on G5's


CorePlayer

Even though this cannot be bought any longer, it's worth covering for those that do have it, and to help others gain more perspective with it.

CorePlayer OSX is the absolute champion of resource efficiency, and is a master of x264 codec playback, but to be honest, that is where its good qualities end.  The GUI is very sloppily put together, and just generally awkward to use, but not so bad that it's unusable; just clunky and oddball.  I guess this is what happens when you port cellphone software to the desktop, but forget to make it more desktop functional.  It also has little support for AC3 audio, or really any video wrapper that isn't AVI, MP4, M4V or MKV.

Strengths:
  • out of this world efficiency
  • a master at x264 playback

Weaknesses:
  • ugly as hell
  • clunky and awkward to use
  • limited codec support
  • most of the preferences do nothing in terms of producing noticeable results 
  • lack of proper subtitle support


Quicktime

QT is the undisputed champion of bloat when it comes to playback apps.  There is no other application that consumes more of your CPU than this one.

The only use I have for it is the editing feature in the pro version, which is actually quite simple and elegant, but still uses way too many resources.

Bottom line...  don't use it to play video.

Strengths:
  • simple and elegant video editor (with $30 pro version)

Weaknesses:
  • bloated garbage for playback
  • next to no codec support without third-party codecs installed


Apple DVD Player

Even though you can play DVD's in VLC, this application is more efficient at it, and makes the experience much more like using a real DVD player on a TV.  If you run Leopard, and have a CPU under 1GHz, then you should disable deinterlacing (in the "View" menu) for best results.

Since I cannot really find any weaknesses with this, I won't bother doing a strengths/weaknesses for it.  It plays DVD's really well and efficiently, and that's all you really need to know.


Wrapper Roundup

It makes sense to end this with a list of video wrappers, and which players are best for each.  Since this is all based on personal experience, I welcome any findings the readers have also.

Here is the list:

.AVI  -  VLC or MPlayer OSX
.MP4  -  VLC or CorePlayer
.M4V  -  VLC or CorePlayer
.MKV  -  VLC or CorePlayer
.MOV  -  VLC or CorePlayer
.MPG  -  VLC or MPlayer OSX
.WMV  -  MPlayer OSX
.ASF  -  MPlayer OSX or VLC
.FLV  -  VLC
.RM  -  MPlayer Extended
.RAM  -  MPlayer Extended

When it comes to HD, there really is no choice but CorePlayer without a G4 1.2GHz+.  A faster single G4 or dual 1GHz+ will play most 720p in VLC.  You may struggle with any 60fps content though.  As for 1080 without CorePlayer...  thats more for later duals and quad G5's.  On my single 1.8GHz G4 7448 I need CorePlayer to play 1080 smoothly.  60fps 720p h.264 is my limit without CorePlayer.  G4 1.2-1.5GHz would be limited to 24-30fps 720p.

Anyway...  that's about it for this summary.  If you require any additional info, please ask in comments, or add any of your experiences with the apps and codecs above, or others not mentioned.

14 comments:

  1. I've found XBMC 11 to be highly capable - whilst doing some testing, I found it to be more efficient than VLC and MPlayer - however, the results vary from machine to machine. It works exceptionally well on my 12" Powerbook, playing files MPlayer and VLC cant reach. I just wish it's playback engine could be detached from the huge media centre interface.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I tried XMBC about twice and ran away almost screaming in horror. I really hate interfaces like that.

      I'm sure if I didn't own CorePlayer, that I would have used XMBC a lot more.

      Did it ever play 720p or higher on you PowerBook? If so, what were the file specs?

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    2. I actually tried XMBC (ver 11.0) again, and tested both a 720p and 1080p file. It played the 720p, if a bit choppy, but played it at a watchable level, but not the 1080p - maybe 5 frames per sec.

      I would put it somewhere between MPlayer and CorePlayer in terms of efficiency.

      For efficiency, with XMBC included, I would rank the players like this:

      1. CorePlayer
      2. XMBC
      3. MPlayer
      4. VLC


      A distant 5th is Quicktime.

      So if people can tolerate the XMBC interface, then it's worth the HD space simply for it's playing efficiency. I find the best way to use it is to right click on the file I want and open with XMBC.

      Bottom line for XMBC, as far as I'm concerned, is to only use it for higher res. stuff, to avoid its ghastly interface as much as you possibly can.

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  2. Yes, the interface is overwhelming for simple file playback but I find it ok for a dedicated media player - I use the Quartz skin which is very utilitarian and no doubt saves on resources.

    This is probably the best example I could find to illustrate playback from my Powerbook (12" 1.33Ghz 768Mb OS X 10.4.11) - a 720P h264 1.44 Mbits/s trailer off Youtube:

    https://db.tt/0oXlQEVA

    It does play in VLC and Mplayer but with aggressive frame dropping and sync issues - XBMC plays it smooth with no hiccups.

    I've found 720P is the absolute limit with h264 on a Powerbook, however 1080P MPEG-4 plays ok in XBMC - of course, at 1024 X 768 resolution the need to do that is questionable.

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    1. A big factor in video performance is framrate, and that file you link to is only 23.97fps, so it will play well. on any G4 of about 1.2GHz+.

      The two videos I was testing were 60fps, so there would be a big gap in the performance of my files and the one you link to. It plays very well for me also, and on a G4 7448 1.8GHz in a Sawtooth.

      The main things that dictate performance are codec, framerate and resolution, not bitrate like a lot think.

      When it comes to just playing something and sitting back, I would be happy with XMBC. When I right click a file and open it with there is no interaction at all needed. I may just keep it around this time.

      As for 1080p... maybe try XviD. It will look great at a high bitrate. Say 2000-3000kbps.

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    2. Just to clarify... I don't find the XMBC interface overwhelming, but rather very underwhelming and tacky.

      I just hate anything like that or Front Row.

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  3. Ah..I hadn't factored in frame rate as virtually every file I use is under 30fps. I find screen resolution relevant, my hi-res Powerbooks don't do as well as the 12" - despite being higher specified.

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  4. Two weaknesses of Apple DVD Player:

    There's no way around copy protection, so it makes you sit through those stupid FBI warnings.

    Also, no screenshot capability. Damn movie studios.

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    1. Just fire up VLC to take some screens. It's very adept at it.

      As for the FBI warnings... just use that time to make some movie snacks. :)

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  5. I just realized I was calling it "XMBC" rather than XBMC. Good old dyslexia. I always struggle with acronyms for some reason.

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  6. Do any players support HEVC / H.265? I know VLC and QuickTime do not have support, but MPlayer says version 15 should. I was unable to find MPlayer 15 for PowerPC.

    I own a Quad G5 w/ a 7800 GTX 512, so playback performance should not be a problem. The files I am looking to play are 4K (3840x2160)@60FPS videos. That sounds excessive, but I have transcoded them to higher bitrate H.264 on a different computer and they played 100% flawlessly on the G5, in MPlayer and VLC.

    I am looking to avoid wasting time transcoding and to save disk space by playing HEVC.

    Thanks

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    1. Unfortunately, there is no h.265 capable player available for PowerPC, but it would be quite pointless if it was.

      The resource demands it puts on a system would challenge even a quad i7, so your quad G5 would feel like it was fighting a bear to play it. That resolution/framerate/codec combo you list would humble a lot of modern hardware.

      VLC started supporting it at version 2.1.2, but the last Mac OS PowerPC version was 2.0.10. As for MPLayer... at least in the PowerPC days the versions above are from, is truly its own animal. They are also far too old of versions to support h.265.

      The reality for you is that you need to embrace h.264. It looks amazing around 2000kbps, especially in two-pass encoding.

      What are you using to encode video? IMO Handbrake rips the cleanest looking video. Its h.264 encoder is better than anything else I have ever used. I would honestly be shocked if anyone wasn't happy with 1080p h.264 ripped at 2000kb in Handbrake. That cuts your stated file sizes in half.

      Seriously... if you have not tried Handbrake, you need to. I wouldn't use anything else to rip h.264. Also, h.264 will rip a lot faster anyway.

      One of the main things I have leaned as a ripper of a lot of video, is that not all encoders are created equally. Two different applications that rip the same codec will rarely produce identical results quality-wise.

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  7. I am currently using iMac G4 (1.25, 768MB, 10.5.8) with CorePlayer and the results are pretty good with 720p. I still have around 400MB free RAM after launching the player (nothing else runs on this computer). Short question - would adding 512MB more RAM further improve the playback?

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    1. Extra RAM will not help with CPU power at all. The only way it would help is if you run other things while you play video.

      If I were you I would go to the 2GB max, as Leopard needs it, but it certainly won't help the CPU play video.

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