Most Mac users have probably heard of QuickTime. It has shipped with many applications and most Mac multimedia titles for the past few years. QuickTime 2.0 is currently included with System 7.5, and as of today, version 2.1 is available online for free (also make sure to get MoviePlayer 2.1, a QT2.1-savvy version of MoviePlayer).
[If you have trouble getting through, try the same path at the short URL below. -Geoff]
QuickTime 2.1 squashes a few bugs, incorporates several new features, and fleshes out some existing capabilities. Why should you care about QuickTime 2.1? Because it may let multimedia on the Macintosh go where no media has gone before.
QuickTime Bug Fixes -- With QuickTime 2.1, Apple has rolled the fixes provided by the Apple Multimedia Tuner 2.0.1 into QuickTime itself (so if you have Multimedia Tuner installed, remove it when you install QuickTime 2.1). Those fixes include a workaround for applications which didn't properly prepare movies for playback, better behavior in low-memory situations, better protection against video and sound hiccups, DSP Manager fixes for the 840AV and 660AV, plus other fixes that improve QuickTime's general performance and reliability.
Additionally, QuickTime 2.0's problems with bleed-through during capture and preview of video have been fixed, as have problems associated with flattening and playing back movies with IMA-compressed audio tracks. (IMA 4:1 audio compression enables developers to maintain good sound fidelity without surpassing the data rate limits imposed by CD-ROM drives.)
Sprites, Improved Text Handling, and More -- QuickTime 2.1's least obvious but most drastic enhancement is its new sprite animation capabilities, manifested in the Sprite Toolbox and the new Sprite Track (which lets you play "sprite movies"). QuickTime's new sprite features provide powerful animation and compositing capabilities.
In animation terms, a "sprite" is not a small, winged pixie; rather, it's simply an image that is almost invariably moving and animated. Sprites show up frequently in multimedia authoring programs like Macromedia Director and in games (think Maelstrom!), and you can think of them as independent, animated graphic entities within a larger graphical display (or actors on a stage). Sprites have properties that dictate where they are, what they look like, and if they're visible. QuickTime's 2.1's Sprite Toolbox simplifies the process of creating animation. If it's fast enough, you can expect to see QuickTime's Sprite Toolbox used in games and multimedia applications.
One of the most significant enhancements to QuickTime 2.1 is its improved handling of Text tracks within QuickTime movies. Not only does MoviePlayer 2.1 allow more control when creating Text tracks, but the enhanced text import/export components in QuickTime 2.1 make it easier to work with and edit Text tracks. QuickTime 2.1 can import and export embedded commands that describe timing, spatial, color and style information for the text track as well as the text itself. This makes editing a text track as simple as exporting it, modifying it with any text editor, then re-importing it.
As an example, this command sequence
will place a one-second, 14 point, Garamond Italic rendition of "Hello World!" exactly 5 seconds and 28 ticks into my movie.
QuickTime 2.1 takes advantage of the hardware cursor support in the Power Mac 9500/8500/7500 to minimize CPU time during capture and playback. QuickTime and its codecs have been optimized for the PowerPC 604 and new AV hardware in those systems. New hooks in QuickTime's API allow vendors to improve QuickTime's performance through hardware assistance of many QuickTime functions. For example, developers can shove data between their video hardware and a hard drive without intervention from the CPU - this translates into better performance for hardware-assisted video.
QuickTime 2.1 adds generalizations to QuickTime's media capture architecture in order to support the audio standards of the video conferencing marketplace. Apple's QuickTime Conferencing application (introduced at Macworld Boston) and other applications can take advantage of this to interoperate with other video conferencing implementations on other computers.
Enhanced Sound Support -- Internet surfers will be happy to know the combination of QuickTime 2.1 and Sound Manager 3.1 enables opening and playback of WAV and .au (uLaw) files. [Try using MoviePlayer 2.1 to test this new capability. -Geoff] Also, since the new Sound Manager is native, Power Mac users will see reported performance increases of up to 500 percent, enabling higher video frame rates and smoother playback.
CD-ROM AutoStart -- As a multimedia developer, I've been envious of only one Windows 95 feature - CD-ROMs that play automatically. If done properly, CD-ROM AutoStart can reduce the complexity of installing and running a CD-ROM title for less-experienced users.
Although this unpublicized feature was available in QuickTime 2.0, Apple officially supports it in QuickTime 2.1. Mac multimedia titles that take advantage of this feature run automatically when you pop 'em in the drive - great for educational and entertainment CD-ROMs, and enhanced CDs (CDs used in either a computer or an audio CD player).
Enhanced MPEG Support -- Support for MPEG is greatly improved in QuickTime 2.1. Although QuickTime 2.0 introduced basic support for MPEG streams, few vendors have introduced MPEG cards due (in part) to weaknesses in the original implementation. The enhancements and bug fixes present in the new MPEG media components may help remedy that.
Improved MPEG support is significant since MPEG is on its way to becoming a prevalent standard for the delivery of digital video. To view MPEG movies on the Mac, you either need an MPEG card or a software MPEG decompressor. (Until one is built into QuickTime, try Sparkle for playing back and converting MPEG video.)
One advantage for QuickTime MPEG movies (an MPEG movie with a QuickTime "wrapper") is that they can include additional QuickTime tracks such as text annotations (closed captioning), a second audio program, or supplementary commentary tracks.
New and Improved -- In some ways, QuickTime 2.1 merely fulfills the promise of QuickTime 2.0's features. However, exciting new features like the Sprite Toolbox, the hardware acceleration API, and the CD-ROM AutoStart capabilities show that Apple isn't resting on its laurels.
QuickTime 2.1 requires a color-capable Macintosh with a 68020 processor or better, along with System 6.0.7 or higher. As available on Apple's FTP sites, QuickTime 2.1 includes the QuickTime PowerPlug for Power Macs, and QuickTime Musical Instruments to enhance MIDI capabilities available through QuickTime.
[For more information, check out Charles's QuickTime FAQ, or Apple's increasingly hyper QuickTime Web site. -Geoff]