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Prepare for Apple Dropping Old Media Formats with the IINA Video Player

Unless you follow all the links in our Watchlist items, you may have missed this ominous message in Apple’s release notes for Final Cut Pro 10.4.6 (see “Final Cut Pro X 10.4.6, Compressor 4.4.4, and Motion 5.4.3,” 22 March 2019):

Detects media files that may be incompatible with future versions of macOS after Mojave and converts them to a compatible format.

That’s right, Apple is dropping support for some media formats in the next major release of macOS because the old QuickTime 7 framework isn’t 64-bit friendly. Here are some of the more common ones that were previously supported by third-party software relying on the QuickTime 7 framework:

  • 3ivx MPEG-4
  • Cinepak
  • DivX
  • Flash Video
  • Perian collection of codecs (such as Microsoft MPEG-4, DivX, 3ivx, VP6, and VP3)
  • RealVideo
  • Windows Media Video 7, 8, 9
  • Xiph.org’s Theora Video

Thankfully, the industry has now largely settled on H.264 and H.265. But if you’re used to dealing with transcoding video (or let’s be honest, downloading it from shadowy sources), you’re probably wincing right now. And even if you aren’t, you may very well have old videos in obscure formats, as might have happened with video taken with a flip phone.

There are many open-source video players, the most popular being VLC, but there’s one that’s both better and Mac-exclusive: IINA. It’s free, it’s open-source, it’s built for the Mac (written in Swift even!), and it hit 1.0 at the end of 2018 (I’m reviewing version 1.03). What’s not to love?

Building on MPlayer, mpv, and FFmpeg

In the 2000s, MPlayer (not to be confused with the media player for Windows or the gaming service from the late 1990s—yes, I’ve used all three) was the gold standard for video playback in the open-source world. That project has mostly been abandoned and superseded by mpv, a Unix command-line video player that offers unmatched performance and extensibility.

What does this have to do with IINA? Well, mpv is the engine that drives IINA. If you fancy yourself a Terminal wiz, you can easily install mpv on your Mac any number of ways, with my favorite being Homebrew. You’ll have to run mpv from Terminal, which offers some advantages, but for most of us, those don’t outweigh the convenience of a graphical interface. Thankfully, the installation of IINA doesn’t require anything fancy; just open the disk image and drag the app to your Applications folder.

Since mpv is based on the free software project FFmpeg, it supports all the file formats and codecs that FFmpeg can handle, which is just about everything you can imagine, including the formats Apple is discarding.

The astute among you will point out that VLC is also based on FFmpeg, so why bother switching? Well, they’re both free, so it’s not an either/or situation, but I’ll let you see what both look like in action. IINA is on the left, VLC on the right:

IINA vs VLC

While VLC has to provide a cross-platform interface for the Mac, Windows, Linux, and even OS/2, IINA is made solely for the Mac, so as a Mac user, you’ll be immediately familiar with its conventions. For instance, you’ll probably recognize the Apple picture-in-picture icon, and clicking the gear icon displays all the key video settings in one place.

IINA video settings

Favorite IINA Features

I’m sure if I compared IINA and VLC’s features, VLC would win. It has been in development for many years, while IINA just hit 1.0. But IINA offers all the essentials and then some, and most importantly, Mac users will have no trouble finding them. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by VLC, launching IINA is a breath of fresh air.

But I don’t want to give the impression that IINA is lacking in features. It still offers more than you’ll likely ever need. Here are three of my favorites.

Picture-in-Picture

Since IINA is made for the Mac, it supports the native macOS picture-in-picture feature, introduced in 10.12 Sierra. Just click the picture-in-picture icon to shrink the video into a miniature window that anchors to one of the four corners of the screen and stays on top. You could also choose Video > Float on Top if you just want to keep the video on top, but the system picture-in-picture feature works well for watching a video while you’re working.

YouTube Player

Another neat feature of IINA is that it can play YouTube videos. Copy a YouTube URL and choose File > Open URL in New Window and paste the URL. (VLC can do this as well.)

What’s the upside of playing YouTube videos in IINA instead of the browser? For starters, it makes it easy to play videos picture-in-picture. And while it’s difficult to resize a YouTube video within a browser window, IINA makes it as easy as resizing a window. And of course, IINA lets you control YouTube videos with your media keys.

Sure, there are ways to do all of that inside a browser, but IINA is an all-in-one solution.

Music Mode

It seems like everyone streams their music these days, but many of us still have gigabytes of MP3 and AAC audio files. Unfortunately, there aren’t many simple music players for the Mac—iTunes has largely crowded them out, even though it has been a hot mess for years.

Most video players can also play audio, but it’s usually clumsy. The IINA developers did something clever and implemented Music Mode. You can invoke it by choosing Video > Music Mode, but it also activates automatically if you open a music file or a folder containing music files.

What’s different about Music Mode? The display window shrinks down to show just the album art and playback controls. You can optionally hide the art and show the playlist if you wish. It’s a nice, lightweight music player if you’re fed up with the bloat of iTunes.

IINA's Music Mode

Those are just a few of the things I appreciate about IINA.

In any case, I recommend keeping both VLC and IINA on your Mac for when you encounter videos in obscure formats, especially now that Apple will be dropping support for many of them.

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Comments About Prepare for Apple Dropping Old Media Formats with the IINA Video Player

Notable Replies

  1. This past week my Video Downloader Firefox extension ceased to “just work” purportedly because of an expired certificate of some kind. This may or may not be relate to this subject.

    Insofar as I can determine, IINA does NOT capture video files. There is a lot of current discussion on Firefox groups, mostly expecting an imminent “fix” by Mozilla(?) to make the ongoing problem, yet it is not yet mentioned in TIDBITS).

    I get REALLY tired of Apple/Mozilla/etc. deciding for me that software I already have that works fine on my current computer is no longer “acceptable” in some manner and is disabled without so much as a “by your leave”. I’m open to any similarly convenient free-standing video capture software compatible with Mojave.

  2. Thanks for the info about IINA. - I will try it. Two mandatory features are proportional zoom and playback speed adjustment.

    The only two file format names I even recognized were Flash (long gone) and MPEG-4. I did not include the 3ivx because I have never seen it before. The only file type I save is MP4 generated from the EyeTV editor. Will they be safe?

  3. Does not seem to have either in an acceptable format. Oh well, my needs are not average.

  4. Yes h264 codec’d MP4 container content is perfectly safe. As the article states, it’s an industry standard almost as PDF is to text, so will likely be maintained forever.

    It’s generally only quite obscure formats that are on the cut list. And you have to realise that it’s only Apple’s native apps that are cutting ties with these formats. Hence stand-alone players like VLC/IINA, along with more elaborate media database and playback systems like Plex/Kodi, will remain supporting them for the foreseeable future.

    Although, if you are a video editor who has stock in one of these obscure or out-dated formats, you may or may not want to convert it into something more viable over the long term for archival usage. It really depends on whether said stock is likely to be reused in future finished work, as to how much time & effort doing so affords you.
    If it’s old stuff of little to no future use, then why bother.

  5. re: William Bayne’s Video Downloader Firefox extension ceased to “just work” -
    mine too - FYI Firefox has been updated, fixing that issue

  6. I’m not a video person at all but some time ago Apple seemed to drop support for “chapters” on videos which really made me mad. I used those for both watching videos I had backed up and, using concert videos, would use selected parts of the concerts during my workouts. Will that feature be available? Or am I in the wrong ballpark in this question. Thanks.

    • This past week my Video Downloader Firefox extension ceased to “just work” purportedly because of an expired certificate of some kind. This may or may not be relate
      to this subject.*

    Not related. Mozilla just screwed up big time. I think the fix is out.

    I get REALLY tired of Apple/Mozilla/etc. deciding for me that software I already have that works fine on my current computer is no longer “acceptable” in some manner
    and is disabled without so much as a “by your leave”. I’m open to any similarly convenient free-standing video capture software compatible with Mojave

    A big issue many times is that the person who wrote the code do be dropped way back in olden days, (who is maybe a native speaker of a non top 5 language), moved on years ago. And now they have decided to just give up trying to figure
    out the logic and comments when they need to do a major overhaul to incorporate the code into the new code base. Been there. Got the hat and the shirt.

    WriteNow (which I loved) died because it was written in 68K assembly and the company decided there was just no way to re-write it and keep the doors open when the Mac transitioned to PPC.

    Then you have things like the other article here about IE 6. People in many businesses were using it because they had orphaned apps that were coded to IE 6 that would not work on a standards compliant browser. Ugh.

  7. If the fix is out, it isn’t automatic, and I know of no Firefox update. Same for Nightly. Have quit, restarted both. Have Video Downloader in my Dock, won’t open.

    Yes, like you, I loved MacWrite, MacWrite II and WriteNow. In the changeover to OSX I lost my browser, email program and word processor! Tried Word for three months, decided NOTHING was worth that; found Panther and Pages acceptable.

    My database is still Helix, but keep a PPC Mini to work in it. Working in OSX version for a while required learning Applescript, comparable to learning Greek (Geek?).

    Sooo much lost time in the transition. Always seems like everyone else is getting paid (well?) but my time is without value. Sigh.

    But I must admit to using Photos, iTunes, Preview, Superduper and Messages. My backups typically run just over 150GB!

  8. I’m not aware of Firefox updates ever being automatic, but perhaps I have them disabled somewhere. I always do an “About Firefox…” to see if one is available, sometimes finding it already downloaded but not yet installed.

    I got the update early yesterday.

    -Al-

  9. Hi Al,

    There was an update not yet downloaded.

    I Googled “About Firefox”, link told me specifically what to do.

    Restarted, both Download Helper and Ghostery are now back.

    Maybe TIDBITS will mention this situation next issue.

    It was a lively Firefox discussion subject for a while.

    Many thanks!

    WRB

  10. IINA lacks one feature for watching movies that we use routinely in VLC: audio compression. With most digital soundtracks, if quiet dialogue is loud enough to be audible, music blasts out deafeningly loud. Audio compression ameliorates that.

  11. Hello

    What does IINA do that VLC don’t ?

  12. Probably nothing yet. It’s in the early stages and the developers seem to be more focused right now, so expect it to be superior as features are added and time goes on. macOS seems to be the last thing VLC gets around to updating these days.

  13. Still, an elegant, more modern GUI is a plus by itself.
    –e.

  14. At this point I don’t remember the details, but when I switched from VLC to IINA, I was thrilled with:

    1. The ability easily to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and — especially! — gamma;
    2. Considerably lower CPU use on my machine.

    Those plus a much nicer user interface make a huge difference to my video-watching experience. I now use IINA daily; I don’t think I’ve opened VLC this year.

  15. Basically, assume it’ll play whatever you throw at it. I listed some of the more obscure formats that I recall encountering in the past, but here’s a full list of everything it should support.

  16. This is totally off-topic, but to address that point, we haven’t written about it because we don’t know what to say. I’m guessing you’re using the pre-Quantum Firefox that supported more robust extensions. I miss DownThemAll and am frustrated with Firefox’s general direction, but you can’t expect them to support old software forever. I do know of some utilities for downloading videos and entire Web pages, and we might cover them if there’s enough reader interest. I will say IINA uses the command-line utility youtube-dl to stream YouTube videos, and that little utility powers a lot of GUI YouTube-downloading software.

  17. Hi Josh,

    My apologies. I’m not sufficiently computer-savvy to KNOW is I was off-topic,

    I’ve been on a Mac since purchasing a 512KE and 20MB HD back in 1985, and replaced a 2010 Mini running Snow Leopard on Black Friday last November running Mojave. To the best of my knowledge, I was downloading and installing the “latest and greatest” Firefox.

    I have used Video Downloader to capture YouTube “How to” installation videos for pocket doors, etc. In the process of having my house built, my Mennonite framer isn’t allowed by church leaders complete internet access. It was thus necessary for me to locate, download and play for him necessary installation information.

    Also, ad my email address suggests, I am a historian and expert on the Ercoupe aircraft. Vimeo has video on the JATO experiments run by the USAAF back in December of 1941 with Ercoupe Serial no. 11 that I downloaded for my archives. Tube also has numerous videos of Ercoupe model and Ercoupe flight videos that I archive, so I installed Download Helper on my new Mini. I also installed Ghostery, an ad blocker.

    Both of these were suddenly gone (and I was being inundated by ads) by an arbitrary and unannounced programing action/inaction by Mozilla. I was quite open to using IINA to resolve my problem, if it had been permanent, or going to another browser; but I’m a Mac layman user, not an expert.

    As to your comment about “enough reader interest”, if Gutenberg had run a market analysis Ito determine demand for his new printing press he would have never built it (or gone bankrupt). I have also noticed when Walmart runs out of something I use due to some ordering or supply glitch, their software notices it isn’t selling anymore and frequently tries to discontinue it…just one more example of the unintended consequences of normal life interruptions.

  18. As I mentioned and put a link to an article.

    It was a total oops moment by Mozilla. Nothing intentional and caught them totally off guard.

    The actual problem wasn’t a programming change but a lack of one.

  19. Fair enough. I’ll try to talk Adam into an article about YouTube downloaders :wink:

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