Here's a tale of how a humble Mac Mini system outperformed my cutting-edge quad-core system. It's also a story of how Apple can't write good software for the Windows platform.
The other day I was chatting to George Ou about professional grade digital SLR cameras that offer 1080p video capability. He then mentioned how his system (an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz PC system with an NVIDIA 8800GT GPU) couldn't handle 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies.
Thinking that it might be an issue with his system, I downloaded some test clips and tried playing them with Apple QuickTime on my 3.0GHz quad-core QX9650 Vista 64-bit system - This rig is kitted out with Velociraptor drives, 8GB of fast RAM and a Crossfire quad-GPU setup. The results - Awful. The clip was jerky and juddery, and while not technically unwatchable, I really didn't want to spend too long looking at it.
Note: If you want some sample 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies to try out at home then check out this page and scroll to the bottom for the clips we are using.
Now let's get some perspective on this. My system is capable of flawless Blu-ray H.264 1080p video playback and so the system is operating normally. However, just to be sure that this wasn't some random issue I also tried the clip on a few other systems that are not as powerful as my rig, but still very capable (all get a top score of 5.9 on the Windows Experience Index scale). Same results. The video seem to stutter every second or so and this continues throughout the clip. I then tried some other clips. Same results. I swapped out the video card in my system for an NVIDIA 280GTX graphics card. Same results. I tried Vista 32-bit and Vista 64-bit. Same results. No matter how much hardware I threw at the problem, the stuttering video persisted.
George suggested that I try the clip out on my 1.66 GHz Mac Mini system that kitted out with 512 MB of RAM. Compared to the quad-core system the Mac Mini is very, very low-end. So how does the Mac Mini running QuickTime handle these test clips? It plays them back flawlessly.
So, is the Mac Mini's hardware superior to that of the quad-core rig? Of course not. OK then, it it down to the OS? Is the Mac OS superior to Windows? Is there no way to get 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies to play smoothly on Windows? Well, there a simple test we can do. Let's check out whether any of the third-party media players can give smooth, unstuttered playback.
There are a few alternatives to Apple's QuickTime software on the Windows platform. For example, there's QuickTime Alternative and VLC Media player. I have VLC installed on several systems so I tried the clips again. Result? Flawless playback.
So what's the deal? 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies play fine on the Mac Mini through QuickTime, and they play fine on Windows when using third party media players. So the issue is here isn't which OS is best, or which platform is best, it's all down to Apple's QuickTime player for Windows not being up to the job.
Note: I'm going to ignore the fact that QuickTime virtually offers door into people's PCs for any hackers willing to use it.
Once again, it seems that Apple just can't write decent code for the Windows platform. That may be because Apple doesn't have the in-house skill to develop good software, or it may be down to some decision to make Mac OS seem better than the Windows platform. Either way, vendors who adopt Apple's QuickTime MOV format for their hardware (such as Canon with the EOS 5P Mark II) need to be aware of the fact that Windows users are getting a poor product experience thanks to the poor performance of QuickTime.