Switch: audio, video, multimedia

December 29, 2006

Mac is the über-multimedia machine, yes? All the cool people use it to produce audio and video. You know, the advertising and marketing types.

And for a reason. It’s a nice machine if you want to do cool things. It has the little things thought through, like fonts and desktop backgrounds and things like that. (No Teletubbyland, thank you, that is the default background in Windows XP.)

Quicktime can play most media formats that you’ll encounter. There’s a DivX codec available for Mac. VLC is an alternative media player (also for Windows) that can do nice things like play things in fullscreen. For playing Windows Media (WMV) files, there’s a free Windows Media Components download available from Microsoft.

There are some annoying things too. The “culture of plugins” doesn’t seem to really exist with iTunes, similarly as it did for Winamp. For example, sometimes I want my songs to be played pitch-and-tempo-shifted at -25% or +25% or some other weird speed. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have to explain. I just want to do that. And for Winamp, there’s the insanely great and simple DSP plugin that lets me to just that with a simple slider. For iTunes, I haven’t found anything like this that would be free and wouldn’t suck. (I can actually do this in standalone Quicktime, but it sucks badly.) I guess that’s another manifestation of the Apple culture of trying to produce great stuff, but missing a few isolated cases, and not letting people mess with your programs. So the easiest solution for me, should I want to exercise this perversion, is to have the MP3-s in a Parallels shared folder and play them back through Winamp running in Windows under Parallels. Kinda silly, but works.

I have another thing I don’t understand with Quicktime video. When pressing Apple-1, 2 or 3, it switches between “original”, “double” and “fit” sizes. Which is cool. But sometimes it does so with a “scaling” effect, dynamically scaling the window from old size to new, which is even cooler. And at other times (most of time), it just “snaps” to the new size without scaling. This is inconsistency that drives me nuts. I want it to behave the same (cool) way at all times, but there’s no setting or anything else seemingly under my control to change this.

And finally there’s the headset mute problem. I’m using a USB headset that I plug in and out quite often. When I plug it out, the system reverts to the internal mic/speakers. Which is nice. And when I plug the USB headset in again, it kinda switches back to it. But it’s nonworking because the device is then in a MUTED state. And to make things crazier, the “mute” indicator in System Preferences is actually OFF. And the outcome is that everything in the UI looks good, except there’s no sound coming out of the system. The “fix” that I’ve found for this is that after plugging my headset back in, I need to go to SysPrefs/Sound and click the Mute switch TWICE, once to really mute it, and the second time to really unmute it, and after this sound is again flowing out of my headset as expected. But it’s strange.

I’ve yet to try plugging my MIDI keyboard in this thing. Last time I tried it with the iMac, it failed because it didn’t like the drivers bundled with the keyboard on the CD, and I couldn’t find any better ones on the web either.

So there are a few quirks, but overall it’s a nice A/V machine. I haven’t yet needed to do things like video importing/editing, but it was one of the reasons to get this machine so that I’d be ready for it. I’m only doing this on entry level anyway so the bundled iMovie will be more than enough for me.