September 23, 2008

Microsoft > Apple (for watching BSG in specific circumstances)

My house is heavily Appled. My new media center has an Apple TV at its core. I use Airport Expresses and the iPhone remote app to send tunes to other rooms (or will once more speakers show up). It's a whole thing.

One major annoyance has been watching downloaded videos that weren't downloaded from the iTunes store. Specifically, Battlestar Galactica. In general, I like the iTunes store for video. I've bought a bunch of stuff even before owning an Apple TV (which makes the experience even better and now delivers HD content). And the pay-per-view model works really well for how I like to consume video content.

The trouble is that the iTunes store doesn't have every program and, notably, got in that whole snit with NBC Universal last year. So there was no Battlestar and I had no cable. So I turned to BitTorrent and my Battlestar library is littered with DivX/XviD files that won't play on the Apple TV. You can convert them to mp4s which will play in iTunes/Frontrow. And you can convert those to files that should play on the Apple TV ... but they don't.

This became a bigger problem after I moved earlier this month. With my new setup it was no longer possible to plug my laptop directly into my TV. Or at least not without dropping down to using S-Video. So I pretty much assumed I was screwed until I read Nelson's post on playing DivX/XviD content on your XBox 360.

This totally works. You just add your DivX content to Windows Media Player on your PC (I have one!) and then share that wirelessly with the 360. Completely easy. I was shocked.

I don't entirely understand why Apple doesn't have better native support for DivX/XviD at this point. People will still go to the iTunes store to buy stuff because it's convenient and great quality. You could at least let the stuff be easily playable.


Nelson said...

AppleTV doesn't play XviD for the same (historical) reason iPods don't play MP3. Apple is trying to own the entire experience, content distribution included.

It cracks me up you'd even consider transcoding the video twice just so it'd play on Apple's silly thing. You'd probably get higher quality uploading stuff to Youtube and watching it that way.

Nelson said...

Ooops, my knee-jerk Apple bashing went a bit too far; Jason corrected me to note that early iPods did support MP3 playback natively. But iTunes favoured AAC for distribution, in part for DRM and in part to control the content distribution process.

John Molloy said...


Do your homework Nelson.

iPods have ALWAYS been able to play MP3 files. AAC doesn't have DRM apple just puts fairplay on top of the AAC files to appease the record companies.

oh and insofar as you said "Early iPods did..." etc. for your perusal please find the tech specs for current iPod touch:

"Audio formats supported: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV"

Chester said...

Still...I think Nelson's general point stands: Apple likes to control the entire process, from start to end and will push their proprietary formats whenever they can. Reminds me of Sony in that way (though, thankfully for Apple users, Apple doesn't make shitty software like Sony).

If they could leave out MP3 support, I'm sure they would. Just like they won't support WMA and FLAC, even though non-Apple manufacturers support those formats, other "standard" formats, and AAC.

goldman said...

Chester is probably right. If Apple could have gotten away with requiring all users to transcode to AAC, they probably would have. But it was a non-starter.

It's a good illustration of how Apple does still try to find a balance (they just fail sometimes). Sony, by contrast, had a line of mp3 players that would require you to transcode all your mp3s and then "checkout" those mp3s ... from your own library. And there were rules on how many checkouts you could have! Genius.

Janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet said...

Sorry, last comment was grammatically incorrect and it was bugging me.

Download Perian. You're welcome.

Clay Whitehead said...

I love Boxee (still in Beta). Have it running on my mac mini and then into my tv. Perfect:

Anonymous said...

It's amusing how people complain about Apple's "proprietary formats."

Apple pushes MPEG-4/H.264 for video.
Apple pushes AAC for audio.

Those are standards.

Microsoft pushes WMV for video.
Microsoft pushes WMA for audio.

*THOSE* are proprietary formats.

I'm sure Apple would love to push DRM-free standard AAC music files from all labels from the iTunes Store, as they do with EMI. Similarly, they'd probably be quite content to push DRM-free standard MPEG-4/H.264 video files (they make videos of their keynotes and other events available free in this format). The labels and studios are the ones won't don't want to play ball with Apple, though.

The video download scene uses DivX/Xvid for encoding. The resultant files are composed of MPEG-4 video plus MP3 audio, wrapped in an AVI container. That's three different formats mashed together. It's unfortunate that these files aren't true standards-compliant .mp4 files with MPEG-4 video, AAC audio, and a proper .mp4 container, but the reasons for that are historical (DivX was originally based on a hacked version of Microsoft's non-standards-compliant version of the MPEG-4 codec, and MP3 audio and AVI containers were easier for the original developers to use [read: they were lazy]).

It *IS* possible to rip the MPEG-4 video out of a DivX/Xvid-encoded AVI file, transcode the audio to AAC, and re-package the result into a proper .mp4 file that will play back on an Apple TV/iPhone/etc. at full original video quality without having to transcode the video. It's just not (yet) drag-and-drop easy.

BTW, people seem to like to be ignorant of the fact that the AAC codec was only added to iPods and iTunes with the release of the iTunes Music Store, which came with the 3rd generation of iPods and v4.0 of iTunes. Prior to that, iPods and iTunes were primarily used with MP3 files. While it's nice to imagine that iTunes, iPods, and the iTunes Store all blossomed fully formed in one instant into existence, the reality is that they were all developed incrementally and organically over time.