Three free video apps

Danny Gorog
29 April, 2008
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The Mac, as you and I know, is one of best computers you can buy out of the box. It’s a cinch to unpack, setup and get going. It’s also comes with a terrific set of software, applications like iMovie, iPhoto and iDVD that mean you really don’t need to buy anything else to put on your Mac. But if you want to explore all the different video content out on the web you’ll need a few free applications that will open up your Mac to a whole new world of video.

Support for the range of the video codecs found on the web isn’t built in to OS X as standard — I believe Apple’s reasoning for this is that there are simply too many different codecs to support, and the easiest option is to support the ones that suit its business, like AAC and H.264. That, however, hasn’t stopped third-party developers from creating plug-ins, applications and QuickTime components that add all the extra codec support you could ever need to your Mac.

VLC. The first application to get hold of is Video LAN Client (VLC). VLC is a cross-platform media player and streaming server designed to play various audio and video formats, as well as DVDs, VCDs, and a number of streaming protocols. VLC started as a student project at the French École Centrale Paris but is now a worldwide project with developers from 20 countries contributing to the code.

Using VLC is easy. Simply download and install it as you would any other program (just drag the icon to your Application folder). When you are ready to play a media file, load VLC and click on the File menu and select "Quick Open File" instead of "Open File". This gives you direct access to your hard disk where you can point to the file you want VLC to open. Once VLC has opened the file you can fast forward, rewind, play and pause like any other media player. VLC also lets you open multiple files at the same time, and presents you with a Playlist (select the Window menu and "Playlist" to access this.)

I’ve thrown lots of different formats at VLC and most seem to work, but for a complete list see here.

Perian. If your preferred movie viewing interface is QuickTime, try installing Perian. Perian is billed as the "The swiss-army knife for QuickTime" and is a "free, open-source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats". Perian supports a similar range of codecs as VLC, including AVI, FLV, MKV, AVI support, and — like VLC — also is compatible with SRT and SSA subtitle formats.

Perian costs the same sweet price as VLC — nothing — but if you like you can donate money to help development.

Flip4Mac. The last notch in your video-format belt is the Flip4Mac codec, which is the now the download option if you go hunting around microsoft.com/mac for Windows Media Player for the Mac. The Flip4Mac component installs easily and "has been highly optimised for Power Mac G4 and G5 and Intel computers and supports playback of high-definition Windows Media video files". However, it’s worth noting that Flip4Mac doesn’t support content that has Windows Media DRM.

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