Video on PowerPC: Part 2 - Playback on G3

The recent news of the new Mars rover being powered by a 200 MHz G3 is making some reevaluate their perception of the G3's ability.  The early G4 chips are fundamentally just a G3 with an added Altivec unit.  The final Power Mac G3 and the first G4 tower even share the same logic board and CPU socket.  In terms of video playback though, the lack of Altivec is a big hit on performance, but there is still lots you can do with the right codecs and software. 

I started out watching and collecting compressed digital video on a regular basis in 2002.  This was in the late OS X 10.1 days.  Then in August that year when 10.2 was released a big swarm of BSD and Linux software started getting ported over, thanks to the BSD based kernel.  As I mention in my previous video article for G4/G5, it was this mid-late 2002 era when digital video playback really took off on the Mac.  The classic and early OS X days were limited to half a handful of very sloppy, didn't work more than they did, DivX based QT codecs. 

The hardware I had in 2002 when I really got into DivX was a B&W G3 350 MHz with 256MB memory, and running 10.2 with an early Mplayer OSX build.  It wasn't really till around 2004 that h.264 became more common, but DivX based codec are still common today even though h.264 has slightly surpassed it in terms of user numbers.  A G3 cannot really cope with h.264 until you get to at least 700 MHz, but even then it drops frames.  DivX, XviD and DVD are your best options for successful playback on more modest G3 chips. 

Your best friend with DivX/XviD and the like will be Mplayer (1.1 from 2002), because newer versions of it don’t like G3 CPU’s.  This is because they rely heavily on Altivec.  The same goes with versions of VLC past 0.5.3.  To be fair, the versions that don’t run well (if at all) on G3 are from 2004 on, which is 5+ years after the G4 was introduced.  The lack of Altivec is a hindrance on video playback, but I will now move on to the tools that will help you get all the video goodness you can out of your G3.

The Software (OS X 10.2 – 10.4)

Mplayer OSX 1.1 – Download

For best results open preferences and check the drop frames option, and also turn on cache.  The drop frames option sounds bad, but it will make choppy video look quite smooth by dropping 2-5 frames a second in an orderly fashion so the end result is smooth.  This exact version may be the second most efficient playback app ever made on Mac OS after CorePlayer.

VLC 0.5.3 – Download

As I noted already, the newer versions don’t work so well on G3 in my experiences, but your mileage may vary.  You may also want to try some of the 0.6.x and 0.7.x builds, but don’t expect much better than 0.5.3.  The archive of old versions is found here.

Apple DVD Player

Mplayer and VLC can play DVD also, but not as well (or with as little CPU) as Apple DVD Player can.  DVD playback is something G3’s have done well for a long time, and will keep doing as long as they are still around to use.

It needs to be noted that early G3's like the beige desktop and tray load iMacs do not have DVD playback capability because they lack DVD decoding.  On a beige tower/desktop you can upgrade the video to a late model Rage 128, or any compatible GPU with DVD decoding.  The rev.1 B&W G3 had a special piggybacked  decoder on the graphics card, but only on the DVD model of the tower.  Later revisions of the Rage 128 had DVD decoding built in. 

Any slot load iMac or white iBook with a DVD drive can play DVD.  Any G3 tower with a DVD drive and a 100 MHz Rage 128 (vs the 75 MHz orig.) or better GPU can also play them. 

Closing Comments

When it really comes down to it, any computer is only as capable as the ability and imagination of the user.  A G3 still has many capabilities if you use it with the right software and computing habits.  I encourage everyone who owns a G3 still, and loves video to try my methods and the tools mentioned here.  Let your G3 show you what it can really do.  It may surprise you. 


  1. Great post. I find it rather lulzy that a G3 can assist with landing on Mars but can't play DVDs though. Still, I miss the B&W I used to have a few years back, even if it was missing two of it's handles (Dumpster find)

    1. You must have an early rev. 1 B&W without DVD decoding hardware. Any G3 with a GPU capable of DVD decoding can play DVD perfectly. Later Rage 128 and up all support decoding.

      Without decoder hardware it's forced to use the CPU which is normally too slow on it's own.

      It's like I said in the Leopard on sub-867 MHz hardware post... It's all about having the right hardware in the right places.

    2. Yes, it was an early rev if I recall, so that explains it. I actually believe it only had an 8MB Rage in it too although I could be wrong on that, it's been almost 5 years since I had it.

    3. All the B&W had a 16 MB Rage 128 but the rev. 1 models had a 75 MHz GPU without built in DVD decoding. The rev. 1 DVD model had a piggybacked decoder card on the graphics card. The rev. 2 had a 100MHz version of the Rage 128 with built in decoding.

      The Rage 128 Pro in the early G4's was up around 200 MHz.

  2. Replies
    1. dr.dave will have a Linux playback post at some point in the not too distant future.

      I myself prefer Mac OS for all my video playback needs but I only use G4's. For a G3 though Linux might be better.

      The best person to consult about video on a G3 running Linux would be Dan at PPC Luddite.

  3. I'm using this app: on my G3 and G4
    It is a MPlayer based player and is only in polish language :)

  4. Very useful post and the blog in general, I've been looking for something like this for a while. Now that you have the hardware and experience, I'd like to ask you something (althought it might probably take some time to see the answer): I've been using XBMC on my Apple TV 1st gen for two years, over the stripped-down version of OS X that it came with and then with Linux (Openelec, without OS X, the performance is way better and frees some HD space). I'm using that same Apple TV as a UPNP NAS and Torrent server (via external USB drive) and it's been great. Thank to UPNP I've been able to watch my library on my iPad using Infuse, my MacBook Pro via XBMC and my Mac Mini G4 also with XMBC.

    I was wondering if I could use a G3 iMac with Tiger for XBMC, streaming the media from the Apple TV as I do with the other machines. Nothign too fancy or power consuming, just the regular TV rips on mp4 @ 360p and 480p at most. I'm talking usually mp4s or mkvs around 1500kbps. Do you think it will work?

    I ask before spending the usual $60-80 an iMac like that sells in my country, it would be a bummer to spend that and not getting what I want. I'll be using that machine almost exclusively for XBMC and SNES emulators. I know for a fact the Snes9x works great, but was worried about video playback performance.

    What do you suggest? Should I get it?