I'm a big advocate of Linux and BSD for security, but when it comes to offline things, like playing video files and DVD's, I am very pro-Mac OS PowerPC. To me, there is no better OS to play video on than Mac OS X, and especially on Tiger (10.4) and Leopard (10.5), which as I'm sure you all know were the last two Apple OS to support PowerPC.
All my life I have been a big user and collector of video since before I ever even used computers, but from 2002 on I have been willingly engulfed in digital video on Mac OS X. In all that time I have learned a thing or three about all the playback applications available, and the strengths and weaknesses of each. These are my findings.
VLC is the all-round most stable and capable player ever made available on any OS in my opinion. It's no MPlayer or CorePlayer in terms of CPU efficiency, but is still a lightweight compared to true resource hogs like Quicktime. I recommend you use 0.9.10 on Tiger, and 1.1.12 on Leopard. For Leopard users, the 2.xx versions are a bit more resource needy, and only worth running if you have a dual CPU system; because 2+ is more SMP optimized, but that is really the only true advantage. So Leopard single CPU users should stick to 1.1.12.
- most codec capable player
- most tweak-able player (via its vast extended preferences)
- the best audio and subtitle sync repair of any player
- not as resource efficient as others
- the expanded preferences can really overwhelm some
- the "Media library" below the playlist is sketchy at best
MPlayer is much more a lean and raw player compared to VLC and others, but it's quite resource efficient, and scrubs through video in a truly beastly manner. There are various versions by various developers, but there are three versions that are very worth the HD space they use. Those three are comprised of two versions of MPlayer OSX (one optimized for G3 and one for G4), and the rev14 version of MPlayer OSX Extended (Tiger users need rev11), which is by far the best thrid-party real media player.
I have some very old real player formatted video I downloaded years ago, but would never install Real Player on any system of mine, nor should you, as it is spyware. VLC can play real media also, but it plays very jerky, and with lots of resources available. The extended version, while newer, is less efficient and has some interlacing issues, so I use it strictly for real media, and a combo of MPlayer OSX and VLC for everything else non-HD. Bottom line... use extended for real media only, and the regular OSX version for all your other MPlayer needs.
- efficient all-round
- scrubs/scans through video better and more aggressively than any other player
- frame dropping feature to help it smoothly play video that is slightly beyond your systems capability
- very effective disk cache option which will offer smooth playback from very slow media, like old CD-R
- very simple and straight forward preferences (if that's what you prefer)
- struggles with some audio and some x264
- not anywhere near as codec capable as VLC
- limited preferences/settings
- only the "Extended" version is really usable on G5's
Even though this cannot be bought any longer, it's worth covering for those that do have it, and to help others gain more perspective with it.
CorePlayer OSX is the absolute champion of resource efficiency, and is a master of x264 codec playback, but to be honest, that is where its good qualities end. The GUI is very sloppily put together, and just generally awkward to use, but not so bad that it's unusable; just clunky and oddball. I guess this is what happens when you port cellphone software to the desktop, but forget to make it more desktop functional. It also has little support for AC3 audio, or really any video wrapper that isn't AVI, MP4, M4V or MKV.
- out of this world efficiency
- a master at x264 playback
- ugly as hell
- clunky and awkward to use
- limited codec support
- most of the preferences do nothing in terms of producing noticeable results
- lack of proper subtitle support
QT is the undisputed champion of bloat when it comes to playback apps. There is no other application that consumes more of your CPU than this one.
The only use I have for it is the editing feature in the pro version, which is actually quite simple and elegant, but still uses way too many resources.
Bottom line... don't use it to play video.
- simple and elegant video editor (with $30 pro version)
- bloated garbage for playback
- next to no codec support without third-party codecs installed
Apple DVD Player
Even though you can play DVD's in VLC, this application is more efficient at it, and makes the experience much more like using a real DVD player on a TV. If you run Leopard, and have a CPU under 1GHz, then you should disable deinterlacing (in the "View" menu) for best results.
Since I cannot really find any weaknesses with this, I won't bother doing a strengths/weaknesses for it. It plays DVD's really well and efficiently, and that's all you really need to know.
It makes sense to end this with a list of video wrappers, and which players are best for each. Since this is all based on personal experience, I welcome any findings the readers have also.
Here is the list:
.AVI - VLC or MPlayer OSX
.MP4 - VLC or CorePlayer
.M4V - VLC or CorePlayer
.MKV - VLC or CorePlayer
.MOV - VLC or CorePlayer
.MPG - VLC or MPlayer OSX
.WMV - MPlayer OSX
.ASF - MPlayer OSX or VLC
.FLV - VLC
.RM - MPlayer Extended
.RAM - MPlayer Extended
When it comes to HD, there really is no choice but CorePlayer without a G4 1.2GHz+. A faster single G4 or dual 1GHz+ will play most 720p in VLC. You may struggle with any 60fps content though. As for 1080 without CorePlayer... thats more for later duals and quad G5's. On my single 1.8GHz G4 7448 I need CorePlayer to play 1080 smoothly. 60fps 720p h.264 is my limit without CorePlayer. G4 1.2-1.5GHz would be limited to 24-30fps 720p.
Anyway... that's about it for this summary. If you require any additional info, please ask in comments, or add any of your experiences with the apps and codecs above, or others not mentioned.