The sorry state of h.264 on the PC – UPDATED

Until QuickTime 7 is released for Windows, expect very poor support for the promising h.264 codec under Windows. I downloaded all available h.264 solutions for Windows today and the problems were severe:

1. The ‘Moonlight-Elecard MPEG Player’ does not have sound support for Apple’s HD trailers (encoded with AAC) and it’s skipping frames a lot on my brand new P4-630 3 GHz PC (1920×700 resolution of the clip) and has no sound support for AAC.

2. The DivX codec/player: Windows Media Player 10 and its third party codec coming from the DivX player is not better performance-wise either. Note that Apple machines can do it almost full speed on the aging memory-bandwidth-wise G4s 1.5 GHz and above (the G5s can do it easier). The Mac Mini 1.42 GHz G4 was skipping a few frames (I tried it yesterday at the Apple Store), but it was still fully usable (no sound skipping), while a 3 GHz PC can’t run the same clip as fast because the current solutions are not optimized-enough (and they don’t even decode sound)!

3. The Fastvdo codec that runs on top of Windows Media Player 10: WMP on XP-SP2 *crashes* every time I try to play an h.264 video! I had to uninstall that third party codec moments after I installed it.

4. VideoLAN and FFmpeg projects are working on a solution as we speak, but it’s still very early, very unoptmized and not fully compatible either. It will take many months before we have good support of h.264 under Linux/Windows through ffmpeg.

In other words, if you really need good h.264 support, buy a G5 Mac, or wait for Quicktime 7 for Windows (and we are not even sure if QT for Windows will be as optimized as its OSX counterpart anyway). In both cases, the solution is Apple.

UPDATE: Here is a screenshot of QT 7 on OSX playing an HD h.264 video (resolution of the video is 1920×1080). Apparently my dual G4 PowerMac 1.25 GHz is as fast as the Mac Mini 1.42 when playing these videos (usable, but a bit choppy). A G5, a 23+” LCD (or a CRT that can go up to 1920 pixels wide at a decent refresh rate) and QuickTime Pro are highly recommended in order to fully experience these high resolution videos.

UPDATE 2: The Moonlight-Elecard guys read about my complaints and JUST sent me a new version of their h.264 codec and now I am able to run the HD videos on my P4 without skipping frames!! YES! There is still no AAC sound support, but this is coming soon as well. I am happy now, these guys are fast. šŸ™‚

UPDATE 3: AAC sound support is now here too! They just sent it to me. They are quick! šŸ˜®

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