Nerd TV (how to play back MPEG-4 video without using Apple QuickTime Pro)

My wife is out tonight, so I’m home alone. I’ve been working pretty hard recently and am very tired so I’m under strict instructions to relax and go to bed early (especially as it’s my turn to get up with our son tomorrow morning… probably at about 5.30am).

The trouble is that I’m also a nerd (as indicated by blogging late at night!) with a geek rating of 40% (this has gone up since I started using Unix) and I have a load of episodes of Nerd TV that I’ve been meaning to watch since it launched last September.

Although the MPEG-4 Nerd TV download is only available at 320×240 resolution, I wanted to watch it scaled to full screen. This was a problem as Apple QuickTime 7 Player only lets me watch it at double size (unless I upgrade to the Pro version) and Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 can’t handle MP4s (Microsoft knowledge base article 316992 has more details).

I tried installing the 3ivX D4 4.51 CODECs to allow MP4 playback in Windows Media Player but playback was too fast (sounded like the Smurfs). The DivX 5.2 CODECs that I had lying around on my external hard disk didn’t work either (and I have a feeling that you have to pay for the latest ones) so I switched to MPlayer on my Solaris box (after first trying the Totem Movie Player, which also failed to play back files with a MIME type of Video/QuickTime).

MPlayer is a really good command line media player for Linux (there are also Solaris and Windows ports available) but I experienced some quality issues when running full screen. Using /opt/asf/bin/mplayer filename -vo x11 -zoom -fs informed me that “Your system is too slow to play this!”, although it did also help out by suggesting various switches to try in order to increase performance.

I didn’t have time to figure out the optimum MPlayer settings so I went back to Windows Media Player with the 3ivX CODECs, thinking I mist be able to do something to fix the playback speed. Purely by chance I found out that simply stopping (not pausing) the playback and starting again corrected the speed and gave a perfect playback.

Finally, I remembered that Apple iTunes is built on QuickTime… I wish I’d tried this an hour or so earlier as I found that my MP4s will play in full screen mode within iTunes. Having said that, Windows Media Player 10 with the 3ivX CODECs looks to provide a smoother image when scaled to full screen; however that could just be my eyesight (or my Microsoft-tinted glasses).

So there you go – three methods to play back MP4s at full screen without using QuickTime Pro: Windows Media Player with 3ivX CODECs, MPlayer, or iTunes.

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