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MacBook Pro: the ultimate portable HD machine!

Ben Drawbaugh

I have had my MacBook Pro 2.0 for almost a whole week and let me tell you, it is fast! The only way I have been able to max out both cores is by playing a H.264 and HD DivX files at the same time. (If I try two H.264 files QT crashes) The 2.0 Core Duo has more than enough juice to decode any HD files I can find for my computer. It can decode two HD videos at once and watch them in Expose, but not without dropping a few frames 

So far I have been enjoying H.264, XviD, DivX and MPEG-2 HD clips. The only content I have not been able to enjoy is WMV because there is no CODEC that will work. The Quicktime CODECs I have been using other than the MPEG-2 CODEC are in beta and all were universal binaries.

Dual HD streams

The most impressive thing is how well it plays H.264 HD encoded material, the CPU never goes over 60% and is usualy closer to 50% and scrubs perfect. My Mac mini couldn't even come close to playing H.264. I was at the Apple store and I loaded the same H.264 file on both a MacBook Pro and a Powerbook. The MacBook played flawlessly and the Powerbook could hardly play 12 frames a second. I have played a few HD movies trailers from Apple's site and for the most part they all play perfectly even when minimized or in Expose, but sometimes it does drop frames. At this point you should be asking "Why are there dropped frames if you have enough processing power?", I am wondering the same thing. My only guess is that CODEC is not mature enough and I hope that in future versions they can play without dropping frames. The most surprising thing is the fact that Apple's CODECs (both H.264 and MPEG2) drop more frames than the beta's for Xvid or Divx.


 The DivX CODEC works the best and easily plays all the sample HD material from their site perfectly. Notice in the screen shot that even though I have a dozen open apps and playing the HD file I am still only at 30% CPU utilization. The Xvid CODEC works well but if I try to do anything else, such as open the stream information window while the clip is playing it causes the video to freeze and requires me to press pause then play again. This may also be my files as I was not able to find any sample HD XviD files so I had to make my own and video encoding as never been my forte, anyone who has tried it knows it can be a dark art.
The worst support is by Microsoft, who hasn't released a Windows Media player 10 for OSX never the less a universal binary. Microsoft is now distributing Flip4Mac's WMV component for Quicktime which doesn't work with Intel Macs yet. Their site indicates that they are working on it.

Just like my Mac Mini the best player is VLC, it has no trouble playing any file I throw at it with almost no droped frames. I am using the latest nightly build of VLC which can be downloaded here. The nice thing about VLC is that it is so versatile, it can play almost any file with any type of audio including TS files captured via 1394 or EyeTV. It is hands down the most versatile player for every platform.


I also tried EyeTV's player but their latest version that supports Rossetta requires registration and I don't own an Elgato capture device. In previous versions the EyeTV was one of the best performers, second only to VLC. EyeTV's software also supports automatic conversion for iPod Videos which is pretty slick. Maybe Elgato will send us a EyeTV500 for testing when they finally releae a universal binary version.

Overall I am very satified with the performance of my MacBook Pro. It is wonderful to be able to play HD files so easily that I can multitask without worrying about droping frames, but I can't wait until the decoding software matures so I can take full advantage of this powerfull HD machine!

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