Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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2/25/2009
11:41 AM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Integration Problem Between Apple's QuickTime And iSight Cameras Remains Unsolved

One reason Apple's Macs have consistently produced a pristine experience -- particularly when multiple Apple technologies are involved -- has to do with the degree to which Apple controls both the hardware and the software. It's also one of the reasons that the Mac is such a great multimedia workhorse. But judging by a great many posts across the Web and our experience here at InformationWeek, Apple has a serious problem with two technologies that should work flawlessly together: the iS

One reason Apple's Macs have consistently produced a pristine experience -- particularly when multiple Apple technologies are involved -- has to do with the degree to which Apple controls both the hardware and the software. It's also one of the reasons that the Mac is such a great multimedia workhorse. But judging by a great many posts across the Web and our experience here at InformationWeek, Apple has a serious problem with two technologies that should work flawlessly together: the iSight cameras that are built into Apple's MacBooks and QuickTime Pro's ability to whip out great, ad-hoc movies using that camera.When it comes to working with audio and video, Apple got so much of the MacBook right. The stereo sound is incredible. The built-in microphones are so good at recording clean sound (and filtering out background noise) that you'd swear that many recordings were made with professional audio gear. Despite its tiny size, the imagery you get from videos recorded with the built-in iSight camera exceeds expectations.

But once you throw Apple's video recording software (QuickTime Pro) into the mix -- recording software that you'd expect to work better in that mix than software from anybody else -- things go terribly awry. It's like watching an old martial arts movie where the audio is completely out of sync with the lips of the people talking on video. So bad and well-documented (across the Web) is the problem that it has given rise to tools like QTSync whose sole purpose is to realign out-of-sync QuickTime audio and video.

QTSync works by establishing a new offset for the audio or the video alone (it's a trial and error process) and saving the results out to a new QuickTime movie file. Unfortunately, it has no easy way of fixing a video where the lack of audio/video synchronicity gets progressively worse over the length of the video (which is one of this nasty bug's symptoms in this case).

There's no telling how many people are affected by the problem. But here at TechWeb and InformationWeek where we were depending on better iSight/QuickTime integration for some innovative video content that we've been working on (part of the innovation is in the process and time it takes to get the video published online), we are greatly disappointed. In researching the problem on the Web (thinking that this is the sort of integration problem that Steve Jobs actually murders employees over), we thought for sure we'd find a quick fix from Apple.

But as busy as many message boards (like this one that TechWeb's own Matt Conner is on) are with complaints about the problem and people desperate for a fix, there doesn't seem to be a universally known silver-bullet answer. At least not from Apple. Based on other threads (for example, this one on Apple's own message boards), the problem isn't confined to QuickTime, either. iMovie suffers the same problem as well.

What is odd about the problem is that when we first started prototyping our video idea, our first test videos were perfect. At least in terms of audio/lip synchronicity in the QuickTime-produced video that we generated using several different MacBook Pro systems. But somewhere along the line, something has gone wrong and the problem shows up on all of our MacBook Pros. Although we cannot be sure, we suspect the problem has to do with an Apple-issued update to the OS X operating system, the QuickTime software, or to the MacBook Pros' firmware.

After a ridiculous amount of trial and error, however, we believe we may have found one configuration that reliably works. The only problem is that it requires additional gear. If, for example, you pipe both your audio and video into QuickTime Pro using an external camera that's connected to the MacBook Pro over FireWire, the audio and video appear to stay in sync. This suggests that so long as the audio and video are being integrated from separate devices (e.g.: the MacBook's built-in iSight Camera and built-in microphones are technically devices with separate connections, internal as they may be, to the MacBook), the potential for alignment problems arises.

If you have thoughts on how to solve the problem or you're someone from Apple and have the fix, please do let me know and I'll publish an update here on my blog.

David Berlind is an editor-at-large with InformationWeek. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong. He can be reached at dberlind@techweb.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.

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