QuickTime Pro and GSpot
- Categorized in: Streaming quality control tools
QuickTime Player can open multiple instances on Mac and Windows, which
makes it an essential playback tool for all QuickTime and H.264
producers. As a diagnostic tool, QuickTime Player is very limited,
though if you upgrade to QuickTime Pro ($29.99), you can access unique
data relating to hinted streaming files.
QuickTime Pro has two diagnostic screens, Movie Inspector (Window > Show Movie Inspector) and Movie Properties (Window > Show Movie Properties). Movie Properties provides the best view of hinted streaming files that I’ve seen, identifying the streams and showing their respective data rates. Note that data rate is not one of the default columns; you have to right-click the window and choose it and other desired columns from the context menu.
Figure 5. QuickTime Players' Movie Properties Window.
Information about the hinted tracks proved particularly useful when
producing with Telestream Episode, since the program allocates a
disproportionately high data rate to the Hinted video
track—approximately 3–4 times higher than other encoders. For example,
in Quicktime Player's Movie Properties window, you can see that the
data rate for the hinted video track is higher than the actual streamed
video. While this shouldn’t affect actual streaming bandwidth, since
the hinted track never leaves the server, it does make the file look
disproportionately large from a file-size standpoint, which is
disconcerting. QuickTime’s Movie Properties window is the only tool
that explains why the Telestream file is much larger than files
produced by other encoding tools.
Other than this unique capability, however, QuickTime Player falls well short of other MOV analysis tools on the Windows and Mac platforms. Probably the best alternative is MediaInfo, which is similarly available on both platforms.
GSpot is a free, Windows-only file tool you can download from http://gspot.headbands.com. To get up and running, you download a zipped file containing the Gpot.exe file, which never really installs itself. Instead, you just click the EXE file when you want to analyze a file, which runs the program. I prefer not to install shareware programs, and I like this mode of operation. Once up and running, you can load files via a File > Open menu command, or via drag and drop.
Figure 6. GSpot has a logical interface comprised of six windows.
GSpot was originally designed as kind of a geeky diagnostic tool to
help identify the codecs necessary to view a particular file. As such,
it’s got some compelling features, such as the ability to display all
codecs and filters on your computer and track the video and audio
rendering chain that displays your media. The program also offers some
great functionality for MPEG program or elementary streams, where it
can show groups of pictures color coded by frame type, with overlays
for B-frame redundancies and actual frame numbers in the GOP.
Definitely fun stuff.
However, most of the Video section, including these details, remains grayed out for Windows Media files, as well as MOV and FLV files, indicating a drop in utility for streaming file analysis. There are some bright spots, such as revealing the date of file creation as well as any metadata packed with most files. You can see the latter in the GPot interface, where Sorenson Squeeze 5.0 sneaks in a mention as the encoding tool. GSpot also calculates the frame quality (Qf), or bits/pixel-frame. This is a nice way to compare the per-pixel data rate of files with disparate frame sizes or frame rates.
For all streaming formats, you get the basics, with video data rate and frame rate calculated rather than simply reported from the file header or metadata. Strangely, the program failed to display a frame rate for all Windows Media files that I tested, though it worked for other streaming formats.
When analyzing Windows Media files, GSpot fails to reveal any details of the multiple streams, or the WMFSDK version used to produce the file. Similarly, with Flash, GSpot provides basics that may not be available in your Flash Player, such as codec and calculated frame rate and data rate, but no information you can’t get from MediaInfo.
With H.264 files, GSpot again falls behind MediaInfo, failing to provide profile and level, or whether the file was produced with CABAC or CAVLC encoding. GSpot also doesn’t show the audio data rate for all AVC-encoded files, which MediaInfo always provided.
You can configure GSpot to write out reports containing all reported data for each file analyzed, a simple way to track and accumulate file-based data. You can create separate reports for each file or accumulate all reports in a single file, and analyze a folder full of files in batch, another nice convenience. Overall, GSpot is competent, but its primary strengths lie outside the streaming market, and it’s best-suited for MPEG-2 and AVI file analysis.