So You Got a New Computer for Christmas. Now What?

For those who have digital still cameras and want to shoot short movie clips on them (my children tend to grab a small Sony digital still camera to shoot their video clips before they’ll reach for a "big" camera), QuickTime is the engine underlying many of those cameras. For Macintosh owners, QuickTime is integrated fairly well across many programs, including the free iLife suite, and works well with the glaring exception of a continued lack of MPEG-2 playback without paying an extra fee. For Windows users that also have an iPod or use iTunes, QuickTime is also the underlying media engine for iTunes. It’s still a good idea to run the Software Update (Mac) or check for updates (Windows) when you first launch the QuickTime player, and a visit to will also provide links to movie trailers and HD content that you can use to test out that new surround sound and 30" monitor you got with your new machine.

RealNetworks has a slew of content to watch but the player is not loaded on as many computers in the U.S. as it once was, although the story’s a bit different in Europe where Real remains quite popular. Visiting to download the player is also easier than it once was; no longer does the company put the paid version in the forefront and make you search for the free player. The situation’s been reversed and there’s even a beta of Real Player 11 for the Mac OS X operating system that states "you will not be charged for downloading this software." Hats off to Real, too, for getting rid of the annoying ads that kept many users from using what had been a great player.

A quick note about media types is also probably a good idea, to save hours of frustration. Each media player, when first set up, defaults to particular types of media that it plays. QuickTime, for example, plays MOV files; Windows Media Player plays AVI, WMA and WMV files. Often, though, when setting up a new player that you’ve downloaded, the program shows the media types it can play and prompts you to click continue. Don’t be so hasty: read through the list of file types to know what’s going to be played by the new player. Real Player, for instance, shows on its media types setup page that it will take over the playback of Windows Media files and Flash video (FLV) files, which is fine if you want everything in one player – and want that player to be Real. If you’ve invested a significant amount of time in bringing video or audio files into the library of a particular player, pay close attention to the settings on the players you use: They all want your attention, as 2007 and 2008 are turning out to be the media player war years.

This overview just scratches the surface of players and types of streaming and progressive download video files. Hopefully you’ll be able to use this information to join the streaming masses and be the envy of your friends—until they show you their new 42" monitor and wireless computer keyboard they can operate from the La-Z-boy.

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