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The Source for Mac Performance News and Reviews
Review: PowerBook Firewire G3/500
By Mike
Review date:3/22/2000
DVD/Movie and Audio Test Results
Intro | Apps/Game Performance | Benchmarks | Compatibility | DVD/Movies | Specs | Summary
Multimedia Performance

DVD Playback:
The DVD Player application supplied with current iMacs, G4 systems and Powerbooks uses software decoding. The latest version that's shipping with new Macs is v2.1 which seems to be a bit improved over previous versions. The B&W G3 and previous Powerbooks used hardware DVD decoders (the Lombard's onboard decoder was superior to the Wallstreet's PCCard decoder), which dramatically improve responsiveness, but of course add costs.

The software decoder/DVD player performance, with adequate RAM and Virtual Memory disabled does a decent job of movie playback, but controls are sluggish (changing control settings, accessing the remove or trying to switch to the finder). The image quality was very good however, with none of the dithering I see with the Wallstreet's PCcard decoder. Although I did not see it playing 'the Matrix', a friend and Pismo owner says he sees the 'jaggies' on some Music/DVD discs during rapid character movement (I saw this on the Wallstreet as well).

The biggest complaint in the past with the software decoder has been loss of audio lip sync, which in my tests seems to have been solved, at least with plenty of installed ram, Virtual Memory off and 30MB allocated to the DVD player. Of course attempting to access the remote, changing settings or trying to switch to the Finder would cause the movie to pause/freeze and lose sync temporarily.

The other comment often heard (which is true of most any DVD player) is low audio volume in some movies or scenes. This is due to the wide dynamic range of DVD I'm told and I've seen it to some extent in my standalone home DVD player. For best results I'd recommend using headphones.

Although not as responsive as a hardware DVD decoder, I was satisfied with DVD playback performance. A nice bonus is the long battery life - over 2 hours even when playing a DVD movie.

Quicktime Movie Playback
Rather than using MacBench's movie tests, I decided to record framerates using the Quicktime 4 movie player (Pro version required to report framerates). I selected my new standard test movie - the 44KHz audio, high quality trailer from the Star Wars Phantom Menace.

I set the PB to 1024x768, millions color mode (the highest possible) and the movie at full screen size. This particular movie's aspect ratio is such that it does not fill the screen vertically of course. Reported framerates were always at or near the movie's original 24 frame-per-second rate and never fell under 23.3 fps. (Literally identical performance as I see on the latest desktop Macs.) The Rage128 Mobility, like all ATI cards, does a very good job of Quicktime acceleration and scaling.

Audio Quality:
The two small speakers in the Powerbook don't sound bad for a notebook and were better than many other portables I've 'heard'. As noted previously, there were reports at the main news page about audio pops and crackles during movie playback, but I did not experience this personally. Again disabling sounds in the Appearance control panel may be one solution.

A nice feature of the Powerbooks is their placement of the microphone. Placed at the top edge of the display provides better audio quality. I've seen so many PC notebooks that had the mic at the base of the display, where it was useless due to picking up ambient noise from the chassis.

The next page has details on the hardware specifications, interfaces and features.

Index of Powerbook Firewire G3/500 Review

Intro | Apps/Game Performance | Benchmarks | Compatibility | DVD/Movies | Specs | Summary

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