Every few months or so, clients or readers approach me asking how to export QuickTime video directly to a VCR or DVD recorder without going through iMovie or Final Cut. Their desire to bypass editing software is a rational one: they just want to hit Play with no fuss or editing involved. Fortunately for them, Apple provides a simple and elegant solution.

SimpleVideoOut X converts any QuickTime movie into a FireWire stream, regardless of whether it originated with your digital camcorder, your hand-held camera's movie function, or even (heaven forfend!) one of those illicit TV torrent sites. With SimpleVideoOut X, you can easily play through to FireWire and connect the output to a recording device or your TV. This article introduces you to the program, walks you through setting up the physical connections, and adds a few tricks along the way.

You may be wondering why you haven't heard of SimpleVideoOut X before. Well, it's actually a developer sample rather than a regularly supported application.

What You Need To Get Started

To export video through SimpleVideoOut X, you'll need to have the following materials on-hand.

Making the Connections

Connecting your Mac for output shouldn't be difficult. Follow these steps to connect your Macintosh to your VCR or DVD recorder:

  1. Insert one end of your FireWire cable into a FireWire port on your Macintosh.

  2. When working with a FireWire-ready recording unit, connect the other end of the FireWire cable to that unit and proceed to step 5. Otherwise, attach the remaining end of your cable to your converter box.

  3. Attach your video cables (RCA, S-Video, or both) to the output connectors on your converter box.

  4. Attach the other ends of your video cables to the input connectors on your recording device.

  5. Set your VCR or DVD recorder to receive video input from the cables you just connected. As you might expect, this procedure varies by unit. Consult your owner's manual as needed. Most VCRs require you to tune to AUX (auxiliary input), EXT (external), or LINE to receive an external signal.

Connect the FireWire output of your Macintosh to a device that will play or record the video signal you produce.

Installing SimpleVideoOut X

After downloading the program, it takes just a few simple steps to install the program in your Applications folder.

  1. Unstuff the file SimpleVideoOut.sit onto your computer.

  2. Inside the new folder, you'll find all the source files that make up the program as well as a subfolder called SimpleVideoOut folder. Open this folder. It contains four executable files: SimpleVideoOut 9 (for OS 9), SimpleVideoOut X (for OS X), SimpleVideoOut CW (OS X version, compiled in CodeWarrior), and SimpleVideoOut X xcode (OS X version, compiled in Xcode).

  3. Drag SimpleVideoOut X from the SimpleVideoOut folder into your Applications folder, and then drag the SimpleVideoOut X program icon from your Applications folder into your dock.

  4. You may now, if desired, discard SimpleVideoOut.sit and the rest of the SimpleVideoOut folder you unstuffed. Otherwise, at your leisure, feel free to browse through and examine the rest of the material that came with the program.

Screen shot.
Install SimpleVideoOut X into your Applications folder.

Running SimpleVideoOut X

After installing the program and making your connections, you're now ready to make magic. In the following steps, you'll learn how to use your new software to export your QuickTime video.

  1. Power on your converter box (if used), recording device, and television. You cannot run SimpleVideoOut X unless it can gain exclusive control of the exporting hardware, and it cannot do that unless everything is powered on and connected.

  2. Select the QuickTime video file you wish to export, and drag it onto the SimpleVideoOut X icon in your dock. The program launches and displays its Video Output Component Settings dialog.

  3. In the settings dialog, select FireWire from the Output pop-up.

  4. If you live in the United States, Japan, or other country that uses the NTSC system, choose Apple FireWire NTSC from the Mode pop-up. If you live in Europe, Australia, or other country that uses a PAL system, choose Apple FireWire PAL instead.

    Screen shot.
    Set your Output to FireWire and choose the proper country system for your Mode.

  5. Click OK. This dismisses the dialog and opens a video window.

  6. Click Play. The Play button is the small, right-facing triangle located below your video on the left. You will now hear the audio on your TV, but you will not yet see video. After a few seconds hit Pause to stop playback.

    Note: Do not use the volume control (located to the left of the Play button) to change the playback audio levels. Adjust the sound levels on your TV instead. You'll want to record your video at its normal (highest) volume levels to preserve the natural dynamic audio range.

  7. Click Option-← (left arrow) to return the playhead to the beginning of your video.

  8. Locate the downward-pointing arrow at the bottom right of your video window. Click this arrow to open its pop-up menu.

    Screen shot.
    This pop-up menu allows you to control the output settings for SimpleVideoOut X.

  9. Select Video Output Echo Port Off from the menu. The video portion of your window will disappear, collapsing into a simple scrub bar.

    Screen shot.
    To watch your video on TV, you must first hide it on your monitor. You cannot watch video on both your TV and your computer at the same time.

  10. Check your TV. The first frame will now display on your set's screen. If not, recheck the connections to your recording device and to your TV.

    Video on the tv screen.
    After selecting Video Out Echo Port Off, video appears on your television.

  11. In SimpleVideoOut, press Play.

  12. Watch just enough of your video to ensure that playback is as expected. Click Pause to pause playback, and type Option-← (left arrow) to return the playhead to the start of your video.

  13. Insert a fresh disk or tape into your recording device, queuing as needed.

  14. Press Record on your recording device, and then press Play in SimpleVideoOut X.

  15. Let your video play through completely.

  16. Press Stop on your recording device.

  17. You may now quit SimpleVideoOut X or, to continue with another video, choose File - Close Window (Command-W), and then choose File - Open (Command-O). Continue by returning to step 3 of these instructions.

What to Expect

Depending on the size and quality of your source QuickTime video, the exported video's quality will vary quite a lot. SimpleVideoOut X produces a FireWire-ready DV-25 signal. DV-25 (also called "DV") produces a video stream using a 4:3 aspect ratio and a strict 5:1 compression scheme. This means that poor-quality video may degrade even further, and the original aspect ratio of your media may change.

  • DV displays best. Digital video recorded by your camcorder produces the very best results. With DV footage, SimpleVideoOut X doesn't need to resample or reproportion the video, and the output is excellent.

  • Bad quality video will look...bad. Sorry to say, but garbage in, garbage out.

  • Quality will decrease, not increase, for non-DV footage. Any video that uses a codec other than DV-25 will display some quality issues regardless of the excellence of the source. With good-quality video, this quality drop should be insignificant.

  • Direct is better. You'll produce better-quality results when your recording device accepts input directly from a IEEE-1394 FireWire connection than if you export to an analog signal and then redigitize.

  • Small video will pixelate. SimpleVideoOut X upsamples small video to 640x480 pixels. That means if you shoot a video at 320x240 pixels, each pixel will expand by a factor of four. This upsampling produces blocky-looking pixilated output, which can be very distracting to watch. Later in this article you'll find suggestions for handling small-size video.

  • Widescreen footage will squeeze. SimpleVideoOut X doesn't do widescreen. Widescreen footage, with its 16:9 display aspect ratio, will appear horizontally compressed on-screen; 16 pixels occupy the horizontal space normally used for 12 pixels producing a 4:3 on-screen ratio. You may (or may not) be able to set up your television and recording equipment to unsqueeze the signal. Results will vary by unit, so check your manufacturer's manual.

  • You can't export what you can't play. SimpleVideoOut X uses the QuickTime Engine to read and output video. If you cannot watch a video in QuickTime, do not expect it to play back in SimpleVideoOut X. For most videos, installing the proper playback codec will fix the issue for both QuickTime and SimpleVideoOut X.

    In addition, certain items that do play back in QuickTime Player, such as interactive Shockwave files, will not work in SimpleVideoOut X.

  • Layers may not work. Although layered video and audio produced in QuickTime Pro will play back properly on-screen, the exported video may not. If your exported video does not match what you see on-screen, try exporting it from QuickTime Pro to a new, unlayered DV video file as you will see in the following steps.

Matting Small Video

Unfortunately, there's no way to instruct SimpleVideoOut X to retain the size and proportions of small-sized video. If you own QuickTime Pro, however, there is a workaround. In the following steps, you'll produce a matte that will allow you to limit the playback resizing and avoid pixellation.

  1. In Photoshop (or another favorite image editor), create a new 720x480 RGB image. Fill it with black, and save it to disk using the PSD format as Matte.psd.

    Note: QuickTime Pro uses a different pixel ratio than SimpleVideoOut X. That's why the 720x480 matte image size does not use a 4:3 aspect ratio. Trust me here. It will work correctly when you export it to video. Upon output, it resizes to 640x480, which does use a 4:3 aspect.

  2. In QuickTime Pro, open the video you want to matte in a new window.

  3. Next, choose File - Open Movie In New Player (Command-O). Navigate to your matte image, Matte.psd, select it, and click Open.

    After opening the Matte.psd picture, two windows are open in QuickTime: your movie and the matte.

  4. In the matte window, choose Edit - Select All (Command-A), Edit - Copy (Command-C), and then File - Close (Command-W). QuickTime Pro copies the matte to memory and closes the matte window.

  5. In the movie window, choose Edit - Select All (Command-A) and Edit - Add Scaled (Command-Shift-Option-V). The window resizes to the size of the matte (720x480), and the matte covers the video.

  6. Choose Movie - Get Movie Properties (Command-J). The movie properties open in a new window.

  7. Choose Video Track 2 from the left pull-down menu, and choose Layer from the right.

    Screen shot.
    The Properties window's pop-ups help you adjust properties associated with the tracks in your video.

  8. In Layer Properties, click the up arrow slowly to increase the matte's layer number until the video appears in the upper-left corner of the movie window.

    Screen shot.
    Adjust the Layer Number until the video reappears.

  9. Choose Video Track 1 from the left pop-up, and then choose Size from the right pop-up.

  10. Click Adjust. A variety of red handles appear around and on your video.

    Screen shot.
    The red resize handles allow you to move, rotate, and resize your video.

  11. Drag within your video, making sure not to touch the round circle in the middle. Move the video into the center of the matte, and then click Done. The red handles disappear.

    Screen shot.
    Move your video into the rough center of your matte. Exact precision is not needed; a rough placement will do nicely.

  12. Close the Properties window.

  13. Choose File - Export... (Command-E). A Save Exported File As dialog opens.

  14. Select Movie to DV Stream from the Export pop-up.

  15. NTSC users: Choose DV NTSC 48 kHz from the Use pop-up. PAL users: Choose DV PAL 48 kHz.

  16. Edit the name to "Save As" as needed, and then click Save.

    Screen shot.
    By exporting your matted video to a new DV stream, you avoid any nasty issues with layered video, which SimpleVideoOut X does not handle well.

  17. Wait as QuickTime Pro exports your file to disk. DV files occupy about 13GB per hour of footage and can take some time to write to disk.

After following these steps, return to SimpleVideoOut X and export the newly created DV file. You'll find that the quality for matted video will exceed that of scaled video for most small video files.

Creating a Video Slideshow

iPhoto offers a great way to produce a video slideshow, suitable for export through SimpleVideoOut X. Here are the steps you need to take to make a slideshow of your own.

  1. Launch iPhoto.

  2. Select the album you wish to use for your slideshow.

  3. Click the Slideshow icon at the lower left of the iPhoto screen. A Slideshow settings window appears.

  4. Adjust the settings as desired, setting the slide playtime and background music, and then click Save Settings.

    Screen shot.
    Use the Slideshow settings window to set the slide timing and background music.

  5. Choose File - Export (Command-Shift-E). The Export dialog opens.

  6. Click QuickTime at the top right of the window's button bar.

  7. Set the Width to 720, the Height to 480, and adjust the slide duration as needed. (Yes, there is an iPhoto bug where the display time may not match the settings you just saved.)

  8. Click Export.

    Screen shot.
    You may need to reset the display time. iPhoto may not remember the new settings if you don't quit and restart the program.

  9. Enter a name for your video, such as MySlides, choose a directory to save in, and click OK.

  10. Wait as iPhoto exports your photos to a new QuickTime movie.

Open your new movie in SimpleVideoOut X and follow the directions from earlier in this article to play back the video and record it. In my experience, the quality produced by this method is superb.

Final Thoughts

This article has introduced you to that useful but little known Apple utility, SimpleVideoOut X. You've seen how to download and install the program as well as how to run it and how to choose videos for it.

After working through this article, you should have a great feeling for what you can and cannot do with this program and how it can open up a new world of exporting video directly to your TV and recording devices. I hope you have as much fun with SimpleVideoOut X as I do, and if you come up with a new idea for using it, drop me an e-mail at I look forward to your feedback.

Return to digitalmedia.oreilly.com.