QuickTime Isn’t a Thing

Posted on by Larry

When it comes to movies, we think of QuickTime as the player in which we watch movies. Or, perhaps, at a deeper level, we think of it as the format into which we compress our movies.

But, recently, a reader asked a question that included the phrase: “I’ll save it as a QuickTime.” As though QuickTime is a “thing.” It isn’t. QuickTime is a container. And this makes a big difference.


QuickTime is a multimedia development, storage, and playback technology from Apple. QuickTime files combine sound, text, animation, and video in a single file…. QuickTime files can be recognized by their file name extensions: qt, mov, and moov. (Reference link)

Apple provides a more technical description:

A QuickTime file stores the description of its media separately from the media data.

The description is called the movie resource, movie atom, or simply the movie, and contains information such as the number of tracks, the video compression format, and timing information. The movie resource also contains an index describing where all the media data is stored.

The media data is the actual sample data, such as video frames and audio samples, used in the movie. The media data may be stored in the same file as the QuickTime movie, in a separate file, in multiple files, in alternate sources such as databases or real-time streams, or in some combination of these. (Reference link)

We talk a lot about how to get the best image quality using H.264, or how to get HEVC to compress faster. What we overlook in these conversations is that H.264 or HEVC only compress the video portion of our media. Neither are used for the audio. Instead, we use a codec like AAC.

Then, we need to add captions files like SRT or iTT. (SCC captions are encoded directly in the video stream itself.)

Suddenly, our single “movie” has three different files: audio, video and captions. Add multiple languages and, suddenly, we have a whole flock of files. Hmm… we need a container to hold all of it. And that is where QuickTime comes in.

Like MXF, which is another container format, QuickTime is a container that’s optimized for storing and playing time-based media. Yes, you can use QuickTime to store stills, but we have much better options for stills, such as PNG or TIFF or JPG.

But, wait a minute, I hear you say. Didn’t Apple kill QuickTime with Catalina?


Remember, QuickTime is a container that holds stuff. Generally that means media that’s compressed using any of hundreds of different codecs. What Apple killed with Catalina were some of the older codecs that created 32-bit media that was stored inside a QuickTime container. The container is still good, what changed is what we put in it.

In the past, QuickTime Player was cross-platform. However, “Apple ceased support for the Windows version of QuickTime in 2016… and on September 24, 2018 Apple ended support for QuickTime 7 and QuickTime Pro, and updated many download and support pages on their website stating that QuickTime 7 “will not be compatible with future macOS releases”.” (Wikipedia)

We now know Apple was referring to macOS Catalina. In fact, I found many warnings from PC-oriented websites strongly urging Windows users to uninstall Apple’s QuickTime Player for Windows from their PCs for security reasons.

However, media-focused Windows applications, such as Avid or Adobe, can play QuickTime files perfectly because they are using a different playback engine from the Windows QuickTime Player.

One other note that I found on Apple’s website:

The QuickTime File Format has been used as the basis of the MPEG-4 standard and the JPEG-2000 standard, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Although these file types have similar structures and contain many functionally identical elements, they are distinct file types. (Reference link)

If you want to take a deep dive into the technical underpinnings of QuickTime, this Apple Developer document will tell you far more.

While all this information about QuickTime doesn’t change how I use it during editing on my Mac, I found it interesting and wanted to share it with you.

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2 Responses to QuickTime Isn’t a Thing

  1. Rich Gilpin says:

    With Apple ceased support to Windows users, does this mean they are unable to view a quicktime video?
    I’ve tried to loop a quicktime video with no success.

    • Larry says:


      A more accurate way to say this is that Apple still supports QuickTime media on Windows, along with many media applications like Avid and Adobe, but Apple no longer supports the stand-alone application: QuickTime Player.


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