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Darth Mac: Phantom Menace Exposes Apple DVD Problems

by Jesse Shanks

Confusion reigns on Mac web sites with the shipment of Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace. Many Macintosh users are complaining that one or both of the discs play poorly on their computers. Although many fingers have been pointed at Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and the DVD producing company, this is one occasion where all roads lead to Cupertino and Apple Computer's continuing difficulty with implementing a stable DVD Player for their highly-touted computers.

The release of Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace on DVD has been specifically anticipated in one area of the DVD world: Macintosh users. When the trailer for The Phantom Menace was released in the Quicktime format, it literally broke all download records for both trailers and the necessary software to view it. Although it is clearly indicated on the DVD case and within the menus that some aspects of the DVD-ROM material is not Mac-compatible, some users report that they cannot even play the DVD on their Macintosh computers.

User reports from MacNN on October 17, 2001:

"My iMac DVD edition and the Apple DVD software (version 2.7) crashes after 3 minutes. Scene access (chapters) does not work either. In small print at the bottom of the DVD case is the words 'Some features will not work on a Mac' Some features!? The whole movie will not play!"

"On my iBook 500, and G4/500 (AGP), both discs worked great for me. The only problem was the DVD-ROM content, which almost never is cross-platform. This was in [OS 10.1] in the default player."

From MacFixit on October 17, 2001:

"Several users have found that the second DVD (not the one with the movie) in the new Stars Wars Episode 1 (Phantom Menace) DVD will not even run in the DVD Player included with Mac OS X 10.1. That is, not only are the DVD-ROM features just for the PC (as is too often the case with DVDs), but the disc itself is unplayable. Similar problems have been noted for Mac OS 9 as well. Even if you do get the disc to load, as a few users have, the site linked from the DVD will not work if you are using a Mac. This is one Mac-hostile DVD."

From October 17, 2001, Matt Willis writes:

"I've been following this for a few days now and wanted to try it out myself for sure--the Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace DVD is not Mac compatible.

Furthermore, the DVD states there is exclusive content for DVD-ROM owners online. But this content is limited to PC DVD-ROM users *only*. Nothing on the packaging states anything about this "limitation." The message board at are already alight with complaints from avid Mac users about this.

The site has said the trailer for Episode II will only be available online through the a DVD-ROM exclusive Web link, and the trailer will be in Quicktime format! So the trailer will be presented with Apple technology, but no Apple computer will be able to view it!"

From on October 17, 2001, Fernando Silva writes:

"Yes, there is a technical glitch. Apple's DVD player freezes on the 'FBI Warning disclaimer' at the beginning of both discs. It fails to find menu links that allow you to explore the remainder of the discs. This was probably a minor packaging oversight by the DVD manufacturer. There is a solution.

Once you find the disc going nowhere, press 'stop.' You will then see a dialogue box stating that '... the disc will not resume play, and must start from the beginning.' Press 'OK.' Then press 'play.' The disc will then begin playing linearly from beginning to end.

This is not an optimal solution to navigate through the disc. Still you can skip forward and backward to adjacent scenes to bypass or review what you've missed."

MacFixit provided a follow-up on October 18, 2001:

"For most Mac users, the movie (Disc 1) plays just fine on their Macs. Problems are restricted to Disc 2 (Extras). Some Mac users have complained that they cannot even get this DVD to mount on their Macs. Others have had success getting the DVD to mount and even accessing some of its content. Accessing the DVD-ROM features and the additional content that depends on the web-link is a deal-breaker for all Mac users."

MacFixit also provided information received via David Snedigar in a reply from InterActual Technologies Technical Support:

"The decision to put Macintosh content on a disc is ultimately the movie studios' decision. The interface on the Macintosh consists of running the content through Netscape and when the play link is clicked, the Apple DVD Player is called up separately. It is more difficult to write an all-encompassing interface for the Macintosh, since Windows has DirectShow and the Mac OS does not. This allows our interface to hook on and display video within our interface using DirectShow compliant software decoders. Most software decoders on the market are DirectShow compliant. With the Mac, there is no such hook available.

We do have a separate Mac-compatible interface that is available to developers, should they wish to use it. However, Twentieth Century Fox opted not to include Mac support on this disc due to space limitations. Our company only designed and supports the InterActual software itself, but we have no input on creative decisions, other than to advise on what is and is not possible through our interface.

Since the main ROM feature of the Star Wars DVD is an exclusive Web link that requires detection of the Star Wars DVD by our own software in order to be accessible, our interface is required and this technology cannot be accomplished with simple Web pages. Again, this was at the studio's request, so as to provide users with exclusive online content. This type of feature is not possible with our Mac interface, even if the disc had room for our installer. It's tricky enough to do even in Windows, which has a significantly greater number of Web-specific tools available.

I may also want to point out that the Mac landscape has been and still is extremely volatile for a program like ours. Our Mac interface only functions under the following conditions:

Mac OS 9.0.4 or above (not OS X)
Apple DVD Player 2.3 or above
Netscape 4.6 - 4.76 (Netscape 6x completely disables our features, even if it is removed)

Any deviation from the above requirements will cause our interface to cease functioning. The configuration above provided us with enough flexibility to at least start video from our interface (a simple "Play The DVD From The Beginning" is all we can do), but any change in these conditions takes this away, making it impossible for our software to work. So as you can see, these requirements drastically limit the number of users that can access Mac-specific content."
More info can be found at the this page from the Interactual Web site:

In the process of writing my review of The Phantom Menace, I had occasion to view both discs in their entirety on a Toshiba DVD player and on a Macintosh G4 with two separate versions of the MacOS, 9.2.1 and X.1 with DVD Player 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. As a caveat, I have a screener copy of the disc received at the DVD Presentation at Skywalker Ranch in early September. It would be very surprising if the pressed picture discs would not play when the screener will, more likely the opposite is true. I had no problems either playing the disc or viewing any of the material. I suspect this is because I have taken the time to find and install whatever software I could find that allows my computer to access. For example, James Baker suggests to MacFixit that installing the Joliet File Extension may help for those unable to mount the disc at all. Another potentially helpful action in the 9.x system is to Control-click the DVD's icon on the desktop and then select "Mount as ISO9660" from the context menu.

As a double check, we also viewed the discs on a Macintosh G3 with system 9.0.4 and DVD Player 1.3. (Yes, we are a Mac household here.) In this case, the solution was as outlined above, where pressing stop when the picture froze and restarting the disc allowed the material to be viewed and the menus be accessed. Not optimal, but certainly not unusable. Of course, in none of these cases did the Web Link to work as I noted in the review.

There have been problems with Apple's implementation of their software-based DVD Player application. A confusing series of upgrades for the versions 1.x and 2.x, caused some users to not be able to upgrade their player because of both hardware and software incompatibilities. When Apple shipped the public beta of OS X (10) and 10.x release of the new generation operating system, no support for DVD playback was provided, much to the chagrin of Mac Users with DVD-ROM drives who were forced to boot back into the older system in order to watch DVDs.

Most problems have been fixed in the latest upgrade, 10.1, which includes DVD Player 3.0. This version is a fine DVD Player and the nicest aspect with the new system is the fact that now DVDs can be viewed and the user can work on the computer at the same time. In fact, I am watching The Phantom Menace right now as I type this in Microsoft Word. In the previous systems, this was not possible because any activity on the computer would cause stutters and freezes in the DVD playback.

Ultimately, the ball falls into the court of Apple Computer and the company, which has emphasized its commitment to both DVD-ROM and DVD-R, must find a way to get Macintosh computers to properly access Web Link material. This is a key feature of DVD Extras that allows a studio to place material on the Internet as a bonus for the disc that is timely and unique. The fact that Macintoshes cannot access this material is a crime and shows a lack of foresight, on usually far-thinking Apple's part, about the future of DVD on home computers.

Update October 19, 2001 from MacFixit:

From InterActual Following up on yesterday's posting regarding InterActual Technologies' statements regarding the Mac support of their software for the Star Wars Episode I DVD, we received a reply from Steve Zupan (Senior DVD Applications and Support Engineer of InterActual Technologies). He writes:

"I am writing to set the record straight about our company's support for Macintosh PC's. The information that was sent out in response to David Snedigar earlier was outdated and not entirely correct. The correct information regarding InterActual support for Apple systems is included in the Web article. We do not support the Macintosh platform for reasons explained in this article. We regret any misunderstanding that the previous reply might have caused and ask that you inform your readers."

Steve does not specify exactly what about the information was "not entirely correct." However, the bottom line remains the same in both cases: The web-linked material will not work with a Mac.

MacFixit reader Joe Shea sent in the the following: "If you put DVD #2 into a PC and use the InterActual browser, you will find that all of the content is HTML or QuickTime."

The InterActual web page contends that the major reason for the lack of Mac support is the Mac's inability to play DVD-video embedded within an HTML page. That may still be the case, despite the above reader findings. However, the findings are also consistent with the email posted yesterday, stating that the DVD could have supported Macs, but a decision was made not to do so.