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General Information

Cinepak was originally developed to play small movies on '386 and '030 systems, from a single- speed CD-ROM drive. Its greatest strength is its extremely low CPU requirements. As computers have continued to advance in the 7+ years since Cinepak was created, developers are now using Cinepak at higher (and lower) datarates than it was originally designed for, and making ever-larger movies.

Cinepak's quality/datarate was amazing when it was first released, but does not compare well with newer codecs available today. There are higher-quality (and lower-datarate) solutions for almost any application. However, if you need your movies to play back on the widest range of machines, you may not be able to use many of the newer codecs, and Cinepak is still a solid choice.

After sitting idle for many years, Cinepak is finally being dusted off for an an upgrade. Cinepak Pro from CTI is now in pre-release, offering an incremental improvement in quality, as well as a number of bug fixes.
Architectures Supported
Pros, Cons & Tips
  • Cinepak plays well on most mid-range and faster machines (fast 68040 Mac or any PowerMac, fast 486 PC or any Pentium).
  • Outside of purchasing a commercial codec for your CD-ROM titles, Cinepak is often the best choice for 2x CD-ROM data rates.
  • Cinepak is implemented in Video for Windows as well as QuickTime. Because of this, files can be "transcoded" from one architecture to the other without recompressing the data.

  • Video quality is lower than many other codecs at the same datarates.
  • With the release of Sorenson Video in QuickTime 3, Cinepak is no longer appropriate for web video. Cinepak does not produce good results at WWW datarates (below 30KBps).
  • Cinepak must always compress movies at least 10:1, so it is less useful at higher data rates (4x CD-ROM and above).

  • If you are making a Cinepak movie in which the data rates stays too low despite the data rate you specify, you may get better results with the Video codec.
  • You'll generally want to keep data rate limiting enabled. If it's turned off, a known bug can cause areas of flat color to become extremely blocky.
  • While Cinepak supports 8-bit content, you'll almost always get better results with 24 bits and a custom palette. We have an article on why you probably don't want 8-bit Cinepak.

Ideal source material Video
Supported bit depths 8,24-bit color, grayscale
Compression time slow
Temporal compression? Yes
Special features -
Encoder requirements Any MacOS or Windows
Decoder requirements Any MacOS or Windows
Encoder availability Built into QuickTime
Decoder availability Built into QuickTime
Algorithm Vector Quantization (VQ)
Manufacturer Apple, CTI

If you have any questions or tips & tricks to share about Cinepak, please contact us at info@terran-int.com.

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