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Growing frustrated with VLC media player, and its list of what some may call eccentricities (and what I call flaws), I decided to try the other player for Matroska for Mac, MPlayer. Specifically, the handling of embedded softsubs in mkv files has been a perpetual woe for my Mac experience, although I love the machine itself. I had tried MPlayer for Windows years ago (before I discovered CCCP) and found it wanting in the user-friendlyness department, as most things that were designed for Linux seem to be. However, the passage of time and the desperate straights that my watching has found itself in has meant a reappraisal of previous assumptions. I was optimistic when I saw that MPlayer was looking at 1.0 Release Candidates, which for me means that the software is reaching a milestone in the developers vision.

It seems to me that part of that development vision does not include things like ease of use, or the possibility of 2 button mice. Getting started with the Mac build was easy enough, mounting the dmg and dropping the app onto the computer. Initial operation was good, and a separate playlist window is something I've learned to appreciate from VLC. However I was initially daunted by the... unusual way drag and drop was handled by the playlist.

Firstly, it doesnt support dropping of folders, which was a little disappointing, but by no means a dealbreaker. It would just require procedural changes on my end. But then when I do select the files to play and drag them in (which invariably is a "Select All" operation) the order in which they import seems to be only vaguely related to the filenaming order. Its not discernibly by date, and it sometimes misses files (I just tried a Select All drop from my Higurashi Kai directory, and the playlist came out in order except that it decided to skip the second file (episode 1, first file was the promo advertisement). Another time, I imported just the last 5 episodes, and they were in the wrong order and missing episode 21.

So anyway after getting a playlist I wanted set up, I decided to check the Matroska softsubs. ABJECT FAILURE. Or rather, no subs initially apparent. This brought me to my next peev, the definitely minimalistic style of Menus. And by minimalistic, I mean there's nothing there. You can change the size of playback, the Aspect Ratio, and bring up dialog to open movies. While there was an option to open an external subtitle file, I didnt have one. In desperation I began right clicking on the video window, thinking I'll be able to find the subtitles, or at least some options, that way. Nothing happened. My mind spun, fearing that at any moment my computer was violently denying the presence of non-Apple software on its precious platters and was going to do something drastic like stop talking to me. It turns out that it was merely the absence of any sort of mouse based context menus. Checking the playlist window, I found it to be in the same sorry state (in fact I later found the only way te remove items from the playlist is to use the delete key, there is no "remove item from playlist" button or option in the menus).

With increasing exasperation, I looked at preferences panel. Some may question my decision to look at it last, but I did not expect it to be necessary for a "simple" test run. In keeping with the "clean" nature of the layout, there wasnt much in Prefs. There was, happily, a "Choose your subtitles font" section, which at least was a concession to the idea that it could play subtitles. I didnt select a font, instead went to google where I spend the better part of half an hour reading through the results for "mplayer embedded subtitles matroska mac" and various permutations thereof. Mostly forum archives, which means to me that there's not alot of documentation on this particular aspect, although admittedly matroska files are generally a black hole when it comes to getting help. Eventually I found a thread on the Animesuki forums where some members had a custom MacOSX build of MPlayer, helpfully, they also mentioned how to setup the standard release as well.

Back to MPlayer, where with the help online I managed to get the subs working. Did I mention it doesn't have the option to change default displaying of subtitles or to customise keyboard stortcuts? And after all the difficulties I had with the playlist, I cant even save them to an external file for later. This program is only made more difficult by the reliance on keyboard controls and the command line, and I for one cant wait for better support of embedded subs (and more stability) in VLC. But until that happens, I will be forced into using MPlayer.
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