anime viewing on a mac

I spent a lot of time tuning and tweaking my home theater setup such that I can watch anime in whatever format it’s presented. Media Player Classic and nVidia’s nView utility has always done the job. Sure, there were hair pulling moments, but I have it to the point where I can just click a file, and it’ll show up on my HDTV just how I want it. Now, I’m relearning everything on a Mac.

(Updated 12/12/2007)


I’ve only found three programs that can handle mkv files with embedded subtitles for the Mac. The first is VLC. The pros of VLC are many: it’s fast and highly customizable and handled pretty much every format I encountered after a week’s worth of anime watching. The cons, though, while tiny, were annoying to me. The first is that subtitles are off by default (maybe there’s a way to change this setting, but I haven’t figured it out yet) and need to be turned on for every file by going through a menu. It’s an annoying process. The second is that VLC overrides the styling for subtitles and renders using its own font preferences. This aspect might not bother some people, but I’m used to watching with embedded fonts and styles since that’s the default for MPC. VLC’s font preferences sometimes do not jive well with a given show either. VLC also does not seek well (seeks slower than my XP box), which is very problematic as I am, well, an anime blogger who requires capturing of screenshots. VLC is fairly buggy, as it crashes quite often (at least for me), and sometimes it’ll load a file but won’t load the bottom toolbar.


The second is MPlayer OSX. It has a lot of issues, the first of which is that you need to go plow through a thread in Animesuki just to figure out which build to download and how to enable subtitles on it. The second issue is that there’s hardly any support for the program, and most options are hidden. For example, you need to press “j” to cycle through subtitles. But it too also handles all format well, and it renders the subtitles most similarly to how they would be shown in MPC.


The third is Quicktime with Perian. This combo is compatible with Front Row, which makes it the best option (and only superior option) to Media Player Classic, since I can just hang back and use the remote. It handles all formats well, and the subtitle handling is automatic and very similar to MPC, unlike both MPlayer and VLC. It’s also the only player to support chapter bookmarks. But… BUT!!! There’s a major “but” and a minor “but.” The minor one is that Quicktime needs to load an entire file before it will start to display subtitles, which means that you either wait thirty seconds before watching, or watch without subtitles. Usually, it’s not a problem since the OP is playing. The major one is that subtitles are completely broken in Front Row, even if they show up properly in Quicktime, and this bug seems to only effect Leopard. To make it worse, any file with subtitles goes black once it is loaded. The guys at Perian seem to be aware of this bug. One other quirk with Quicktime is that a single click stops the movie, but a single click does not restart the movie: a double click is required. Not exactly intuitive.


Just for kicks, I tried out Media Player Classic using Parallels. Took a while to get everything setup (have to search for codecs, have to install this and that and blah), it ran just like MPC did on my XP box. It did run sluggishly, but there’s really no equal to Media Player Classic out there. I’m definitely hoping for a MPC Mac OS X port.


I haven’t had a lot of time to play around with this one, but a new competitor is Spiral, yes, Spiral as in Giga Drill. This one is developed by Axel Andersson and is a front end for Perian, and, as such, it has the same current issue with subtitle loading. It lacks Quicktime’s chapter stops, but has slightly more video and subtitle display options. It seems like Spiral is still developing, but it could use a “jump to time” feature as well as behavior for clicking the movie (since I’m biased towards MPC defaults, I’d suggest single click for start/stop and double click for full screen).

One thing I would like to mention is that my goal is not to watch anime on my computer. It’s to watch it on my TV, and, as such, I’m going to be sitting on a sofa. If I can do things with just a pointing device, that’s the best since I have a remote-like device for the purpose. I do not want to have to get up and type anything or have to clutter up my area with a wireless keyboard. Simplicity is key. So far, Quicktime’s the easiest to operate with a pointing device (especially with something like Remote Buddy).

Also, my Mac has no issues playing back 720p files. There’s no sync loss, no dropped frames, and at one point, I had one instance of every program running a 720p file and everything was still smooth. None of the programs really had any issues with the files I tossed at it (though for Spiral, I didn’t check very hard since it uses Perian) so I don’t really care about file compatibility. So I don’t really care about performance or efficiency, as any of these are more efficient than the dual video card setup I need to get my XP box working just right, all I really care about is ease of use and a “living room” interface. (If you think this has been “hard” on a Mac, I can write a solid 5,000 words about my XP experience.)

36 Responses to “anime viewing on a mac”

  1. I hate those kind of problems… we need something to let us watch our anime once and for all in whatever machince, OS, format, etc.

    Right now, my Dimenssion 9200 is capable… but i na few years…

  2. Lawl, I was thinking of getting a Mac at one point but was unsure about the programs I would need to play anime =P

    i would hate to have to run parallels everytime i wanted to watch an anime though…

  3. I can’t wait for the next release of Perian myself. According to the forums, it should get rid of the requirement to load the file before seeing subtitles, and it should fix the no sound issue of some files with OSX 10.5

    In the meantime, I tend to use that custom version of Mplayer

  4. Get MPlayer’s SVN and compile it by hand like does the real men !

    MPlayerOSx is only a GUI over a MPlayer binary, and not a good one, plus the MPlayer version used is really old now!

    Regarding VLC, you see frameskipping really often and videos not smooth, with today use of h264 720p format it becomes very obvious.

  5. I thought that Macs made things easier? Well my folks seem to use it just fine with minimal issues. I built a desktop about 6 months ago and have a XP Media Center Laptop that is decent enough, so I am one of those unfortunates that has to upgrade to Vista somewhere down the line. If only the US Government were not so Microsoft dependent…

    Well if by chance you come up with the holy grail of Mac settings please share with us unwashed XP users that are Mac illiterate. I plan on getting a Mac once XP support ends.

  6. Good luck on your quest to perfect the art of watching anime. Mr. Miyagi gives his regards..

    I’m also kinda working on my quest as well, only instead of watching anime on Macs, im working on getting the best for watching anime on TV thru my ps3 (yes I use it as a media center too)

    Currently the big problems are how high subtitles are, since when viewing anime on tv, the tv tends to cut off the edges. So im trying to find the perfect resolution to encode my anime to.

  7. If you like Perian, I’ve been working on a Mac OS X media player that’s based on QuickTime and thus uses Perian. It’s pretty simple so far, but I use it myself over QuickTime Player now. It also has its own Front Row-like fullscreen playlist browser and supports the Apple remote, so mouseless control works fine.

    There’s no website yet, but you can try out a beta from It’s called Spiral.

  8. I have to agree with Corsaire. mplayer is the only way to go when it comes to playing any kind of video media. It’s extremely efficient, very scalable and can play almost anything.

    Now, it’s true that the version that comes with mplayerOSX is ancient, so you have to compile it for yourself – but it really is worth it. (honest!) If by “hidden options” you meant “I didn’t read the manual”, then that’s a fair argument. Here’s a quick summary:
    Space – pause/unpause
    f – fullscreen
    j – cycle subs.
    ‘man mplayer’ is your friend. The program really can do things that other players can’t. So what if there are no clicky menus – the keyboard is a lot faster once you’re over the learning curve.

    Oh, and there’s a config file where you can enable subs by default.

  9. Just like Corsaire said, real men compile MPlayer by themselves. It’s the best video player in any platform.

  10. In regards to mplayer not showing subtitles, in the GUI for mplayer, there’s a section to allow you to add options (you had to enter in some options there to get ASS to work); you can add -alang jp -slang en to get the subtitles to work without needing to press j (I think, I’m not on my Mac right now).

    Corsaire: the build referred to in this post is a custom build by AnimeSuki forum members. It’s not that far out of date (August 2007 last I checked)… you’re probably thinking of the ancient MplayerOSX on sourceforge.

  11. Why does everyone build MPlayer?!

    I have zero–ZERO–problems with any files by using the version available on the MPlayer home page. Neither does any one else I recommend it to. Just go get it. It’s really that easy

  12. I agree with the folks supporting MPlayer. The various GUIs for it may have problems, but MPlayer itself is outstanding and you get get it for just about any platform.

  13. i also put my vote in for mplayer from that animesuki thread, it took me a while to find but its by far the best solution other than a crashy VLC.

    frontrow works with vlc so i didnt want to move over at first, but then i just got a bluetooth mouse :-)

  14. “Lastly, just for kicks, I tried out Media Player Classic using Parallels. Took a while to get everything setup (have to search for codecs, have to install this and that and blah), it ran just like MPC did on my XP box. It did run sluggishly, but there’s really no equal to Media Player Classic out there. I’m definitely hoping for a MPC Mac OS X port.”

    You can always fix the “sluggish” issue by setting up a BootCamp partition and using MPC that way. It’s got its own downsides (longer to set up, have to reboot to get to and from, either keep the files externally or face space issues) but at least the program will have hardware-level access rather than using the generic Parallels virtualization “drivers”, and xp will run very quickly.

  15. AS far a codecs for MPC.
    Is the way to go.
    I orginally used VLC but got fed up with the crashing and the nearly impossible seeking. Yet to find anything VLC could play that it can’t. Very simple way to get the codecs.

  16. So far, I’ve had zero problems trying to watch anime on a mac. THere hasn’t been any anime that I’ve been unable to watch. Mplayer OSX SAC (it’s a version from animesuki) handles mkvs with ease without butchering subtitles like how sometimes VLC does and VLC does the rest. Quicktime should NEVER be used. Period. It just sucks. Dont even bother.

  17. I have always had an issue watching anime on a TV. I have a DVD player that can play DIVX but it cuts off the bottom and thus hides the subtitles. Also, with my move to h.264 and .mkv files, I can’t watch any of the newer series on it. My cousin purchased a new Vista laptop and we connected it via the VGA port to a 50″ plasma. I have to admit that Gundam 00 in high def looked very nice and allowing the laptop to treat the TV as a display fixes the resolution issue. The only issue is that I use my desktop to download stuff and my laptop isn’t beefy enough to handle the high resolutions.

    This article is great because I was always thinking about getting a Mac laptop and wondered how I would be able to view anime on it. If the rumors of the ultraportable 13″ with solid state hard drive (I’m looking for 64GB) at around $1500 is true, then count me in as a new Mac owner (does the iPhone count?).

  18. Maybe I am one not to talk here, but I’d like to argue that all UNIX-OSs (MacOSX is UNIX) are similar. Therefore some tips from a ArchLinux user. mplayer (svn build) does a wonder full job for me, mainly because of its configurability. My config which displays subs without problems might help you (no magic here, everything is in the manpage) (cat ~/.mplayer/config):
    # widescreen monitor

    # subtitle settings

    # cacheing

    # output settings

  19. I’m going to agree with all the mplayer players that commented. I use it and it is probably isn’t the latest, but new enough, and the system being somewhat week has little trouble with 720p. Compile if you can, because the fonts will work great. I’ve only run into a slight problem recently with audio in Order’s mp4 container. Having not debugged the situation, I don’t know if it is just the encode, or I may need a replacement audio codec. Either way, mplayer is a solid match (I’m using Ubuntu Studio 64-bit).

    … and for screen capturing, mplayer should make it easy to get them. I use the print screen button on the keyboard (Gnome shortcut), but I’m sure there is a way to work it in mplayer so a remote could be used; that’d be really nice.

    Hope it works out.

  20. Just as said Mplayer is the way to go. With properly configured options, it can plays almost anything. The version on animesuki is ok, just it has issues with some random media (usually very old movies).
    I use these switches (under preferences -> miscellaneous -> additional parameters):
    -subfont-text-scale 6 -ass -correct-pts -embeddedfonts -slang en -utf8 -alang jp,en
    You may download from the ‘Mac OS X x86 20060611’ package and install it, it will cover some codecs not implemented by mplayer (real video and others)
    Some keys:
    j cycle subtitles
    q quit current movie
    f fullscreen
    v enable/disable subtitles
    With the recent builds, i have no troubles viewing any fansub out there.

  21. Add my vote to MPlayerOSX. Works like a charm for me. I watch all my anime with it, except one very weird case of sound-corrupt .mp4 I use VLC for.

  22. why did you buy a mac?

  23. Wow, life without Media Player Classic… I’m afraid.

  24. What, no mentin of Xine? I’ve never used it on a Mac, but it’s wonderful on Linux. I used mplayer for everything until my second time of giving Xine a chance (although I do still use mplayer from time to time). I don’t know how Xine will compare on Mac with the other items listed in the post, but what harm can it do to try it out, ne?

  25. # widescreen monitor

    He watches on a HDTV, so wouldn’t it be 16:9 aspect ratio?

  26. I updated the post include Spiral as well as a real conclusion.

    >> MPlayer

    I’ll try my own build later this week. Haven’t had time yet.

    >> The only issue is that I use my desktop to download stuff and my laptop isn’t beefy enough to handle the high resolutions.

    I bought a PCI (not PCI-X) card that I could find that supported DVI out for my XP box. Then I just ran a long DVI cable from my box to my TV, and I ran audio separately. It took me three tries (thank you Fry’s return policy) before I finally got a PCI card that played nice with my primary PCI-X video card.

    >> why did you buy a mac?

    Because they don’t come with Vista pre-installed.

  27. I’m also an mplayer guy (and a command line guy unfortunately). I don’t know mplayerosx (used it years ago and found it did not give anything better than the command line version). You really need to read the manual. And in fact, you should probably build it for yourself. Use macports and build MPlayer with binary_codecs and osd support, then you will be able to use mplayer’s menu to choose subtitles, audio channel, aspect ratio… Concerning aspect ratio, assuming the pixels are square, you should not set monitoraspect. If you like some particular key or mouse shortcuts, you may want to tweak ~/.mplayer/input.conf

    And last, for double-clicking a file to launch it in mplayer, you may have to build an app launching mplayer. I used platypus to do that, but there’s probably an easier way.

  28. If anybody ever figures out how to make VLCPlayer *not* override the font settings and turn on subtitles by default, could you *please* let me know? I’ll watch this comment..thingie…for a few days. It’s driving me *crazy*.

  29. @wp @milosh: As mentioned this was *my* config, so that Jason could look if anything might apply to him, like the subtitles. Since I don’t know his specs, threfore I couldn’t write a config for him.
    As for the square pixels, IMHO my 24″ (1920×1200) LCD has square pixels, but still the aspect ratio was wrong. The manual implied that I *shouldn’t* use monitoraspect= , but I had to. Will have to mail to the mplayer malinglist someday because of this discrepancy.

  30. And yes, jason, I’ve had all those problems myself, and it ended up with me just saying screw it and for the most part I play my anime on my PC, because of the stability and playback problems that you have mentioned. And trust me, you haven’t seen the full depth of the problems yet, sadly.

  31. One note on VLC: the latest version has eliminated the crashes, for a G5 Tiger, at least. It is still fugly with the subtitle rendering though.

    @Kendra Kirai: The Mac VLC is Applescript-able. Somebody on has a DVD and File-Server drop-app set up to change settings for different. That could possibly be used to turn on the sub-titles, too.

  32. Is anybody using mplayer 1.0rc2? Supposedly it has “Apple Remote” support, and if it actually works, I may endure the pain and compile it myself…

  33. Sorry, I should’ve been a bit more clear…I’m using the PC version.

  34. MPlayer is working a lot better for me now. Figured out to use:

    “-ass -embeddedfonts -fontconfig -sid 0”

    To get the subtitles autoloaded like MPC.

  35. Having recently upgraded to a MBP, I decided to try out .MKVs and have found some nice things in 2008:
    1. mPlayer builds are finally working correctly (1.0rc2 IIRC).
    2. VLC is still horrible.
    3. Spiral has turned into quite a good app now. I like it, and will be using it just for its Front-Row-aping feature (not perfect, but should be nice for sitting back & watching on TV).

  36. I’ve been treating this as the definitive article on anime playback on the Mac. Since there’s a new version of Perian available that claims to fix many issues, do you have any plans to do an updated version?

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