DVD Player, Mac OS X, and the PowerBook G3 Lombard

While today has been “OS X Lion day” for basically everyone, I was updating my recently acquired PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’ to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. The installation was a long process, surely longer than I remembered, and after installing the Mac OS X 10.3.9 Combo Update (which luckily I had on a CD I burnt a while back, along with the Mac OS X 10.1.5 and 10.2.8 Combo Updates), I still had to wait for more updates, as Software Update promptly informed me:

SoftUpdPanther

When finally everything was updated and after rebooting for the nth time, I noticed a missing piece: DVD Player. This Lombard came with a stock installation of Mac OS 8.6, and a 2x DVD-ROM drive in the right expansion bay. I played a couple of DVDs and was surprised to see how well the PowerBook handled them. That’s because this model has a built-in hardware decoder. So it was strange that Panther didn’t install its very own DVD Player software. Well, I assumed that OS X could detect that the PowerBook was able to play DVDs and act accordingly. I did a brief search on the Web and I found a discussion forum where a user was lamenting the same problem with the very same hardware. Someone suggested to use Pacifist to extract DVD Player from the Mac OS X Panther Install CD 1, but it had no effect: DVD Player would refuse to run, warning that the hardware was not compatible. I dug more, and on another discussion I found this quote:

The version of the DVD Player provided with Mac OS X is not compatible with the Lombard G3, as it does the decoding in software and your computer’s processor isn’t fast enough to effectively handle it. Mac OS 9’s DVD Player works by accessing the computer’s hardware decoder, for which there are no Mac OS X drivers.

Corroborated by this Apple technical note, from which I quote this relevant bit:

DVD Player 3.0 requires an Apple computer originally equipped with a built-in DVD-ROM drive and AGP graphics. It is installed and will open on computers that meet this requirement.

The following computers may meet the DVD Player requirements:

  • iBook – see Notes 1 and 4
  • iMac – see Notes 1 and 4
  • PowerBook (FireWire)
  • PowerBook G4
  • Power Mac G4 Cube – see Notes 2 and 4
  • Power Mac G4 – see Notes 3 and 4

So, in a nutshell, if you have a PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) a.k.a. ‘Lombard’, and you install Mac OS X on it, your only option to watch DVDs decently is to reboot in Mac OS 9. And no, you can’t run Mac OS 9’s ‘Apple DVD Player’ from the Classic Environment, you’ll really have to reboot. Some suggested to download third party software like VLC, but since it can’t rely on the hardware decoder either, I suspect performance would be too poor to watch anything.

Perhaps this information is obvious to many, but since it’s the first time I’ve found myself in this situation, I thought it’d be useful to share anyway.

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4 thoughts on “DVD Player, Mac OS X, and the PowerBook G3 Lombard

  1. The “Wall Street” series that precedded the Lombard used an optional DVD decoder card that could be inserted into one of the computers two PC card slots. That decoder card suffered the same fate upon the arrival of Mac OS X and was not supported after the last release of Apple’s Classic Macintosh operating system.

  2. I purchased a Powerbook Lombard specifically to run OS X 10.0 when it was released. Apple did imply that DVD support was “coming soon”, although it never arrived.

    Interestingly, OpenGL was supported on the Lombard’s Rage Pro chip with the original release, along with a wide range of older SCSI CD burners. However, with the 10.1 free patch, the system was practically desupported, with no video acceleration at all, making the machine practically useless under OS X. After some loud complaints, Apple revived 2D acceleration in a patch release.

    Apparently when the Lombard was originally released, Apple (desperate at the time) claimed the machine would be ideal for the upcoming OS X. This was the basis of a false advertising class action lawsuit, which eventually netted me a $20 settlement in Apple Store credits. Presumably this was for the 3D support, because IIRC Lombard DVD owners received $50.

  3. thanks a bunch I was just about to do the same upgrade! someone shipped one for my kids to watch dvds on and I was about to put osx on it so it would be more current, glad I didn’t!

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