Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): Why is the music file preview image so ugly?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Anti-Aliasing Hall of Shame
April 1st, 2008 • 9:42 am

This is something that has been bugging me ever since I first installed Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) on my machine. The latest Mac OS X version introduces a change in the way music files (including MP3 files and AAC files) are previewed in the Finder and with Quick Look. Mac OS X now uses the following graphic:

Music file preview

Is it just me, or is there a distinct lack of polish in this picture that is really quite unexpected in an Apple product these days? The problem is particularly noticeable in the top halves of the round parts of the music notes and along the top edge.

Here’s a 400% close-up of that edge:

Close-up of top edge

There is clearly some amount of anti-aliasing here, but it is also quite clearly not sufficient to hide the very ugly “staircase” effect, which is precisely what anti-aliasing is supposed to be good for.

And this “staircase” effect is very much visible, at least in my eyes, even without the 400% zoom. It’s even worse for the smaller version of the graphic in the “Preview” column in a Finder window in column view:

Preview column

Everything else in Mac OS X is so smooth and so sleek that this flaw really stands out. And I work with lots of music files on a daily basis, so I see this all the time.

I find it really quite puzzling that Apple’s engineers find this perfectly acceptable, while everywhere else in Mac OS X they do their best to use anti-aliasing to smooth any rough edges.

Am I really the only who’s bothered by this?

6 Responses to “Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): Why is the music file preview image so ugly?”

  1. ssp says:

    No, I have cover art in my music files, so I’m not seeing this.

    I’m much more concerned by the lack of proper playback/navigation controls which are a real decrease in usability.

  2. ssp says:

    Just for the heck of it: My guess is that two things are the problem here: The original file (System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/QuickLookUI.framework/Versions/A/Resources/DisplayBundles/Music.qldisplay/Contents/Resources/music.png) already exhibits this effect to a certain extent. And the scaling algorithm Apple use makes it even worse when scaling down. I found that standard Quartz scaling often aggravates such artifacts – particularly on edges at an angle. Using a different algorithm like Lancozs might solve the problem.

    I assume that using vector rather than pixel graphics for this could be another solution. No idea about how feasible that’d be in terms of the gradients used in this graphics and for the speed when scaling.

  3. ssp says:

    P.S. It might be a good idea to use a lossless graphics format to illustrate issues like this one.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    I used JPEG because the result did not produce any noticeable difference. Anyone can verify on their own Mac OS X 10.5 install that the graphic looks pretty much the same as above, even without compression.

    I agree that it is a minor “inconvenience” compared to navigational issues and the like, but it still jars.

    The PNG file you referred to looks much better, and paradoxically when viewed scaled in the “Preview” column in the Finder in column view it looks pretty good too (and still looks good if I vary the width of the “Preview” column, which causes further scaling).

    So the problem might be not with the scaling algorithm used in for the “Preview” column, but with another algorithm somewhere.

  5. ssp says:

    I see plenty of JPEG artifacts around the edges of the note in your graphics. Those don’t appear on my screen.

    There definitely are different algorithms for scaling. I believe in that in principle, QuickDraw, Cocoa, QuickTime and Quartz Composer might use different algorithms for scaling. My guess would be that Cocoa does it in this case because we’re dealing with Quick Look. But that’s only a guess.

  6. justin says:

    as “ssp” said:
    I’m much more concerned by the lack of proper playback/navigation controls which are a real decrease in usability.

    I could not agree more. Why would they take out these controls? It there some way to get them back. I want to be able to fast forward/rewind the audio file. Pretty lame apple.

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