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by David Walker, Staff Writer - 4/10/2004 11:50am EST
- Interface & Features
[Image] The Little Engine that Could
Behind the sleek interface of Pocket-DVD Studio is a good engine for making simple what was once a complicated process. After all, the selling point for the tool is not what it does, but how it does it. You CAN go out and download tools such as DVD2AVI, VirtualDub, DVDShrink and a score of others in order to convert your DVD to a Zodiac playable file - but that is far from easy, even for tech-savy folk like me.
Herein lies part of the dilemma - the tools is simple to use, but restricts the choices the user can make. You are forced to mix the movie down to an Xvid (Divx open source) file. When it comes time to pick a resolution, you are limited to a preset list of resolutions (the highest of which is 464x272).
[Image] Instead of adjusting bitrates manually, you make use of a slider that is denoted as "Movie Quality & Size", two parameters anyone can understand. As you adjust the slider, it adjusts the "Output size:" accordingly. Have a 256MB SD Card? Well, move the slider until you hit right around 250MB and you've got the best quality video you can fit on your card. There is also a filmstrip that specifies how to crop the movie - a nice feature not easily accomplished through other tools. Though not visible on the main interface, you can adjust the framerate (FPS) to either 15, 20 or 25 by going to Settings->Output Setting in the menus. The default is 15, which is acceptable for most movies.
[Image] Additionally, there are some options for adjusting audio - but not many. Pocket-DVD Studio defaults to Mono sound, 24K bitrate and 22Khz sampling. As a point of reference, a CD is stereo sound, and is sampled at 44.1Khz. You can adjust the audio to be stereo if you wish, but be forewarned, it will take more CPU cycles and a lot more space. Mono sound seems to be acceptable in most cases. From the main interface, you can select which Audio track to use when mastering your movie. Like a fool, I accidentally selected the track that had director commentary while mixing down "The Matrix" - the Lobby Scene just isn't the same without the music.
Within the "Output Setting" window, you can also specify the file that is written, as well as specify a nice option to split the file after every xxx MB. So, if you want high quality and are willing to play the movie from multiple cards - this option works wonderfully in accomplishing that. There are "Input Settings" such as ASPI (Advanced SCSI Programming Interface) support, but most new computers will be fine with the defaults specified here.
Finally, while mixing down, you can keep track of the status with a very nice Tungsten T3 "window" that shows the movie while it is mixing down. Additionally, the status bars at the bottom show you how much time is remaining, the estimated file size, and how much has been mixed down so far. From experience, the slide-bar "Movie Quality & Size" estimate is usually 10MB bigger than the actual file. So, if you shoot for a 260MB movie file, chances are it will end up around the 250MB mark.
So how does it look?
So, how did Pocket-DVD Studio work? Pretty well - and pretty fast. My movie of choice was "The Matrix" - which clocks in at about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I created the movie at a couple of resolutions to get a feel for size and quality.
The first file was encoded at 376x240, 146kbps, mono sound and 20 frames per second. The entire movie ended up being 173MB! Fantastic! How was the quality? Not suitable for TV viewing, but on the Zod - it actually looked quite good. MMPlayer didn't seem to have problems playing at this bitrate and rotating 90 degress. Encoding time: 2 hours flat. I was impressed.
The second file was encoded at 400x256, 165kbps, mono sound and 20 frames per second. The movie, after the 2hour 10 minute conversion time, ended up being 191MB. Again, very impressive. However, MMPlayer complained about the bitrate, but seemed to be able to play the file, with a few hiccups here and there. Not wanting to see hiccups while watching the Lobby Scene, I decided to use VirtualDub to remaster the video rotated 90 degrees left. Those regained clock cycles helped substantially and allowed me to watch most of the movie without a hiccup. And though it didn't fill the screen, the movie was very watchable and surprisingly enjoyable on my 2 hour commute home.
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