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Pocket PC Software Reviews

DVD to Pocket PC 3.0

By Makayama, $32.95

Review posted Feb. 2006 by Tanker Bob

There you are, waiting with nowhere to go and nothing constructive to do. After you finish your Snickers, what do you do…what DO you do? If you have your Windows Mobile device on hand with a good battery and a large storage card, and you’ve planned ahead, you could watch a full-length movie. If you have a very large storage card and DVD-to-Pocket PC 3.0, you could choose between a number of full-length movies to watch. We couldn’t resist checking out the possibilities.

Setting the Stage

Tanker Bob tested Makayama Interactive’s DVD-to-Pocket PC on a Micron MilleniaXP PC with a 1.4GHz Athlon central processing unit (CPU) and 1GB of RAM running Windows XP Service Pack 2. The converted movies ran in Nero’s Showtime 2 on my PC as an initial test, then on a Dell Axim X50v using the excellent Open Source TCPMP 0.71a by Picard. TCPMP even supports the Intel 2700G hardware video accelerator in the X50v/X51v devices. I also used Windows Media Player 10 on the X50v to assure compatibility with the standard Windows Mobile video player.

Makayama recommends Windows XP with built-in DVD player as a minimum to run DVD-to-PPC 3.0. You need at least 1GB of free hard disk space to convert a movie, or 4GB of free space if you use the Cyberspeed mode. You also need Microsoft Windows Media Player 9 or 10 and DVD playing software of some kind. The setup program installs Microsoft Windows Media Converter 9 along with the core software. DVD-to-PPC 3.0 uses Windows Media Converter 9 for its encoding process.

Tanker Bob used his all-time favorite movie for the first set of conversion tests—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly directed by Sergio Leone. The alternating sweeping panoramas and hard close-ups, combined with Ennio Morricone’s outstanding musical score and its 2-hour-and-41-minute length (161 minutes), would provide a nice challenge for any conversion program. For further clarification in the test (and in the interest of time), I added A Fistful of Dollars—another Sergio Leone movie with similar cinemagraphic characteristics, but that only runs 100 minutes. Lastly and in keeping with the season, I used Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story which was in TV screen format and runs 98 minutes.

Makayama says that you can compress a 100-minute movie down to a 128MB storage card. Better quality or longer movies require larger cards. Having chosen one much longer movie, I asked the software to compress The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to a 512MB card. I converted A Fistful of Dollars and A Christmas Story to a 256MB card, allowing twice the space that Makayama advertises for a movie of that length. I left the quality level at the program’s default, which automatically selects the best quality for the selected size, for all runs except one.

The Conversion Experience

DVD-to-Pocket PC provides the simplest interface possible for video conversion. It essentially presents a wizard. The user may execute the entire process automatically or answer a few non-technical questions about the end product desired. The first task requires picking the location of the video to be converted. After selecting the general location as in the screenshot, the standard Windows dialog appears to select the specific drive or directory where the movie resides.

screen shot

The program assumes that the longest segment on the medium coincides with the feature film. If it harbors some doubt about that, then the user may have to choose the correct segment. This wasn’t a problem with any tested movie. The software chose…wisely.

After telling DVD-to-PPC where to find the video, the user may proceed directly to conversion by clicking the Action button. That’s it. However, I recommend going to the Options menu item and choosing the target storage card size at a minimum. If you have a VGA 640x480 display on your Windows Mobile device, you may want to set that as well because DVD-to-PPC defaults to QVGA output. The latter setting will be remembered across sessions, so only needs to be set on the first use. Read on to see if other default settings fit your needs.

Tapping on the Advanced button leads to a series of further non-technical settings, the first being the video appearance. The default screen format is Zoomed. For normal DVD movies formatted for a television screen, that will work fine. If you prefer the letterbox format that captures the entire original movie width, you’ll need to either select Same as Original or Correct Stretching. I tried both and found that the Correct Stretching setting holds the width almost constant but increases the height, which results in some attendant vertical distortion. I recommend that you try both and see which you prefer.

Next the user may choose the picture and sound quality. Increasing quality means increasing file size. I mostly left these at the default level. If you change these, then they will override the card size set in the Options.

Subtitles may be included in the final file, but there is no free lunch. If the user chooses to include subtitles, they may not use Cyberspeed. According to Makayama, the entire conversion process will then take much, much longer. That’s an understatement, but more on how long the process takes later. You may, however, pick any language offered for the audio.

If you choose to include subtitles, another setting dialog comes up. This involves simply selecting the language you wish to encode. If Cyberspeed has been disabled, the Show Options button takes you to another screen that allows you to set a number of more detailed options, such as encoding special features from the DVD. These options will be discussed in a separate section below.

That encapsulates the entire conversion-preparation process if you choose to go the Advanced route. No fancy video knowledge or expertise required. All you need to know is how the end result should look and sound. What could be easier?

The conversion proceeds in two steps. The first step uses Cyberspeed if you don’t choose an option that precludes it. My 2 hour and 41 minute video took just about 46 minutes to complete this first step, which entails copying the entire video to a temporary file on the hard drive. The simple display provides status trackers. The time remaining in the lower right corner and the blue progress bar at the bottom tell you what you need to know. The speed multiplier on the main screen changes real-time during the conversion, and always stayed above four after the initial time remaining calculation and occasionally reached over seven times real-time.

DVD-to-PPC automatically transitions to the second conversion step. This involves a second round of compression to bring the final file down to the chosen size as well as video and audio encoding by Windows Media Encoder. It doesn’t appear to benefit from Cyberspeed, as this step took pretty close to the length of the original movie—just under three hours in the 161-minute movie case. Although it doesn’t appear in the screenshot, the video actually plays in the dialog window during the conversion.

The encoding-part display on the upper left helps track where the software is in the process. This and the encoded video duration on the lower left are really the only accurate means to ascertain the progress. The progress bar itself pegged somewhere around 950 seconds into each part and stayed there for the remainder of that part.

If for some reason the software doesn’t transition automatically to the second step, all is not lost. Simply restart DVD-to-PPC and it will recognize what happened and pick up the conversion at step two. If your PC ran out of memory, you may need to reboot first. Nothing will be lost, especially the time invested in step one. I actually encountered this situation on my first conversion. The PC didn’t need rebooting and DVD-to-PPC finished the conversion without incident.

After about three-and-a-half hours, DVD-to-PPC converted my 2 hour, 41 minute DVD movie down to a 504MB Windows Media Player file ready to be copied to the Axim. The 100-minute movie took just about two hours to convert. The software puts the converted file on your desktop. If it can discern the movie’s name, it will appropriately label the final result. If not, it will name the output My Video.

At this point, it would be wise to empty your recycling bin and any enhancements to it like Norton Recycling Bin, especially if you used Cyberspeed. While DVD-to-PPC deletes most of its huge temporary files when finishing, these files will still take up disk space in the recycling bin. 4GB of files in your bin, or more if you convert multiple videos, can really take a bite out of your free disk space. You will first need to delete the temporary Cyberspeed files from \Video TS\ directory in the root directory of your hard drive.

CPU usage

 

As you might expect, DVD-to-PPC takes all the CPU time available and that’s no exaggeration. I monitored the conversion process, and the program routinely took every otherwise-unused percentage of the CPU’s time. The screenshot shows 90% for DVD-to-PPC with the CPU usage pegged at 100%. Expect that as the norm. Other process and applications can run during the conversion, but expect them to be very sluggish. Of course, the more CPU time available to the conversion process, the faster it will finish. The program’s memory footprint peaked at around 120MB in RAM.

Other Features

DVD-to-PPC may be skinned. Makayama offers additional skins on their website.

advanced settings screen

 

If the user disables Cyberspeed on the Setup screen available from the Options menu, then additional settings become available. You may choose to convert special features on the DVD, including camera angles if available, either grouped together in one file or separated into individual files. If the converted video has issues with audio/video synchronization, special processing may be selected and tested. Special corrections are also available for TV shows that exhibit line doubling effects. For testing purposes, I didn’t change any of these default options so as to provide a direct comparison of output quality with and without Cyberspeed.

Without Cyberspeed, DVD-to-PPC provides a running tally of frames read, the instantaneous frame rate reading, times involved, and the instantaneous temporary hard disk space used. Copying averaged 13 frames per second, so with 299,970 frames in a typical 100-minute movie, you can do the math on the time required for step one—384 minutes or 6 hours and 24 minutes, which DVD-to-PPC accurately calculated and displayed. And that’s just the first step. Ouch!

screen shot

 

The progress screen for step two of the conversion looks about the same with and without Cyberspeed. The progress without Cyberspeed is measured in seconds of video. As such, one can more readily discern the status and time remaining. The progress bar provides overall progression as step two takes place in one large piece.

The Outcome

As a benchmark, I converted The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with the free FairUse Wizard 2 Light Edition using the same constraints as for DVD-to-Pocket PC. FairUse presents a more technical and flexible approach than DVD-to-Pocket PC and is targeted at a different audience—primarily to backup your expensive DVDs to CDs. The FairUse conversion used a two-step process which produced excellent results in about seven hours. I tailored the output file to come out with the same screen format as the input video, and the result weighed in at 506MB.

The DVD-to-PPC software operated smoothly during all conversions. The program proceeds automatically to completion once the user clicks the Action button. I did not note any execution issues with the program other than the one termination after step one, but the program picked up exactly where it left off once restarted. That only happened once in over a dozen conversions run for this review.

For the 161-minute movie, I set DVD-to-PPC to conversion for VGA and a 512MB card. The file version with Correct Stretching set came out to about 400MB in about 3.5 hours—about half the time of the benchmark. The conversion with identical parameters but set to keep the original movie format came in at 362MB, but it looked like exactly the same screen format as the stretched version. The original movie was in letter box format, so I’m not sure why it wasn’t converted that way.

Without Cyberspeed, the 100-minute video took over 8.5 hours to convert, the bulk of that time spent in step one. Using Cyberspeed, the conversion clocked in at around two hours—a HUGE time savings. I set the options on these to convert for a 256MB card in VGA, and the final file weighed in at 243MB with and without Cyberspeed. So far, so good.

On the first conversion of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I asked DVD-to-PPC to use Correct Stretching. Although the width held almost constant (some was lost off the sides), the picture height increased significantly. The result wasn’t gross, but I could definitely tell the difference compared to the original video. The result may not bother others. Telling the software to keep the original formatting didn’t improve the video proportion at all. On the other hand, A Fistful of Dollars converted fine in letterbox format when set to retain the original formatting. There may have been something funky about the larger movie’s DVD format, although FairUse converted it in letterbox format with no problem.

I converted the shorter movies a number of times to QVGA format. The conversion times remained about the same regardless of target resolution, though this may not be the case with a slower PC or with less RAM on the PC. Video and audio quality turned out good in all QVGA cases.

The converted movie quality, however, proved the real issue in for VGA. Although I provided a generous 512MB card constraint for the longer conversion output and 256MB for the shorter, the video came out jerky when using Cyberspeed. The action in the converted VGA movies seemed to move in one- to two-second-or-so machine-gun bursts. This mirrored the behavior of the video display on the PC during the conversion process itself. While one may debate the vertical stretching effect on the longer movie, the stuttered video output is clearly unacceptable. The studdered output proved consistent across every conversion of every movie when using Cyberspeed at VGA resolution. Without Cyberspeed, there was some jumpiness, but not nearly as much and should be watchable. The difference in smoothness between using Cyberspeed and without it is quite dramatic. However, on a second test machine in our office (Windows XP, 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with 2 gigs of RAM) using DVD43 instead of FairUse Wizard, we didn't get stuttering in our recorded VGA video which we played back on the PC and on our Dell Axim X51v. So we had 50/50 sucess with VGA encoding and 100% with QVGA.

The VGA picture and audio came out synchronized nicely. Even as the video skipped constantly with Cyberspeed, the audio proceeded smoothly and stayed synchronized. Although one expects some losses in compression, the frame-rate results here were significantly worse than I’ve seen in the QVGA case and from other programs for VGA. Perhaps FairUse Wizard 2 and DVD to Pocket PC 3.0 don't play well together for higher resolution recordings. The smoother output of the non-Cyberspeed conversion made the output watchable, but the conversion took 8.5 hours for a 100-minute movie. Increasing the video quality slider helped the stuttering some with Cyberspeed, but not enough to make the result comfortable to watch. However, that also increased the file size beyond the card-size constraint.

Overall, the QVGA setting produced good results with a minimum of user input, and did so quickly with Cyberspeed enabled. Makayama claims that 95% of Pocket PCs in the wild have QVGA screens (see Support below). If so, the VGA flaws shouldn’t hurt the product’s market. If you have a VGA device, though, either live with 320 x 240 movies or try DVD43.

Bottom Line

Makayama sells DVD-to-Pocket PC 3.0 for $32.95. Previous registered users may upgrade for a reduced rate of $11.95. It proved simple to use and produced nice output for QVGA devices. For VGA format, however, the stuttered video output when using Cyberspeed proved unacceptable on one test machine using FairUse Wizard on an AMD CPU but worked well with another PC running DVD43 on an Intel processor. Results without Cyberspeed provided smoother VGA video, but the conversion takes over four times longer.

Pros:
Easy installation
Simple to use for the non-technical customer
Very fast conversions with Cyberspeed
Produces nice results in QVGA resolution
Excellent technical support

Cons:
Stuttered VGA video output with Cyberspeed made the VGA output unwatchable on one of our 2 test systems
Very slow conversion without Cyberspeed

$32.95

 

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