September 15, 2008

Badaboom Works Fast–When It Works

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Over the summer, I had a chance to try the Badaboom Media Converter beta. Badaboom leads a new generation of video encoders that exploit a computer’s 3-D graphics chip to speed up performance (in this case, approximately tenfold). It accomplishes this through use of nVidia’s CUDA API, which allows particular types of routines to run on the graphics processing unit (GPU) instead of the central processing unit (CPU). Since GPU architectures are massively parallel, and so are video encoding algorithms, it makes perfect sense to do this.

If you pay attention to benchmarks, you may have seen that more cores gives you more performance, scaling almost linearly, with video encoding. The latest nVidia GPU’s have upwards of 100 stream processors (think of them like cores, but not quite the same as a CPU core). I tested the beta by encoding a series of episodes of a TV series from DVD. The interface is clean and sleek, and allows you to choose from a bunch of presets that target specific mobile devices. The one I used was the iPod Touch profile. You can customize the encoder’s parameters by bringing up an advanced options screen from within the program. There’s enough options here for most users, but it still falls short of the flexibility of encoders that are catered to power users.

Each 20-minute episode took about 1 minute to transcode, which is faster than any encoder from previous generations. Best of all, your CPU is still free to handle other tasks so you can do something else while waiting for the process to complete. I also tried to transcode The Matrix from the DVD, but it froze at the same frame every time. Hopefully the small bugs like this one will be worked out for the final release. Badaboom’s website states that the release is coming soon, bringing further performance improvements to an already quite speedy package.