What Roxio says Popcorn 3 does:
- Copy DVDs (non-encrypted)
- DVD-Video Compression
- TiVoToGo (which only works with a TiVo Series 2)
- Convert video for lots of devices: iPod, iPhone, PS3, PSP, XBox 360
- Supports Turbo.264
- Disc labels
- Create DVD menus
- Create compilation DVDs with 4 hours of video
- Batch “Fit-to-DVD” “lets you que multiple DVD-Video folders for DVD-9 to DVD-5 conversion
I tested Popcorn 3 on a MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0GHz with 2GB of RAM (a dinosaur in the portable Macs, I know). I do not have a Series 2 TiVo, so I could not test out the TiVo ToGo feature.
After seeing the feature list, I thought Popcorn would be a suite of applications. When you install Popcorn, you get two applications. Disc Cover RE and Popcorn. Starting Popcorn for the first time, you are welcomed by a Setup Assistant with a EULA. After putting in the product key, Popcorn asks you if you want to install “Mount It,” which allows “you to use Popcorn disc image mounting directly from the Finder.” You then have the option to install TiVo ToGo, which requires a Series 2 TiVo and does not support DirecTV DVRs with TiVo Service. It will be availble via the “Extras” menu. The last step is to decide whether to register the software with Roxio.
DVD Video Creation
I’ve got a couple of video files that I want to share. What a great excuse to create a DVD. There are three menu styles to choose from: Corporate, Snapshot, and TiVo central (or you can go menu-less). Simply drag and drop movies into the right pane of the Popcorn Window. I added a bunch of video files to the right pane. There are not a lot of options of how customize the DVD Menu apart from the title and style. I popped in a DVD-R because that seemed to be the next logical step and then hit the big red button to burn the DVD. The Popcorn window turned into a large status bar, I then viewed the Mac’s spinning beachball for a minute before the Popcorn window was responsive. It was stuck at 0% for a couple of minutes. However, there is an animation of a the Popcorn icon in the background of the status bar which suggests something is happening. It took over seven hours to encode and burn a DVD with three hours of best quality video.
Every DVD I burned was PAL formatted. This causes a problem because in United States we use the NTSC standard — PAL is the European standard. During my second and third tests, I kept on eye on the temporary files that Roxio creates. A “Roxio Converted Items” folder is created in the Documents folder and can easily become a space hog. PAL formatted files were created again, so I cancelled the creation of these discs. I tried a fourth test using video podcasts, Tekzilla and Diggnation, with approximately an hour and a half worth of video. The temporary files revealed no PAL fomatting. It took 2 hours and 44 minutes to create the DVD. Once again, the DVD was PAL formatted.
The DVDs burned using Popcorn 3 did not work on my PS3 because it does not support PAL. The discs worked on every computer I had access to (my own MacBook Pro, a MacBook and a Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t). My Oppo DVD player was able to play the disc, but then again, the Oppo can play almost anything (including PAL). I could not find a setting or preference to change Popcorn’s output format. There is even a thread on Roxio’s Support forums about this PAL/NTSC problem. As to the actual DVDs that were created, the DVD video quality obviously depended on the source files and the DVD menus worked fine with players that supported the PAL standard. Video looked as good as the source.
The video conversion process is rather painless. Just drag and drop a video file in the right pane and then choose your settings. There are lots of options for your final video format. You can see a preview of the converted video which takes about a minute. Popcorn3 converted a DIVX formatted episode of the IT Crowd (approximately 24 minutes of video) to PSP formatted video in 11 minutes. The conversion process is relatively quick.
Popcorn also converts VIDEO_TS folder contents. I ripped one of my DVDs to my hard drive and ran a couple of tests. I converted a VIDEO_TS of Superman (1978 version) to the Apple TV format under automatic quality. The movie is 2 hours 22 minutes in length. It took 3 hours 51 minutes for the conversion to complete. Popcorn can take advantage of Elgato’s Turbo.264 (a hardware video encoder) for encoding. I happen to own an Elgato Turbo.264 and the conversion using it took 2 hours and 25 minutes to encode. As you can see, the Elgato provided a significant boost in encoding speed. Popcorn only crashed once during my tests and that test included the Elgato. Popcorn also has the ability to make DVDs of image file — but only image files of DVDs. I did not test this particular function.
The program refuses to rip copy protected DVDs, so I started ripping a DVD that Popcorn had created. The DVD had approximately 3 hours of video and took about 5 hours to be ripped. This process can also be enhanced using Elgato Turbo.264. Ripping the same DVD with the Turbo.264 took 3 hours 23 minutes and also resulted in smaller file sizes. The disc held 6 episodes of a television program and Popcorn created 6 movie files. The files were on average 282 MB smaller using the Turbo.264.
Disc Cover Assistant
The Disc Cover Assistant is a stripped down version with many features unavailable in this bundled edition. More advanced features (such as creating a track listing using iTunes) are disabled. You can choose to make a label for a disc, a front cd insert, a rear CD insert, and another label that may be a label template for the spine of a CD cover. There are over 40 pre-made disc cover designs available. Since I did not have a full version of the program, it’s hard to tell its full capabilities. If you just need to make a label with text and the clip art provided, Disc Cover Assistant can do that easily.
Popcorn’s interface is intuitive and simple. Everything is laid out rather clearly and all the features are easily accessible. Considering how feature rich the application is, the interface makes finding any feature a snap. It would be handy to have a “Clear Roxio Converted Items” button or option to free up hard drive space. The video conversion of files seemed relatively speedy. However, anything involving DVDs took an incredibly long time. This would be the kind of thing you would set your Mac to do, then go do something else like go see a movie or go to sleep for the night. The Elgato Turbo.264 made the experience better, but it still takes a long time to burn or rip a DVD. Perhaps the experience would be different with updated hardware.
I am rather annoyed that I could not create an NTSC DVD. I could not find a setting anywhere for this nor could I find any information online about this problem. I hope this is resolved via a software update. Additionally, Roxio phone support is not free (it costs a whopping $1.89 per minute); I’d rather keep my money than pay for phone support. I also find it odd that the file sizes were smaller using the Elgato Turbo.264. I would think with the extra time it took to encode the video sans Turbo.264, that the same kind of encoding occurred. The video quality of both versions of the file looked similar but the savings on hard drive space was substantial using the hardware encoder.
Overall, Popcorn is easy to use and does pretty much everything Roxio claims. The PAL DVD fiasco was the biggest issue I faced. If you overlook that rather large problem, Popcorn is a very competent program. The application seemed very stable, and only crashed once in my testing. I am sure there are other programs that could be used instead of Popcorn to do the same functions. However, Popcorn 3 is an all-in-one solution for video conversion. Also, the added Disc Cover Assistant was underpowered, but worked for simple labeling needs. If you don’t want to track down different pieces of software, Popcorn is the way to go. If you’re an impatient person, remember Popcorn works much faster with Elgato’s Turbo.264.
You can purchase Popcorn 3 for $49.99 via download or CD-ROM.