PocketDVD.ca PocketDVD 1.1

As 2004 drew inexorably towards its conclusion, one of the much hyped holiday gifts rightly or wrongly was the Personal Video Player or PVP.
The PVP ideal pushed by the clout of the likes of Microsoft and its Media Centre platform is designed to herald in the adoption of on-demand video. This in theory allowing you to take your own video content, irrespective of whether the source was a home movie, a television programme, Internet download or DVD with you on the road.

Just as the idea of using your PDA to carry around your music library instead of taking a Discman has played its part in the wide spread adoption of portable mp3 players, the PDA, and most significantly Windows CE has had a tremendous role to play since the late 1990s' in the idea of portable video.
When Microsoft issued Video Codec' for the Pocket PC 2000 platform it was as something of a frivolity, but now in 2005 these features have played a key role in the hardware evolution and adoption of Windows Mobile. With the ever more powerful processors of the Pocket PC video playback quality is something of a no-brainer; but for a lot of us it begs the question…

Just how do I do that?

Many inexperienced users who just wanted to convert a video file for a specific purpose will have found the process difficult, drawn out and possibly even tiring. The fact of the matter is that unless you know what 'bit rates', 'frame rates', 'colour spaces', 'aspect ratios' and a further dictionaries worth of jargon are for - and then understand the consequences of changing those settings. Video may be something you have avoided or something you have disregarded altogether.

Functional video on any device

PocketDVD 1.1 is a host side application bundle designed specifically to allow you to very easily do two things.

  • PocketDVD - Convert your DVD collection to a digital video file
  • PocketVideo - Convert most existing video file formats into a compatible format

Both aim to make the process simple and deliver a video file that will play on any device with a supported player. PC or Handheld PC, Pocket PC or SmartPhone

The PocketDVD interface is well laid out and visually attractive. DVD drive information is at the top, video settings information is in the middle and useful links to the Manual, PocketDVD.ca website and Support section along the bottom.

Getting started is very simple. Just insert your DVD into the drive tray, wait a few seconds for Windows to recognise the disk has been inserted and click on the 'Gather DVD Information' button at the top of the interface.

PocketDVD now analyses your DVD disc, looking for the numbers of tracks and chapters, play lengths of each chapter and of the overall disc itself. For the technically minded this is where statistics on DVD region, TV broadcast standard, codec compression, colour space and more are gathered along with system specifications forming the bulk of the background maths required to convert the DVD.
The information gathering process itself takes approximately three to five seconds per track and upon completion returns you back to the main interface, adjusted to reflect your disc.

At this stage your computer is now ready to convert, or 'rip' the DVD on the default settings. Most people will want to tweak a few settings though, and if you are a new user or are unfamiliar with video you shouldn't be put of doing this as wile the settings may seem complex, they are really very simple to use.

'Select DVD Track' simply allows you to select the entire DVD disc for conversion or a specific track (Tracks are what separate the movie from special features, rather than Chapter or Scenes which break up a movie into segments) on that disc.

Output Type is important if you are a Handheld PC user. As Microsoft Windows Media Player 1.2 for the Handheld PC lacks video support, the options for PPC 2000, 2002 and 2003 - representing Windows Media Video 7, 8 and 9 are of little use. The 'MediaEXT' or Media Extender option is specifically for use with high definition PC Media Centre devices, leaving PPC DIVX as the output of choice for any H/PC user.
DivX is a open source video codec designed to rival the Windows Media Video standard. Players are available both commercially and from the open source community for most platforms, including Handheld PC Pro and above H/PCs.
Your Windows desktop PC doesn't natively support DivX files but if you wish to use DivX for PC playback this can be added through the installation of a free DivX codec pack.
It is not a requirement with PocketDVD that you have this installed, PocketDVD will still operate correctly, you will just lack the ability to watch them on the host PC.
Next in the Output Type settings is the Frame rate (Frames Per Second) and the number of compressor passes. Running a two-pass DVD conversion will make the video perform better but at the price of up to double the conversion time required for single pass.

The screen size is simply the resolution of your PDA' screen. For most Handheld PC users this is HVGA at 640x240 pixels. By changing the resolution the proportions listed for the output video size (the second set of numbers) will change to match the input. So if you encode for a SmartPhone device, Pocket PC or Handheld PC the output video will be adjusted accordingly.

Video Quality may phase some at first, but it is actually quite simple. There are two methods to set the video quality. Firstly by clicking the blue box to reveal a slider, and specifying the bit rate.
Alternately if you know the size of your memory card, or know you only have a certain number of Megabytes free on the card. Clicking on the 'Video Quality' label changes the settings value from bit rate to file size. Now you are able to specify in MB the maximum size the output video can be. This is especially useful if you only have a small memory card, or have the need to carry a lot of movies with you say on a business trip or long-haul flight.

The last settings are for the Audio quality which, for most users. Accepting the default value will be adequate; although those seeking ultra high quality may wish to encode with a Stereo soundtrack rather than a down mixed mono score.

Once you have entered the settings for your device you can conveniently preview the DVD directly on the PC providing an approximation of what the video output will actually look like on your mobile device.

You may be surprised to hear that unlike most DVD software, your PC does not need to have any form of DVD decoder installed for it to be able to convert or preview the DVD disk. With Pocket DVD the applications functionality does not limit you to working with a single of the 6 hardware defined global DVD regions. You can insert any region-encoded disc into your PCs drive and PocketDVD will be able to work with it just as it can with your native disc format.

The final step in converting your first DVD is simply to click the 'Convert DVD' button to begin writing the DVD to the hard drive.

The conversion process is isolated from PocketDVD itself and displays a progressive readout in a Console window.
As the decoder runs the status information is displayed with an update being achieved once every tenth of a second until completion - at which time the session terminates. The conversion process is separate from the PocketDVD configuration window affording you the option to close it down or minimise to the system tray while the conversion happens in the background.

Figure 3: Elapsed time, Current Frame #, % of job, Input frame rate, Estimated Time Remaining, Estimated Output size and quantiziser field

Naturally the conversion time depends on the length of the DVD movie you are converting, the capabilities of your computer and on the settings you choose. Selecting lower frame rates, lower bit rates and running a single pass will greatly improve the conversion time but holds potentially adverse effects on the quality.

Tests with PocketDVD with a Pentium III 733MHz CPU give a DivX conversion time at around the length of the original movie. Moving up to a Pentium III 1100MHz (1.1GHz) the conversion time is almost down to ¾ of the play length. Windows Media conversions will take on average three to four times longer than DivX as the conversion is a two tier process; first to high quality DIVX and then down into WMV. These conversion times are intrinsically linked to the input settings that you specify, and for most people the ability to minimise the application into the background and forget about it will feature predominantly over any urgency for the completion of the process.

Figure 4: Standard format DVD playback

Once you are comfortable with the basics of PocketDVD it is well worth taking the video conversion to another level by exploring PocketDVDs advanced options.
The advanced settings have been built predominantly around improving functionality for widescreen devices, and with that PocketDVD truly excels, especially for HVGA Windows CE users.

Having used the 'Gather DVD Information' button on a disc, an 'Advanced' button will appear beneath it, pulling out an expanded settings area.
It is not required that you use preset the options in the advanced area, however spending a little time to familiarise yourself with them and how they work can really make the difference between a good looking movie and a great one. This is even more apparent on the Handheld PC for which much of the configuration enhancements in the 1.1 release were written.

Figure 5: PocketDVDs Advanced Settings

Firstly, two mainstays of the DVD phenomenon. The ability to select the soundtrack language and whether or not to use subtitles. PocketDVD supports both.
If you wish to watch video on your device in a very noisy environment, or your H/PC lacks a headphone socket then subtitles are a great way to compensate.
To enable the use of these or the other options on the advanced screen simply configure your desired setting and click on 'Ignore'. The label will change to display 'Use', indicating that the setting has been flagged for inclusion on your DVD rip.

The next two groups allow you to specify which chapter to start and end at, as well as whether you want PocketDVD to break the DVD rip into smaller file chunks at the chapter (scene) markers.

Offset is a setting which Widescreen Handheld PC users will find incredibly useful, and a feature that makes PocketDVD stand out.
When you go to the cinema and view a widescreen picture, the image you are seeing is not the same as the widescreen you might find on your television set at home. Some motion pictures are filmed slightly wider than is normal, and often this will be passed on to the user in the DVD release.

Figure 6: Cinematic Widescreen example

It is obvious to see that this is exceedingly wasteful use of your screens precious real estate. What the Offset system allows you to accomplish is to completely eliminate the horizontal widescreen bars and maximise your screen size.
Using the sliders and the PocketDVD Preview facility you can configure the desired level of cropping on the PC before conversion, the offset value is distributed equally between cuts on each edge. For example in general on a HVGA PC by setting an offset of 74 pixels top/bottom you can eliminate the bars altogether removing the top 37 and bottom 37 pixels completly. This makes viewing DVD's on the Handheld PC a true delight and something most Pocket PC users would be insanely jealous of.

Figure 7: The DVD offset feature removes the widescreen bars

Indeed if you really wanted to show off you could go the whole hog and clip the top and bottom slightly with a 90 top/bottom offset which will fill a HVGA screen entirely.

Figure 8: Ultra Full screen, widescreen video

In the 1.1 release a very useful profiles system has been added. This provides you with the freedom to use PocketDVD with multiple devices, or predefined configurations saving you from having to remember a multitude of settings and tweaks. The configurations are stored as settings files under the installation directory allowing you to back them up or redistribute them to peers. The benefits of which are obvious in the mobile device community where one person can calculate all the optimal values and publish the settings saving you time when getting to grips with a new device.

Screen Ratings - Optimisation for the Handheld PC

Lastly a very significant optimisation feature, exclusive to PocketDVD.ca software makes its debut in PocketDVD 1.1.
The PocketDVD Screen Rating system was developed during the beta process to allow for video frame rate optimisation specifically on the Handheld PC and older PDA devices.

A video is nothing more than a fast moving sequence of still pictures (frames). Depending on where you live you will either view 25 frames every second, or 29. The Screen Ratings system has been created for devices which are unable to output the full 25/29 frames which make up standard video.

As many PDA devices make use of older screen technologies, with slower draw rates and smaller CPUs, sending the full video stream to the device display causes an overload which can significantly depreciating the quality.
In the same light different PDA devices will have different sized screens - in the Handheld PC specification there are 5 standard screen resolutions. PocketDVD Screen Ratings are a numeric calculation of the optimal frame rate and screen size for any specific device. The optimal values for Screen Rating, along with discovering the optimal bit-rate for getting the highest quality out of your device can calculated using some free tools and sample videos. More information is available from the PocketDVD website.
Once you have the Screen Rating number. The integer is then input into the 'Maximum Rating' settings box on the bottom right of the advanced window.

When previewing back the output files on the Jornada 720 test device the stark improvement achieved from using the Screen Rating system (the rating is 1228800 or 640x240x8) is immediately apparent when striving to maximise the use of the 640x240 screen. Using video benchmarking tools on the 720 before optimisation can demonstrate only a 70% performance rating. By using the Screen Rating optimal for your device the value will be over 100%, matching your devices hardware capabilities precisely.
Screen Ratings are not designed for use by all users, users planning to play back on, for example a modern PC or Pocket PC (due to its much reduced screen size) will as a matter of course have the capability of displaying unconstrained videos.

If your Handheld PC is capable of supporting video and the idea of expanding the scope of your devices use appeals to you then PocketDVD is the way to go. Not only are you getting a multimedia software program with optimisations for the Handheld PC, but a set of tools one could easily equate to a video arsenal.

 

I do have one piece of advice to share when converting DVDs, gleaned from several red faced experience. Always preview before pushing the convert button!
Through no fault of PocketDVD, the DVD industry can occasionally be seen to have a little fun when compiling discs. Not all movies are to be found on the first track, and not every English language DVD has English defined as the first audio track. Trust me, the first time you insert the likes of Tom Cruise's 'Collateral' hit go and find out half way on through a flight that you have the German soundtrack version - you'll remember too.

PocketVideo 1.1

Anyone with an existing video library of ripped DVD' or content saved from a Media Centre system will not need to invest in extra time or money over and above point and click to make use of their existing collection in a portable format. Through the PocketVideo application bundled free with PocketDVD and using similar the same configuration and settings files. PocketVideo allows for the conversion of video file formats including Microsoft AVI, DivX and Windows Media Video for use on your target device.

Figure 9: PocketVideo 1.1

When you look at PocketDVD and PocketVideo together as a suite, it is worth remembering that the application is not limited to just a Windows CE device, specific PDA or single file format. It has the ability to provide high-resolution desktop standard video support, including up scaling abilities along side the down scaling features for formatting video to a mobile device.

Having been closely involved in the development of PocketDVD, it is clear they have a clear understanding of the needs of their market, as a result their customer service and support has proven to be exemplary.
Support forums are provided to users, and community support is actively encouraged with facilities for users to share optimised settings information and PocketDVD profiles. E-Mail support is also available should you be really stuck.
A PDF manual for both PocketDVD and PocketVideo is provided with the package which is a little basic in some areas - forming more of a getting started guide, with much more in-depth information on specific aspects of the program currently being placed onto the website.

One well known draw back of commercial video editing and video conversion packages is that they often prove to be very unstable. Using PocketDVD I haven't yet experienced a crash which has caused the application to fail, and aside from the occasional unprompted Windows Error Report; appearing when there is no sign of an application failure it has a flawless track record - provided you read the manual.
Failing to look through the software configuration section of the manual could catch a lot of people out, as the conversion process to Windows Media Video is such that some third party tools need to be sourced from Microsoft and DivX, these are free applications but users are faced with the extra download overhead before they will be able to produced video optimised for a portable device.

The aim of PocketDVD has been to simplify for the end user a sequence of processes, which have remained in the realm of the technically savvy computer user and video expert for far too long. The program is straightforward and logical for new users and contains features that will appeal to experienced video users. No matter you're your level of expertise, once you have your optimal settings established PocketDVD is an excellent time saver, and for me that is what counts.

PocketDVD 1.1 including PocketVideo 1.1 costs $11.95 (£6.30, €9.00, ¥1260 est.) and is available as a web download with lifetime upgrades. With a fully functional, unrestricted 5 day trial avaialble from the PocketDVD.ca website for you to try out on the H/PC yourself.

The copyright of the DVD screen captures used in this review are of Avex Inc. (2003), Paramount Pictures (2002) and Disney Pixar (2003). No ownership is implied or inferred.


System Requirements:

Windows 98, 98SE, Millennium, 2000, XP, 2003
DVD-ROM Drive
24MB Hard disk space for installation 650MB for temping
Windows Media Encoder 9 / Windows Media Video Encoder 8 for WMV conversion
DivX 5 is recommended for performance and optimisation
Windows CE DivX video player

Handheld PC Professional or higher

Rating  
Cost: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Usability: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Built-In helps: 3 Star Rating: Average
Customer Service: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Overall: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional

PocketDVD 1.1 can be found at the following URL.
http://www.tools4movies.com/

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Chris Tilley
Editor-in-Chief