Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thanks for showing up AppleTV - Transcode360 was first in line, though

Yeah, I know - Apple is REVOLUTIONARY! They do AMAZING THINGS THAT NO ONE ELSE HAS DONE!!! Well...no one else on Apple Computers, I suppose.

For the past year I've been running with the following configuration:

For a non-commercial product, the Transcode360 project (from the folks at the larger Runtime360 project) is as fine a transcoder as I have ever seen in my professional career, actually. Transcode360 works on DiVX, XviD, and AVI files - so it is perfect for video retrieved via bittorrent.

If you don't know, a transcoder is a piece of software that translates between two or more audio, video or image CODECs. A transcoder comes in one of two flavors: batch or streaming. A batch transcoder runs on a schedule to transcode files for use later, and a streaming transcoder performs its work prior to the playback of a foreign file CODEC on any given playback device. (A streaming transcoder usually has a cost to it in the form of a buffer before playback - anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the speed of the machine, the complexity of the transcode, etc.)

The memory footprint of Transcode360 is very small, and although there is a noticeable tax on the CPU, it is not enough to disrupt the other functions on the MCE box. (As a stress test, I let the MCE box record from all four inputs - two NTSC and two OTA HDTV - and transcode out to both of my XBox360's...everything worked fine.) As of the last few releases, Transcode360 also allows you to run the transcoder on one machine while leaving another machine as a streaming source. My Alienware is beefy enough where I don't need to do this, but I did try it to see what happened - and it worked like a champ.

When I moved to Vista MCE from XP MCE 2005, I uninstalled Transcode360. When the update was done, I took a shot of brandy and tried the beta Vista version of Transcode360. I've been running with this beta all week, and no problems have emerged. It installs as a service just as the XP version did, and I'm not even aware that it's operating. Playback on the XBoxes (or, if you're a Brian Regan fan: XBoxen) is straightforward - rather than picking "Play" when you select a video from the MCE video browser, you select "Info" followed by "Transcode"...and within a few seconds, the video begins to playback. You have complete control of the video with pause, fast forward and reverse - albeit there is a noticeable pause for each of these functions that corresponds to the size of your transcode buffer.

The quality of the video playback on the XBox360 is really quite amazing - but I am not sure if that's the quality of the transcoded file, or the upscaling abilities of the XBox - but the end result is everything plays back in amazing detail and quality.

So - invest in an iTV and restrict your playback to iTunes-supported video if you'd like, or stick with MCE and an Xbox and playback without restrictions. Whatever makes Steve happy, I suppose.

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