Video conversion is something that people do more of today than ever before. With a plethora of formats, aspect ratios, and quality settings, often transcoding is needed. Various tools exist for this task, and today we will look at MacX Video Converter Pro. I'll be testing it against Handbrake, which is the piece of software I use for my video transcoding needs.
True to it's name, this application appears to be Mac-centric. It has the brushed aluminum look seen in many of Apple's applications and apps developed with Apple's developer tools. Installation was the same as any other application, simply unpack the .dmg and put it in your Applications folder. Once firing it up, you'll be prompted to select either a free trial or to purchase the full version.
I'm going to sound nitpicky here, but this screen was off-putting. There are small, odd grammatical and spelling errors on this page that are reminiscent of malware written in former Soviet Bloc countries that's normally a red flag when installing things. Note that the button to activate your copy has the word “Active” and not “Activate”. This is not something a native English speaker would do. Likewise in the description, where it says “to remove the 5 Minutes Limitation...”. When you do activate it, it gives a message of “Register Now!”, which appears to be in the imperative rather than a perfect tense. A native speaker would not generally write “Minutes” in the plural. I went on the website of the developer, Digiarty, to see where they are from. Their about page didn't have a country of origin listed, but I can comfortably assume they are not based in the US, Canada, or the UK. The first product advertised on their home page is a DVD ripper, which is technically illegal in the US due to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act criminalizing the breaking of encryption of digital goods. More apparent is that on the page for that product, they misspell Samsung as “Sumsung”.
Again, I don't mean for this to be a sore point against the product's abilities, but some proper localization and polish goes a long way. If I were somebody just trying this product out, it would appear to be no different from random shareware or ransomware applications.
When you're ready to go, you're greeted by this screen. Something I found quite odd is that it allows you to select the number of cores to dedicate to the transcoding. Video transcoding is a task that is easily parallizable, so it seems unusual that you would want to restrict the number of cores that can be utilized. Generally speaking, with these sorts of workloads, you will use less power overall by throwing all threads to a task and getting it done quicker in a fraction of the time it would take to simply have one or two cores constantly be running, taking much longer to finish the job. More cores also allows returning to idle states quicker.
For performance, I pitted MacX against Handbrake, a free converter under the General Public License (GPL). I decided to see how quickly it could transcode the first DVD of the anime series Rurouni Kenshin, which has three episodes on the disc, coming to a little under an hour and a half of video. For simplicity, I didn't add dual-audio or any subtitle options, I stuck with the default English language with no subtitles. I already had it in an MKV, so there was no optical drive bottleneck. Handbrake will automatically take as many cores and threads as it can be given. As my Macbook Air is a dual-core i5 with Hyperthreading, it has four logical cores, so the four core option in MacX was what I selected for all tests on it.
This is the screen you're greeted with when you select a video to transcode. A plethora of presets are available, for iOS devices, a few Android devices, Microsoft's Zune and Surface, Blackberries, and curiously enough, a specifically Sony preset, despite Sony smartphones running Android. Under this option, Playstation devices are listed and make up the bulk of the devices, so it seems a bit odd that it'd use an Ericsson logo. It would seem a better use of this preset would just be for Playstation devices, sending Sony Xperia users to Android.
There was no issue with the transcoding saturating all four logical cores. It was able to generate a respectable 56FPS. Handbrake was also able to saturate all four logical cores, and had an average transcoding performance of 58FPS, though this is entirely within the margin of error. It is safe to say that the two are equal in performance on the Mac version.
This also has a few additional features, such as being able to record yourself on a webcam. I don't see any reason to use this over Apple's Photo Booth, which has more options, but it would be nice if you were recording a video and wanted to send the video straight to Youtube. A desktop recorder is also there, useful if you're going to record a troubleshooting guide or show someone how to do something, which also can make use of the Youtube uploader.
It's also capable of downloading videos from Youtube. I downloaded the trailer for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special “The Light At The End”. Performance was no different from the plethora of Firefox and Chrome plugins that do the same thing, being limited by your network speed and not anything on the computer.
Overall, I can say the Mac version is a nice looking application with performance comparable to competitors. It does the job well, it has a few nifty features, and seems to be overall well-made. When we get to the Windows version, on the other hand...
Bluntly, this version is a mess. Gone is the nice, straightforward interface, and in it's place, we have an ugly interface that looks like something bundled with a TV recorder card from the early 2000's. Many features are just missing that are present in the Mac version, like webcam functionality and desktop recording. Subtitle embedding and the ability to embed multiple audio tracks are also just gone. What's worse: the Windows version is the same price as the Mac version and buying one does not grant you a license for the other. You're paying the same price for less functionality.
The real ugly point here, however, is performance. I was interested to see how this would go, given that video transcoding is generally very integer-heavy and very parallel. I have an AMD FX-8350 in my main desktop, and it has eight discrete integer units, making AMD's Piledriver chips excellent hardware to test out heavily threaded integer code. I ran the same test I did on my Macbook Air.
Unlike my Macbook Air, MacX was unable to saturate the eight cores on my FX-8350, though this is due to the massive delta in performance between the two chips. Generally, the test was utilizing my CPU at between 80-90% total utilization. It generates a reasonable 165FPS on my FX-8350, which I turned down to stock speeds for this test. The FX-8350's stock speed is 4.0GHz, but it can turbo all the cores to 4.2GHz as thermal limits allow, and that is reflected in Task Manager. At first, I thought that this performance was reasonable. Then I fired up Handbrake and ran the same test under the same parameters and with the same codecs, bitrate targets, etc:
Handbrake was hitting an average FPS of 185 when the job had finished. Not only is that a nontrivial increase in performance, look at the CPU utilization. It normally hovers around 60-65%, with small peaks into the 70's. MacX spent most of it's time in the 80-90% utilization range. Bottom lined: Not only does Handbrake have greater performance, it's utilizing your CPU less, and the utilization delta is in the double digits. Something is seriously wrong with the performance of the Windows version. I don't know if it's because of the different API's used, an optimization for Intel's Symmetrical Mulithreading rather than AMD's Clustered Multithreading, or some other issue, but the Windows version can only be described as a bloated underperformer with less features.
On one hand, we have a Mac version that looks good, functions reasonably well, and has a nice GUI. On the other hand, we have a Windows version that I question why they'd even bother to release with the sorry state that it's in. Upon testing the Windows version after using the Mac version, I find myself channeling the Second, Eighth, and Eleventh Doctors: “Oh, you've redecorated.....I don't like it.” I just don't understand why they'd release something with such an awful interface on Windows when they have a perfectly functional one on Mac OS. The Windows version is such an awful piece of software that it sullies my impression of this developer. I remember using shareware applications in 2006, fresh off of my Core 2 Duo build, that had more intuitive interfaces than the Windows version of MacX Video Converter Pro.
Overall, while I can say the Mac version of MacX Video Converter Pro is nice, I see zero compelling reason to use either version over Handbrake. Handbrake is free software, in both the libre and gratis sense, and it does everything this application does and more with a cleaner interface. In the case of the Windows version of MacX Video Converter Pro, it also has between a 15-30% lesser CPU utilization with the same performance. I cannot in good faith recommend anyone pay the developer the normal $49.95 , or even the autumn sale price of $34.95 with the problems the Windows version suffers from and the fact that a free piece of software functions better. MacX Video Converter Pro is nice software as long as you're on a Mac. But the value just isn't there.
MacX Video Converter Pro may be purchased here.
Computers used in this review:
John's Desktop:CPU: AMD FX-8350 4.0GHz with 4.2GHz Turbo
Motherboard: Asus Crosshair V
GPU: AMD Radeon 7970 GHz Edition
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance @ 1600MHz
OS: Windows 8 x86_64
John's 2013 Macbook Air:CPU: Intel Core i5-4520u
GPU: Intel HD5000
OS: Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion