Nvidia has made lots of noise about its CUDA general-purpose programming interface in recent months. While the company still boasts about CUDA's benefits for scientific calculations and the like, consumer applications have been hard to come by. A firm called Elemental Technologies is attempting to change that with Badaboom Media Converter, an easy-to-use app that harnesses the GPU to convert videos for use on portable devices.
We had our first brush with Badaboom this summer, but there wasn't much to write about: the software didn't support most video formats and tended to crash often. Elemental has now released version 1.0 of Badaboom to the public, so we got on the phone with Elemental CEO Sam Blackman to learn about what's changed.
For one, Blackman said Elemental has altered its focus somewhat with this release. While the firm initially wanted to offer both a consumer version and a "Pro" release with more features, it ran out of time and decided to scrap the latter. Right now, that means there's going to be just one full version of Badaboom out for the foreseeable future. This release costs $29.99, and it can process input files in MPEG2, AVCHD, H.264, HDV, and RAW video formats at resolutions of up to 1920x1080. The app can then output H.264 .mp4 files with resolutions of 1280x720 or less. On the audio front, Badaboom can take MP2, PCM, and Dolby Digital audio and transcode it to AAC.
According to Blackman, Elemental wants to market the app to somewhat knowledgeable users who need to convert video from digital camcorders, TV recordings, or DVDs to play on mobile devices and consoles. Badaboom already has output profiles for the iPhone, iPod, Sony PSP, Apple TV, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, and Blackman suggested that tech-savvy community members could add their own profiles. In fact, you can already download custom presets for the Microsoft Zune and YouTube video.
Of course, what makes Badaboom special is how quickly it can transcode video with the GPU. The software had no trouble converting a 720p video clip at over 80 frames per second on our GeForce 8800 GT-powered system, and Elemental's own benchmarks show Badaboom outperforming software encoders handily. The firm claims Badaboom delivers better output quality than some of the speedier software transcoders, too.
Badaboom does have limitations, though. It can't natively transcode copy-protected DVDs (essentially all legit DVD movies and shows), we couldn't get it to transcode a QuickTime movie trailer from Apple's website (the software complained about not supporting the AAC audio in the file), and it lacks support for DivX and XviD video. We asked Blackman about these issues, and he told us Elemental will release a new version of Badaboom in late November or early December with support for DivX, the latest Windows Media Video codec with VC-1, and AAC audio. "Another major consumer codec" will make its way into the software next year, as well.
On the topic of DVDs, Blackman made it clear that Elemental doesn't advocate or support ripping copy-protected discs. However, were you to use a third-party tool to decrypt the DVD, Badaboom should have no trouble transcoding it. That means you could just use one of the few apps out there to disable a DVD's copy protection then get Badaboom to convert it—assuming that's is legal in your country of residence, of course. You wouldn't want the MPAA busting your door down.
Owners of graphics cards with red circuit boards will also find another downside: Badaboom requires a GeForce 8 or faster Nvidia graphics card right now. Blackman said Elemental was evaluating alternatives to CUDA like AMD's Brook+, but while broader support could come eventually, the firm is sticking with CUDA for the time being.
You can download a trial version of Badaboom Media Converter 1.0 here from the Badaboom website. The page includes links to Elemental's online store where you can trade $29.99 for the full release, as well. Blackman told us customers can expect to get updates with support for new formats and devices for free, but Elemental may charge the early adopters (albeit at a discount) for "major updates" with features like multi-GPU support.