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ArcSoft MediaConverter 7.5
MediaConverter is a little cheaper than MediaEspresso right now—ArcSoft has it on sale for $29.99—but it serves essentially the same purpose: hassle-free, consumer-friendly video conversion. Both programs let you drag and drop source files into the main window, and both programs have an array of pre-cooked presets for everything from iPads to YouTube. ArcSoft includes some basic video editing features, as well, which gives it a slight leg up over CyberLink's solution.

The hardware acceleration methods supported by MediaConverter include Intel's QuickSync and proprietary shader-based solutions from AMD and Nvidia (APP and CUDA, respectively). The build we used, version, can also tap into AMD's VCE encoder block. NVENC support isn't on the menu, though, so the program used our GeForce GT 640's shaders to accelerate encoding.

Our testing was conducted in much the same way as with MediaEspresso. We tried to stick as close as possible to our chosen compression targets. Hardware acceleration was enabled through the drop-down menu at the bottom right of the main program window.

We ran into an odd problem when testing VCE transcoding with the Radeon HD 7750. Our first run stalled with the progress bar at 0%, and when we tried a second run, the system crashed. Once we rebooted, however, everything was peachy. We were able to reproduce this strange behavior after re-installing our Windows image, so perhaps it's simply a bug in the MediaConverter build we used.

HD 7750
GT 640
Measured time 35 25 41 44
Reported time 34 24 39 43
Idle wattage 37 W 37 W 43 W 46 W
Peak wattage 83 W 81 W 89 W 91 W
File size 79.6MB 72.3MB 75.9MB 77.3MB
Actual bitrate 4177 3776 3977 4051

Again, QuickSync comes out on top, managing the lowest encoding time and the lowest power consumption. And again, it gives us an output file with a lower bitrate than we asked for. We're seeing a greater spread between reported bitrates across the board, though. The software and CUDA-powered encoders are overachieving somewhat, and the hardware encoding blocks from AMD and Intel both come in under 4000Kbps.

Note that the VCE and CUDA implementations are both slower than plain software encoding. Of course, it's worth stressing that the Core i7-3770K is a relatively high-end processor (it'll set you back $309.99 at Newegg right now). The hardware encoders might have compared more favorably to a slower chip. Also, the CUDA solution would likely have benefited from a faster GeForce with more shaders. In other words, a different mix of hardware might have yielded substantially different results, with the CUDA encoder potentially faring better and the software implementation falling behind.

What about image quality? Do the black-box encoders also struggle here?

Well, QuickSync doesn't give us the sharpest-looking image, but it seems MediaConverter does a much better job than MediaEspresso of reining in our various hardware solutions. The differences in image quality are more subtle, and there are no egregious failures like the jaggies around object edges we noticed with QuickSync in MediaEspresso. Those may have been an artifact of low-quality interpolation in CyberLink's software.

We do see the same loss in color saturation across the board, though. Strange.

In our action scene, the software encoder yields the best results, followed from a distance by the CUDA encoder. Surprisingly, despite maintaining a higher bitrate than QuickSync, the AMD VCE encoder produces the worst results. There's a lot of artifacting, and a number of details are lost amid blurry smudges (like the light trails just under Spiderman's neck and the pattern on his chest). The differences are even subtler in our still scene. If you look closely at the side of the child's face and the wall behind the characters, you can see QuickSync produces more artifacts than the other solutions. CUDA seems to do the best job of preserving the original video's film grain. VCE and the software encoder both fall somewhere in between.

Here, looking at the videos in motion didn't reveal any quality differences that the screenshots didn't already highlight.