Buy an iPad, iPod or other mobile device and you might imagine that you’ll immediately be able to enjoy your favourite audio and video files, wherever you might be. Unfortunately this isn’t always quite as straightforward as the manufacturers would like to pretend. To get the best results your files needs to be in the right format, using the correct codec and at an appropriate resolution – get this wrong and they probably won’t play at all.
Install CyberLink MediaEspresso 6, though, and this doesn’t have to be a major problem. It understands the requirements of many different devices: the iPad, iPod, games consoles, mobile phones, media players and more. And if you drag and drop your video, music or image files onto the program, and choose an output destination, then MediaEspresso will automatically convert them into a compatible format.
And it doesn’t stop there. Once the conversion process is over, your files can be synced with the selected device, transferred to your iTunes library, even uploaded to Facebook or YouTube. And most of this happens automatically, in the background, while you get on with more important things.
It’s an impressive feature set. But then it really needs to be. The Windows world is packed with quality free transcoding tools: if you’re going to produce a commercial version then it’ll have to offer something very special to compete. Is MediaEspresso good enough to justify its price? We took a closer look.
Every decent transcoder needs solid file format support, and MediaEspresso is particularly strong with video formats, being able to import MKV (default subtitle), RM/RMVB, FLV, AVI, MPEG, MPEG-2, MOV (H.264), WMV, MP4, DVR-MS, .TS, MPG, ASF, M2T, M2TS, MTS, DV-AVI, TiVo, VOB, VRO, MOD, DAT, TOD and WTV (single channel) files.
Video output formats are restricted to just the essentials, though. The program can export MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MPEG-4 AVC, WMV and DivX files, and that’s it. For most people this will be perfectly adequate, but if you have some old device or unusual requirements then MediaEspresso may not be able to cope.
That “basics only” approach continues with the program’s audio file support. You can convert files between WMA, MP3 and M4A formats, but that’s all: OGG or FLAC import is a distant dream.
And it’s a similar story with images, where MediaEspresso is able to import BMP, PNG and JPG files, exporting these to PNG or JPG as you require. This isn’t perhaps such an issue, though, because with images you may simply want to resize your photos, reducing the latest family album to a more manageable resolution so it takes up only minimal storage space on your device.
There are some limitations here, then. But that shouldn’t be a surprise: audio and image conversion is new to this version of MediaEspresso, so CyberLink are still finding their feet. We think they’ve done a good job, and supported enough formats to satisfy most requirements, but it’s still important to download the trial and see how the program performs with your own files.
Launch MediaEspresso and you’re presented with a clean, clear, simple interface. There’s none of the clutter or complicated options you often see in the freeware transcoders, just an “Import Media” button, and a prompt asking you to “Drag your media files here”.
Once you then drag and drop your videos, audio files or images on to the program, further output options become highlighted.
If you’d like your converted files to run on a particular device, for instance, then you’d click the Mobile Phone, Media Player or Game Console button, and choose your particular device type from the menu that appears. These cover the major manufacturers and devices, and for instance there are profiles for the iPad, various iPods, the Xbox, Sony PSP and PS3. But as with the list of file formats, it’s essentials-only and there are many absences: nothing for Nintendo, for example, or older media players like Archos or iRiver. (View the full device list on the CyberLink site.)
As long as you know the audio or video requirements for your device, though, there’s nothing to stop you adding a custom profile of your own. You’ll need to specify plenty of details, like the file format, codec, resolution, aspect ratio, frame rate, sampling rate and so on. But it’s only necessary to do this once, then the profile can be recalled whenever you need it in a couple of clicks.
And, unusually, MediaEspresso also provides built-in profiles for YouTube and Facebook. Just click the Upload button once the conversion is complete, log in to your account (the program can remember your details so you only need provide them once) and it’ll transfer the files for you.
This is all very straightforward, then. The program’s interface is well designed, default settings are sensibly chosen, yet experienced users can take more control over the conversions by building custom profiles, as necessary.
CyberLink claim MediaEspresso is “the fastest universal media converter”, and the specs certainly look good: it’s optimised for multiple cores and supports NVIDIA CUDA and ATI Stream hardware acceleration. How well does it really perform, though? A benchmark or two should reveal the answer.
We selected SUPER 2010 as a typical free transcoding competitor. It’s lightweight, makes use of common libraries like FFmpeg, and has delivered speedy results for us in the past, so a comparison with MediaEspresso will be revealing.
And then we tried converting test files in each program to an iPad format (MP4 video, H.264, 640×480 resolution, AAC audio), and timing how long they took.
We began with a 30 minute, 200MB MOV file. SUPER converted this to MP3 in 13:49; MediaEspresso tore through it in only 1:58, about seven times faster. Much of this was due to CUDA hardware acceleration (our test PC had a GeForce GTX 285), but even with this turned off MediaEspresso was still quick, converting the file in 5:04.
QuickTime videos are tricky to decode, though. Would a simpler 1.4GB, 20 minute 720×576 MPEG-2 clip produce different results? Well – no, not really. SUPER completed the conversion in 8:00 exactly, but MediaEspresso again had a huge performance lead, producing its own file in 1:45 with CUDA turned on, 4:25 when using the CPU alone.
And finally we tried a basic three minute XviD AVI file. SUPER completed this in a creditable 49 seconds, but MediaEspresso won out once again, requiring only 14 seconds to finish the job, or 34 seconds without CUDA acceleration.
It was the same story, whichever movies we tried: there’s no doubt that MediaEspresso is blisteringly fast. If your graphics card supports NVIDIA CUDA or ATI Stream acceleration then you’ll see excellent conversion times, but even without that support the program performs very well with all file types.
Thoughts and issues
MediaEspresso provides a very easy way to convert video, audio and image files, then – but what we really like about the program are the thoughtful touches that you find scattered throughout the interface.
Let’s say you’ve dragged and dropped a few videos onto MediaEspresso, for instance, but you’re not sure if you’ve got the right clips. No problem: just double-click and you can play any video full-screen
Perhaps you’re wondering about the resolution of the original file, as it might affect the output profile you choose? Just as in Windows, right-click the video, select Properties, and you’ll see its resolution, aspect ratio, file format, codec and more.
And if you only use one the output profiles, and maybe a custom profile or two that you’ve selected, then there’s no need to go browsing through the menus each time. A simple Favourites menu lets you access your most commonly used profiles in a couple of clicks.
While the program has some issues, they’re relatively minor. You don’t get the control over a custom profile that you do in competing products, for instance: you must choose resolution, bitrate and other values from a list, rather than entering them directly, and there aren’t always as many choices as you’d expect. So while you might want to set a frame rate of under 15fps, use a non-standard resolution like 640×288, or opt for an audio sampling rate of under 44.1KHz, that’s just tough – you can’t, those options aren’t available.
These problems won’t trouble most users, though. MediaEspresso is targeted more at people who just want a simple, fast and reliable way to get media onto their portable devices, and in those terms it’s a major success.