Popcorn 2.0

With last winter’s release of Toast 7 Titanium (   ), the writing seemed to be on the wall for Roxio’s DVD duplication software, Popcorn. All of Popcorn’s functionality was rolled into Roxio’s more sophisticated and more expensive package.

Now, with the advent of video iPods and the increasing popularity of Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) and video-capable mobile phones, Roxio has rethought how Popcorn should work. The result, Popcorn 2, is a versatile and easy-to-use utility that makes it simple not only to copy DVDs, but also to convert video and display it on a variety of devices. Users of Toast 7 Titanium already have this functionality, but if you’re not a Toast user, Popcorn 2 may do the job for you.

Popcorn 2 lets you back up an entire DVD, disc image, or valid VIDEO_TS folder (a ripped, protected disc) to your hard disk. If you’re working with a single-layer DVD burner and you have a double-layer disc you’re trying to copy, Popcorn can compress that content down using a Fit to DVD feature that squashes the video but leaves the audio untouched.

What’s more, you can create custom Director’s Cut versions. Let’s say you want the main feature, but you don’t care about the making of the feature, the movie trailers, and the Finnish vocal track—you can excise any of that and keep what you want. Popcorn 2 helpfully allows you to preview the video you’ll be burning to disc, and it even includes a screenshot feature. It’s a neat trick that’s missing from Apple’s own DVD Player software (which is included with the Mac OS).

Popcorn 2 also sports the ability to read from a variety of file formats, like QuickTime, DivX, AVI, VOB, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, and others. And, it can write out DivX, MPEG, and H.264-encoded files to disc.

A variety of presets allow you to simply tell Popcorn 2 what kind of device you’ll be watching your video on, including video iPod, PSP, 3GPP-compatible mobile phones, and DivX-compatible handheld video players. This saves you the trouble of having to muddle through daunting options involving compression schemes and frame rates. You can create custom settings, however, to take advantage of some of that functionality.

With Popcorn 2, you can even add videos directly into iTunes, which means they’ll sync to your iPod the next time it’s connected. If you’re using a Mac with Front Row installed, Popcorn 2 will, by default, output your converted video to the Movies folder, making it dead simple to find them from Front Row’s interface. You can even specify your TV’s viewing quality if you have your Mac attached to a home entertainment system.

Popcorn’s video conversion works reliably, although it doesn’t produce videos that are as compact or as well-encoded (good color saturation, sharp detail, few artifacts) as other video editing software— HandBrake and Podner, for example. But, for the average user who doesn’t want to bother with confusing and dense screens full of technical settings, Popcorn 2 is good enough.

Roxio has been criticized in the past for offering a rebate program in place of a true upgrade price for its products, but Roxio finally got it right with Popcorn 2. It costs $30 to upgrade directly from Roxio, $20 less than the cover price.

Popcorn 2 is also the first Roxio product to ship as a Universal Binary to run natively on Intel-based Macs. It’ll work on any G4, G5, or Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.4 or later. The software can use up to 15GB of disk space temporarily while it’s making copies, so make sure you have plenty of free space on your hard drive.

Macworld’s buying advice

Popcorn 2 has found new footing as a video transcoding program that can convert DVD content to different formats—including many handheld device formats. You can produce higher-quality video with other video editing software, but for ease of use, Popcorn 2 is hard to beat.

[Macworld Senior Editor Peter Cohen writes the Game Room column. ]

Popcorn 2’s new Player tab lets you export video ready for playback on different devices, including video iPod, PSP, and 3GPP phones.

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