For converting video to a format compatible with Apple’s devices, we’re big fans of HandBrake. But even though HandBrake’s interface has improved over the years, it can still be confusing to use; some people just want a drag-and-drop solution for getting video onto their iPhone or iPod. Which is why we were disappointed to see the demise of VisualHub, an easy-to-use video-conversion tool.
Thankfully, the past year or so has seen a number of new contenders in the field, and I’m going to be taking a look at several. First up: Permute, perhaps the simplest—and easiest to use—of the lot.
You just drag your media file, or a TS_VIDEO folder (a ripped DVD), into the Permute window, and then choose your target device or format. Over 20 options are provided, including devices such as iPod nano, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Xbox, as well as general formats such as MP4, FLV, Ogg, WMV, and DVD; there’s even a remux preset. (You can also use Permute to convert audio files to other audio formats.) Click Start and the conversion process starts; the item’s progress bar shows the conversion status.
If you drag additional items into the Permute window, they’re added to the queue to be processed, in sequence and using the same conversion settings, after the first item finishes. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to choose different conversion settings for queued items; if you want to use different settings, you must wait until currently queued items finish and then start a new conversion.) Permute supports a wide range of video and audio files; it even works with .flv (Flash) videos from the Web.
Conversion isn’t as fast as with HandBrake, but the queue feature means you can drag a bunch of files into Permute and let the program work in the background. You’ll see the best performance on 64-bit-capable Macs running Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6). If you use Permute under Leopard (OS X 10.5), the program won’t be able to use its 64-bit tools; the first time you launch Permute under Leopard, the program will automatically download 32-bit versions.
As simple as it is to use, Permute does give you some useful settings. You can choose what happens when your queued conversions finish, including having Permute automatically add converted items to iTunes—to your main library or to a playlist of your choosing. There’s also a setting that determines what happens when you drop a TS_VIDEO folder or .dvdmedia file—in other words, a ripped DVD—onto Permute: you can choose to have Permute automatically convert the folder to an ISO image (useful for Windows-based media centers) or ask you which specific track you want to convert.
An advanced screen in the program’s Preferences window lets you tweak any device or format preset, although the developer recommends against altering the built-in presets. A better approach is to click the Add (+) button, which lets you create a new preset based on any existing one and then tweak away. For audio presets, you can choose the bit rate and whether to mix stereo audio down to mono. For video presets, you get, depending on the target device, settings for video bit rate, audio bit rate, stereo or mono audio, H.264 encoding, video dimensions, and video scaling (to stretch smaller videos to fill the target device’s screen).
I did experience a couple glitches with Permute. When converting a VIDEO_TS folder, Permute automatically chooses the audio track, and it occasionally chose the wrong one. And a few videos were mistakenly identified as audio tracks, which meant the video was dropped during conversion. The developer told me both issues should be fixed in an update.
Permute doesn’t rip commercial DVDs; if you need to rip your own DVDs for personal use, you’ll need to use HandBrake or a dedicated ripping program such as RipIt. But for simple video conversions, Permute works well.
[This review was written by Dan Frakes.]
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