Roxio Popcorn 2
Roxio, maker of Toast and Jam--the two standards in CD-burning and mix-making software for the Mac--released Popcorn, its DVD-burning program, in December 2004. With the popularity of personal video players such as the latest iPod and the PSP, Roxio risked dating itself by not quickly revising Popcorn to include compatibility with these devices. Enter Popcorn 2 ($49.99), which not only improves upon the previous version's DVD-burning features but adds the ability to convert movies for iPods, PSPs, 3GP mobile phones, and DivX handhelds. Those familiar with Toast and Jam (particularly the former) will find Popcorn a breeze to use--but you should ask yourself if you need it and whether you have the operating system to handle it, as Roxio Popcorn 2 requires Mac OS 10.4. Installing the software for Roxio Popcorn 2 on your Mac couldn't be easier; after you insert the disc, a window pops up instructing you to drag the Popcorn icon into Applications, which is conveniently located within the same window. After a few Continue and I Agree notices, you're ready to roll.
The interface will be a piece of cake for anyone familiar with Toast; Popcorn is basically identical. The main screen offers two simple "copy to" options: a DVD-R icon or a portable player icon. In the center of the screen, a source and an Options tab are listed; this is where users can customize their DVDs. To the left, a tab displays the options the user has for sources (for example, video files and DVDs) based on what task they have chosen: to burn a DVD-R or to copy to a portable player. For those unfamiliar with Toast, Popcorn is so visually intuitive that we can't imagine a very challenging learning curve for anyone who knows how to operate such complex software as, say, iTunes.Possibly the most useful of Roxio Popcorn 2's features is the ability to compress a 9GB dual-layer DVD to a 4.7GB DVD-R, as well as the ability to compress individual files into formats such as MPEG-4, H.264, QuickTime, and DivX. The ability to pick and choose what pieces of a DVD you would like to burn is also quite useful since burning to a 4.7GB DVD is often an exercise in space management. We would've liked to see a feature allowing users to burn DVDs from their video files, but currently, video files can only be converted to other file types--still a useful feature if you want to play a video file on your iPod or PSP. Ultimately, this option feels limited, especially considering that the latest version of Toast has this feature.
Here is where the question arises as to whether you need Popcorn 2. If you're looking to burn your copy of Lost in Translation for your buddy, make a backup for your library, or even get it off the DVD and onto your iPod, you're living in a dream world where encryption is just a word. In reality, no DVD that you buy at Tower or rent from Netflix will be able to be copied in any way on Popcorn. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, however, that you bought an advance copy of a current-run film on DVD from a guy on 46th Street and wanted to burn copies of it--now you're probably in business! But since we know you don't want to break the law by creating unencrypted versions of encrypted DVDs, let's address what you can do with this software. Popcorn 2 is ideal for converting your own custom-made digital movies (or those you find online) into files that can be played on your fifth-generation iPod or PSP, and it's great for making custom versions of nonencrypted DVDs.We tested Roxio Popcorn 2's performance on a 2.1GHz iMac G5 with 1GB of SDRAM running the latest version of Mac OS X. We started out backing up a DVD that included an hour-and-a-half unencrypted movie, Spanish and English language versions, and previews. Using the Options pull-down menu, we managed to burn a DVD with just the main feature film in English (to save disc space). Thanks to our top-notch test bed, the process was completed in just a half hour--quite a bit faster than real time, which is good for any video conversion or backup software. Obviously, the slower your system is, the slower the process will be. Next, we tried exporting the same file to iTunes, which took about the same amount of time and worked perfectly. Saving the video files as PSP files proved simple, as well.
Just like Toast, Popcorn recognized the two different DVD sources/burners available to it immediately: both the internal burner on the Mac and a Hewlett-Packard model we had hooked up to it. Popcorn also located the fifth-generation iPod within seconds of it being connected.Roxio Popcorn 2 comes with a 22-page user manual that should solve most of your problems. If you need assistance, there's Web-based help for free at Roxio's site, under the Support tab. There you can Ask Roxann--the company's equivalent of an FAQ section. If your query is more complex, you can open up a support incident (Web ticket) and have a live chat, free of charge, with someone in the support department. If you call Roxio, there will likely be a charge for your help session, so we advise using the Web.