SlySoft AnyDVD & CloneDVD Mobile

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INTRODUCTION

    Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling quite a bit. Of course, I have to travel with all my gear – my laptop, my cell phone, and my iPod. Beginning late last year, I replaced the iPod with a video iPod, which added a whole new layer of entertainment to the arsenal. I have a huge CD library that I’ve ripped and put on my iPod, leaving the CDs in storage in my basement. Like many of us, I also own a lot of movies and music videos on DVD. I’ve been recently ripping my music videos for inclusion on my iPod. Now I’m starting to do it some of my favorite movies.


    Ripping (copying) video is one of the most challenging and complicated things you can do on a computer. Why? Because you have to take into consideration variations in the way the DVD was originally encoded, different types of audio encoding (LPCM, AC3, etc.), subtitling, various protection schemes, and converting to a variety of desired formats and sizes (MP4, AVI, WMV, iPod, PSP, etc), to name a few of the difficulties. The SlySoft Suite of applications, Including AnyDVD, CloneDVD, CloneDVD Mobile, and CloneCD attempt to make the process of making backups and converting the formats of your CDs and DVDs easier than ever. This review will focus on CloneDVD Mobile, which claims to help you take your movies with you on your mobile device. Read on to see how it performed!

WHAT’S HOT

    AnyDVD, which removes copy protection (and any DVD features you don’t want), operates in the background with little-to-no human intervention necessary and the remaining apps, CloneCD, CloneDVD, and CloneDVD Mobile operate in an incredibly easy, step-by-step manner. The ripping is among the fastest I’ve seen and is based on the open source ffmpeg project meaning changes in formats, transcoding techniques, or other changes in technology are likely to be reflected in product updates (which appear to occur frequently).

SETUP

    Installation of these applications is a two step process. First, you install the application using a traditional setup program (following the prompts, of course!). The second step, is the installation of the license key, which you receive from SlySoft after you purchase each (or all) of the applications. Simply double-click on the license key file (which doesn’t look like any kind of setup file) to install the license.

PROGRAM FEATURES

    As mentioned, there are four applications in the SlySoft Suite: AnyDVD, which works in the background to remove copy protection from DVDs when they are inserted; CloneDVD, which allows you to copy DVDs; CloneDVD Mobile, which allows you to rip your DVD (or part of a DVD) to a digital file (for use on your computer, iPod, or even your PSP); and finally, CloneCD, which allows you to make backups of data and music CDs (and DVDs).

   

AnyDVD

is the core program for removing copy protection from DVDs and CDs. It also has the neat addition of removing extras that you might not want, like the subtitles and the FBI notice. This can save space not to mention the start-up speed of your copy. According to the literature, it will even allow you to adjust your DVD drive speed (to help reduce noise) or the frequency of your NTSC or PAL monitor. This is probably a good time to mention that you should in no way steal copyrighted material. This type of application should only be used to make archival copies of material you legally own

   

CloneDVD

is the application you use to perform a copy of a DVD. It works for both movie and data backups. You can adjust the final target size to redue the required disk space You can put the copy onto another recordable DVD or onto your hard disk directly.

   

CloneCD

is similar to CloneDVD, except the focus is audio and data CDs, including copy-protected one. It too, can place the file produced onto your hard disk, other CD (recordable) or DVD recordable.

    Lastly,

CloneDVD Mobile

is similar to CloneDVD except it’s function is to shrink the video to a file (or files) that can be used on a variety of mobile devices including video iPods and Windows Mobile devices. Rather than copying the DVD it transcodes the DVD from one format to another. Since this site is mostly about mobility, we’ll focus our efforts on this part of the suite.

STEP BY STEP

    Let’s take a look at how you actually copy (transcode) a DVD (or part of one) for use on your mobile device. I wanted to use my copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits on my iPod. I needed to rip the videos, one by one, to separate files for copying onto the iPod. Let’s take a look at the process:

(all images link to higher resolution)

    On the first screen, you select the type of device, the profile, you want to use for ripping the video. The profile choice will limit what video resolutions are available, and what output audio settings are used. When you’ve chosen the profile you want to use, press the NEXT button on the bottom right of the page.

    On the next screen you are telling the program where it should find your video files. In my case the DVD drive is the D: drive and for most DVDs the files are in a folder called "VIDEO_TS". You select this (or browse to it) using the file drop down at the "Title Configuration" page.

    Next you choose which chapter(s) you want to copy. Since I was ripping a music video, I only wanted chapter 1. To do this, you first press the little scissors icon under the video display on the left-side of the screen. Next you choose the starting point by dragging the left hand triangle to the point you want the video to start. Then you drag the right hand triangle to the place you want to stop. In my case The left hand started at the beginning of the DVD, and the right was to the first mark to the right – this represents the end of the first chapter/beginning of the second chapter. When you’re ready, press the NEXT button on the bottom right of the page.

    Next you arrive at the "Audio and Subtitle Settings" page. On this page, you need to review the audio source settings. This is where the program is going to get the audio it will use (the audio stream). This is important because most DVDs have more than one audio track – a main one, maybe a director’s commentary, maybe a different language, maybe an high quality Dolby surround sound track. Each DVD will be different and you’ll need to experiment depending on what you need, but in most cases, the first selection is the best one to use. Also on this screen you can specify to enable or disable the display of subtitles. When you’re satisfied with these settings, press the NEXT button to move on to the next page.

    The next page is the "Output Method" page. On this page you choose things like the output resolution (size) and the file quality, which directly affects the output file size. You can also choose whether or not to de-interlace the video. Lastly you choose the folder and filename for the output file and what label to use. When you’ve made all your selections and set up your file names press the GO button and the ripping will begin!

    Lastly you see the video being ripped to a file. This is a very fast process (about a minute and a half for a 6 minute video and about 30 minutes or so for a 90 minute movie). When the process is done, the program will notify you and you can check out the results by copying the file to your player and playing it!

    Here’s an axample of the same file ripped to the MP4 and the AVI format. Both are set to the maximum quality setting. You’ll notice slight differences, but essentially, both come out looking just fine! I apologize for the file size, but any editing of the files introduced another saving/translation process (in my editing applications) and I wanted to present the files just as CLoneDVD Mobile produced them!

    The program did pretty well, in general, but there were a few glitches. Read on to find out about them and more.


HELP SUPPORT

    Since the program is purchased as a series of downloadable files, there really isn’t any printed documentation, and the programs are simple enough that you don’t need very much to get you started. On the SlySoft web site (www.slysoft.com) there are links to user forums that answer nearly any question you could think of. The only problem with the forums is that I could find no good way to search them – it’s necessary to plod through topics by browsing page after page. (If anyone finds a search option that I missed, please share it with me!).

    It’s important to note that the CloneDVD Mobile product (not the other Slysoft apps) relies on an open source suite called ffmpeg. ffmpeg is available on a number of platforms and is a combination of apps and codecs designed to aid in the transcoding process. ffmpeg and mencoder (which also uses the ffmpeg codecs) are the engine behind many of the transcoding products out there. I’ve tested serveral applications on both PC and Macintosh that rely on these codecs and they all have similar (if not identical) issues in the transcoded files. This is because there appear to be some flaws in these codecs (which I talk about later in this review). Having said that, ffmpeg, like many open source projects, is frequently updated (as is the CloneDVD application). Odds are very good that many of the problems I encountered will be resolved quickly. What’s important to note, is that SlySoft seems to be keeping up with releases almost as quickly as they are available, which shows commitment to the product.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    Each of the applications in the suite has slightly different system requirements. The requirements for each are as follows:

AnyDVD Requirements:

  • IBM-compatible PC with a minimum 500 MHz Pentium-class microprocessor and 64 MB RAM
  • Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/2000/XP
  • 2 MB hard-disk space

CloneDVD Requirements:

  • An IBM-compatible personal computer with a minimum 500 MHz Pentium-class microprocessor (1GHz recommended) and 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
  • Windows 98/98SE/ME/NT 4.0 (SP4)/2000/XP
  • If you use Windows NT, Windows 2000 or Windows XP you must be an administrator to install CloneDVD 2
  • DVD reader and preferably a DVD writer
  • About 5 GB of temporary available hard-drive space is necessary to clone DVDs

CloneDVD Mobile Requirements:

  • An IBM-compatible personal computer with a minimum 1GHz Pentium-class microprocessor and 256 MB RAM
  • Windows 2000/XP

CloneCD Requirements:

  • IBM-compatible personal computer with a minimum 500 MHz Pentium-class microprocessor and 64 MB RAM
  • Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/2000/XP
  • 1 MB hard-disk space

BUGS AND WISHES

   
In general, these applications ran well. There were a few bugs, however. First – there were some DVDs that simply could not be ripped. This is likely due to limitations in the ffmpeg engine, since these same DVDs can’t be properly ripped on a Macintosh using a different ffmpeg-based application either. There will be, however, some DVDs that the AnyDVD/CloneDVD (Mobile) combination can’t rip. There are a number of discussions in the online forums about titles that won’t copy for one reason or another.

    I have to say that I generally liked the filmstrip approach to ripping – it kept the process very step-wise and simple, limiting the choices you had to make at any particular moment – but there were times, as an intermediate-to-advanced use, that I would have liked to have had a few moe options available to me. Also, some functions, that should have been obvious and simple were a little more complicated than they needed to be. For example, on the "Title Configuration" page you can select which chapters to rip and not rip. To do this, you first have to click the little scissors icon to make the chapter stops pop up. Why not have them pop up all the time? Why hide them at first? Once they are visible, you can left-click the mouse to set the beginning of the chapter(s) to rip (partial chapters are not possible), but, oddly enough, right-clicking doesn’t set the end of the section to rip. Instead you MUST drag the right hand marker to where you want. It would have been much more logical had both the right and left-handed clicks worked the same way (anout you COULD drag the left-hand marker to where you wanted). Having said that, the process was generally VERY simple and this example isn’t the norm in this program, which is probably why it stood out so much. Most of the application is very clear and logical.

    As I mentioned before, I wanted more choices at some points. a good example was when I reached the settings for audio output. The program simplifies all this so you don’t have to worry about your audio bit rate, etc., but I’d like to have had an easy way to at least see the current options/setting and change them if I felt like it. As it is, it’s wonderful for the beginning user, but a little less helpful to an intermediate or advanced user who wants to tweak the settings.

    Another problem was an audio/video syncing problem that occurred. About half the time, when ripping to MP4, the audio was about a second to a second and a half off sync from the video. I’ve seen this problem on and off in other applications (also ffmpeg-based) and the problem has gotten a little better or worse with each revision of ffmpeg (and hence the overlying application, like CloneDVD Mobile). As said, this primarily affects files ripped as MP4 (for iPod, etc.) – some other formats have other quirks. Until an ffmpeg update is released that corrects this, you may find ripping video for your iPod (or PSP) to produce less satisfactory results. Again, this is a really more of a problem with the ffmpeg transcoder used rather than with CloneDVD Mobile and I’d expect an update to come along soon.

    I mentioned that I ran into other quirks when I tried ripping files into other formats. When ripping to AVI, for example, using the profile for Windows Mobile Smartphone, the video output methods assumed a standard 4:3 perspective – no wide-screen choices. So instead of using the preferred 320 by 180, I could only choose 320 by 240 or 220 by 176. This means the video perspective was distorted on playback on my WM device. Additionally, the audio was distorted. Probably because the app was trying to set the audio compression too high. Again, you don’t generally select your audio output quality – it is set for you based on the profile you choose. I generally had better results when I used the Creative Zen profile or the Archos AV/Gmini profiles (on Windows Mobile devices) – these are also AVI format.

    Lastly, the AVI files generated don’t always seem to want to play in Windows Media Player. I couldn’t find a profile that worked consistently with WMP 10 (maybe some readers out there can help me). All of the files, however, played correctly using The Core Pocket Media Player (TCPMP). Also of note, the DivX and XviD formats are also supported in the various profiles.

PURCHASING

   
All the SlySoft products can be purchased directly from SlySoft. AnyDVD, CloneDVD, CloneDVD Mobile, and CloneCD are each available separately for $39.00 each or as a complete bundle for $95.00.


PROS


  • Easy, step-wise approach to ripping


  • Extremely fast – ffmpeg-based (open source) engine

  • Many complex tasks handled in background without requiring intervention

CONS

  • Wouldn’t rip all of the tested DVDs

  • Audio syncing/quality problems in some of the profiles/file types

  • Not a lot of access to more advanced audio features
  • A little expensive for product based on an open-source project
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall


OVERALL IMPRESSION

    Overall I really liked this suite of applications, although I thought they were a little over-priced considering their open source base. The transcoding was fast and nearly effortless, although some DVDs couldn’t be ripped correctly and some audio/video syncing issues were present (but are likely to be corrected at some point). We didn’t talk a lot about the other applications in the Suite, other than to point out their main features, but all of the applications work in the same, simplified, step-wise manner, making them easily accessible to beginners. I’d recommend this suite of applications to people wanting to make backups or carry their legally-owned audio and video content with them on their mobile device.

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