One of the problems I have always found with gadgets and technology is that the more useful they get, the less useable they become. What does that mean, exactly? Well, the best way to explain this is by looking at an example, such as digital video. I know an awful lot of people (many of whom read Gear Diary) who like to watch videos on the media players or iPods. The problem here is that digital video is not a particularly useable medium. In fact, it can be downright difficult, with dozens of different formats available. It always seems like the video I want to play has been recorded in the wrong format for my device. This is incredibly frustrating, particularly when you actually paid money for the video. So, what are you supposed to do? Well, M2 offers one solution with their media converter, which can convert virtually any video to be played on an iPod, iPhone, Create Zen, Zune, Smartphone and more. Stay with me and we will take a look at whether the M2 Media Converter worked as advertised.
Before we get into the review, I think it is worth mentioning that there are a number of different versions of the media converter available (shown above). If you only plan to use it with one device, then you can purchase a limited version of the program, designed specifically for:
- – iPhone
- – iPod
- – PSP
- – Zune
- – Zen
- – Smartphone
Additionally, M2 offers a command line converter, media format joiner, image optimizer, and splitter. With the exception of the media optimizer (29.99) and command line converter ($149.99), each of these versions of the program costs $34.99. If you only need access to certain functions, then one of these will offer the best solution for you.
If, however, you plan to convert media for use on several different devices, or several different formats, you will want to the Pro version. The Pro version (a whopping $89.00), which is the basis for this review, includes all of the formats listed above, as well as the joiner and splitter. OK. Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s take a closer look.
Loading Files: The first thing you are going to need to do is direct the M2 media converter to the location of your files. You can choose to convert individual files, or entire folders of video (you can also load several files and then batch convert them).
To load your files, just tap the convert files button to load individual files. This will open an explorer window, from which you may select the file you wish to convert. To select an entire folder, just choose the convert folder button.
If you know that you will be converting your files for use on a specific device, then you can choose the button for that device. This will load your files and preselect the settings and formats for your device. Most of the major video devices are represented here, although I was disappointed not to find the Sandisk Sansa.
Converting Files: Well, here we are at the main attraction. Sure, there are some sideshow features that we’ll discuss in a few minutes. But let’s be honest, here. You are not buying this software for any of those features. If they work then they are bonuses. If not, oh well. No, you are looking at this software because you want to play video on your media player, and the video is not recorded in a format which is supported by your player. So, let’s take a look.
Once your file has been loaded into the converter, just tap on file settings, and select the format which you want the video to be converted into. If that format supports multiple video or audio codecs, then you will also have the option of selecting those as well. More advanced users can also convert with more precision by selecting specific portions of the video to use. You can also tap the General Settings to change the name or location of the output file.
Now, all that remains is to hit the convert button on top and wait. Yeah, just go do something else. This will take a while. Depending upon the format of the original and converted files, it can take up to the actual playback time to convert the video. This is not a criticism of the converter, as it is a problem which is simply inherent in working with video. Audio and music can be ripped or converted quickly and easily. Not so with video, which can be a lengthy process. So, just go do something else and come back in a few hours when your video will be ready.
For this reason, I know may people who will setup a video to run overnight and be ready when you wake up in the morning. For this purpose, M2 has included a conversion scheduler. Here, you can preset a time and day on which you want the converter to operate. At the appointed time, the converter will take over, and convert your video while you work, sleep, or play with the kids. Now you really can be doing two things at once. Perfect! Heck, you can even tell the converter to shut down your computer when it is done.
Nonetheless, if you are waiting for your videos to convert and have to stop in the middle, it is very easy to stop them or pause the video to restart later. Just use the buttons on top of the converter to do so.
While I found it was extremely easy to convert video (just a few quick steps), maneuvering the various settings can be tricky for the uninitiated. Again, this is not a criticism of the program, but of the myriad of video formats which have cropped up throughout the years, each of which has its own special settings and nuances. Many formats look similar, but have slight variations which make them unusable if the correct settings are not chosen. I am saying this by way of warning you to be sure you read the user manual for your device before starting. Otherwise, you may end up wasting several hours with nothing to show for but frustration and an improperly coded video.
Finally, when you are preparing the video to be converted, you may also want to scroll through the various effects available to personalize either the video or the audio. This ranges from things as common as controlling the color or frame rate, to outlandish options like filtering for various enhancements, creating a histogram, rotating and resizing and many more. On the audio side, there are a variety of effects to create just the right sound. You can clean up the video, or add reverb to add that concert hall setting. Once you have selected an affect, you can customize it in the properties menu, or preview how it will look on your video. This preview option is critical, because it allows you to determine before beginning whether the effect is right for you. I can imagine a great deal of frustration which could occur if you selected a video and went through the whole process of converting it without fully understanding what the effects you chose would actually do.
Of course, none of this answers the question how well it works. In my experience, it did a fantastic job (once you get past the length of time it takes to convert). I converted several videos for use on my Sprint Mogul, and al lof them worked flawlessly. I was disappointed, however, that I was unable to convert any videos to work on my Sandisk Sansa. To be fair, however, the Sansa was not among the devices advertised as working with the M2, and their support team told me that they did not expect it to work. Still, I was optimistic that I might be able to find a format which was compatible with the Sansa. Despite my best efforts, I could not force any videos to work on my unsupported device.
Backing Up A DVD or CD: This is all well and good if your media is all neatly stored in digital files on your computer. But let’s be honest, most of the time, media does not arrive on your computer like this. Frequently, your media will be stored on a DVD, CD, CD-ROM or other digital optical format.
Jut insert your media into the appropriate drive (that would be DVD into the DVD drive, audio or video CD into the CD drive). Now, select the appropriate option to backup your DVD, video (VCD) CD or audio CD, and be sure to set the output format, the same way you did when converting a digital media file.
I found that converting a DVD to a digital file on your computer worked reasonably well, however, it was clear that this was not the main point of the program. If most of your media is contained on DVD, then this is probably not the program for you. Converting DVD’s was much slower than using a program dedicated for that purpose, and had considerably fewer options.
Likewise, I could not get audio CD conversion to work at all. No matter which options I selected, it consistently gave me errors. Nonetheless, there was really very little need for the inclusion of this feature. If I need to rip a CD, there is a perfectly acceptable free option in Windows Media, which was included with my computer.
Making a DVD: Of course, once you have all of this media stored on your computer, you will need a place to archive it. For this reason, not only can you transfer the contents of a DVD or CD to your computer, but you can also transfer files back to a DVD using the Create a DVD and Burn a DVD functions (yeah, I couldn’t really figure out the difference either).
Just add your media, and then you can use the included tools to trim and edit the video until it meets your exact specifications. Once you have it just right, you are ready to go. Again, however, making a DVD is not a quick process. But let’s be honest, this is not a problem with the M2. The problem relates to the way video is viewed by your computer generally. As such, this slow process would exist no matter what program you used. While other programs may have much more powerful editing tools, actually copying the information to a DVD did not seem significantly slower to me than any other program I have used.
Editing: You can also use the M2 Media Converter to join two media files together or split a media file into multiple segments. Really, this feature seemed virtually useless to me in the context of this program. I just cannot imagine a reason you would need to do this without more expansive editing tools. And, most expansive editors will include these basic tools. There was not a real need to include these relatively basic editing tools. This is not a video editor, nor does it claim to be.
Conclusion: I thought the M2 Media Converter was at its best when doing what it was designed to do: converting digital media files from one format to another. Unfortunately, this seemed to get lost in the myriad of extras included in this program, such as DVD ripping and burning, minor editing, and even the included media player. There is such a thing as including too many features, and I think this fact was well illustrated by the M2 Media Converter. The inclusion of these tangential features really detracted from the media converter which drew us to the program in the first place.
What I Liked: Numerous formats for many major media players. Conversion was easy. Several preset configurations.
What Needs Improvement: Too many unrelated features tended to get in the way. DVD ripping and audio CD copying are done much better by other programs, which are dedicated to those tasks. Likewise, video editing should be left to software devoted to that task. At $89, the price is awfully steep.
Where To Buy: M2 solutions
Trial: 15 days