Review Index:

Battle of GPU Transcoders: ATI Avivo Converter and NVIDIA Elemental Badaboom

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Catalyst 8.12: Stream computing driver

Catalyst 8.12 Driver

Last month AMD gave us a preview
of the new Catalyst 8.12 driver and the features that it would introduce for all Radeon 4000-series GPUs.  The focus was on ATI Stream technology - AMD's goal of opening up the GPU architecture for computing applications across both the consumer and professional line of products.  The most exciting and immediate application that AMD had in store was a complete revamp of the ATI Avivo Video Encoder.

ATI Avivo Video Converter

The video transcoder that ATI has built is integrated into the Catalyst 8.12 drivers and will work on both Windows Vista and Windows XP systems.  It is completely free and that could be its biggest advantage over even the low-priced NVIDIA-based Badaboom application.  The Avivo Video Converter also offers a lot of functional improvements over NVIDIA's options that we will detail below. 

The interface for the Avivo transcoder is based around a typical wizard format - step by step you build the process until the transcoding begins.  One annoying piece of the puzzle is that there doesn't seem to be a way to access the converter wizard when the Catalyst Control Center is in "advanced" mode - you must revert to "basic" to have access to the start of the wizard. 

Here you can see the first screen users are met with - plain and not very exciting, it all starts with picking a source input file.  This is where one of the key improvements of ATI's software versus NVIDIA's takes place: the Avivo application can support many other types of video file input including DVD VOB, H.264, MPEG-2, DivX, Windows Media, MPEG-4 and others.

Once the file is loaded the application attempts to display the specifications for it; I say attempts because the bitrate listings were basically completely wrong.  Here you can see we have loaded a 1080p Blu-ray trailer while the bitrate is listed at 0.77 mbps - either the software is just judging this off of the first instance of the file (which might actually be at 770 kbps in VBR format) or its just guessing very incorrectly.  I also can't figure out exactly what kind of duration "0:2:7" is...

You can also manually set the output folder for your transcoded video and decide if you want the Avivo software to auto enumerate the files if duplicate file names already exist.  I do wish the Avivo software would adopt what the Badaboom application does with its file names and include the format you were targeting to more easily sort later on.

The Avivo application also supports MANY more output options than the Badaboom application as you can see here - DVD, WMV, MPEG-2 and even MPEG-1! 

More options are seen in the drop down box here as well including MPEG-4 DivX and iPod support. 

To control video size and quality, the ATI Avivo Video Converter also uses a slider bar to move between high quality and low quality and adjusts the output file size accordingly in the text box below.  In some cases though, the estimate for the file size was off by a good margin: 7.9MB instead of 12MB for example.

While the slider bar is actually just adjusting the bitrate that the transcoded video will run at, there are NO other options with which you can adjust the output video including resolution, keyframes, audio, etc.  All of that is handled purely by the software itself and the output profile that you selected.  It is kind of disappointing that AMD would leave out some of these options but I think that is a trade off the design team made in order to get top encoding performance out of the software. 

I also found myself let down by the options in bitrate that the slider bar provided.  For example, when outputting to an iPod video type my highest bitrate option was only 770 kbps...

...while the lowest went down to 130 kbps.  Part of this is decisions that AMD made in the software to attempt to best adapt for each profile selected; I could select as high as 15 mbps under the MPEG-4 profile for example. 

After clicking Next on that screen the transcoding process takes place and a basic progress bar scrolls across until the video is ready.  I did notice that on many occasions the bar would be at the far right end, supposedly complete, though as many as another 10-20 second would pass before the finalized screen would appear.  Because of that, on our benchmarks, we used manual timing on the ATI Avivo program rather than using the elapsed time shown above. 

Once complete, the Avivo Video Converter shows a summary screen with options to play the file or open the containing folder.  Hitting the "start over" button allows you to select another file and start the process over.

The ATI application is definitely not has nice to look as NVIDIA's Badaboom but does, at least on the surface, offer a lot more flexibility in transcoding options using the GPU. 

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