Review: Popcorn 2 by Roxio - Macenstein

Review: Popcorn 2 by Roxio

Posted by Lab Rat

As Apple’s video iPods continue to set record sales, demand for video content to play on them has far outpaced the supply. The offerings on the iTunes store are largely relegated to television programs, most of which can be seen for “free� on TV. While sales of such shows on iTunes have been healthy, the idea of paying as much (or more) per episode for an iPod-sized version of a show as the eventual DVD release doesn’t sit well with many users. Additionally, full-length movies — The “holy grail� of portable media players — have yet to make their appearance on iTunes.

So what is the content-starved video iPod owner to do? Well, why not take the role of producer, and put your OWN stuff on the iPod? Roxio has recently released version 2 of their Popcorn software, which in addition to making perfect copies of your DVDs, can now compress DVDs and video files of almost any format into iPod- (and PSP-) friendly formats.

Now please note, I said Popcorn can make copies of YOUR DVDs, meaning DVDs YOU made, not just DVDs you own. Popcorn cannot rip copy protected Hollywood DVDs you have purchased (although like a gun, Popcorn is merely a tool, and can be used for good or evil depending on the user; more on that later).

Using Popcorn 2

Roxio created (in my opinion) one of the more intuitive and cleanly designed interfaces when they released Toast 7 last year, and they have pretty much cloned it for Popcorn 2. The interface contains two main tabs depending on the output you are looking for. Select “DVD� if you intend to copy a DVD, or burn DVDs from an existing VIDEO-TS folder or disk image. Choose “PLAYER� if you want to output to a video iPod, PlayStation Portable (PSP), DIVX player, 3G Phone, generic MP4 player, or generic H.264 player.

The Popcorn 2 interface closely resembles Roxio’s other app, Toast.

Exporting for iPod

As you can see from the listing above, Popcorn 2 can pretty much output a video file for just about any device out there capable of playing video. Popcorn makes the export process very easy by giving you a large selection of presets optimized for each device. For instance, if you choose to export for video iPod, you can choose from “Standardâ€? (MPEG-4, 320×180 widescreen, 320×240 standard), “For TVâ€? (MPEG-4 640×360 widescreen, 640 x 480 standard), “Highâ€? (H.264, 320×180 widescreen, 320×240 standard), or “Customâ€?, which allows you to choose your own sizes and bit rates, all the way up to 1920×1080 HD. Obviously a setting that high won’t play on your iPod, but Popcorn 2 is quite versatile, and can be used as a poor man’s Sorenson Squeeze, even allowing you to set streaming settings. You can also set your output directory to be your iTunes library if you’d like, making it that much easier to sync your exported movie to your iPod.

The Popcorn 2’s “Export to Player” offers a number of devices and presets from the drop down menus.

Exporting to other formats is similar, although each has its own limitations. For instance, choosing to export to PSP, you are presented with only “Standard� and “Custom�, and the custom options are far more restricted than the iPod’s, presumably due to the device’s limitations (although the iPod certainly can’t play back HD video and yet Popcorn’s custom iPod options allows for the export of such, so I am not sure why this is).

As for source material, Popcorn lets you grab from DVDs (non copy protected), Image files, VIDEO_TS folders, or raw video files. The video files option is great for those of us who use EYE TV to record shows. Now it is easy to bypass the iTMS and still get the latest episodes of LOST on your iPod.

Exporting for DVD

If you want to export to a DVD, you have the same source options as when exporting for “PLAYERS�, minus the “video file� option. Popcorn can’t make a DVD from scratch, for that you will need to use Toast or iMovie or something capable of making the VIDEO_TS file for you. However, something Popcorn 2 DOES do that makes it quite unique (and to my mind, makes it worth its meager $42.99 price tag) is it employs a sophisticated “Fit-to-DVD video compression� technology, which allows you to take an 8GB dual-layer DVD, and fit it onto a regular 4.7GB single-layer blank DVD. This is the same technology offered in Roxio’s flagship Toast product, and it works great.

Why is this important? Well, as I said above, Popcorn is intended for use only on non copy protected DVDs, meaning ones you made yourself. However, the odds are the home movies of the kids you shot and edited were probably burned on a single-layer DVD, and therefore this feature would not be of much interest to you (although new Macs DO come with dual-layer burners now, so it is possible you will eventually burn an 4 hour 8GB disc of your trip to Disney). But, what if you were not limited to only burning copy-protected DVDs?

Popcorn 2’s “fit-to-DVD” option allows you to choose which parts of a DVD you want to encode and how much compression to apply in order to get it to fit on your disc.

Using Popcorn 2 for evil

Now, we all know Hollywood frowns upon copying their masterpieces and distributing them, and rightly so. However, there is still a gray area when it comes to backing up your purchased DVDs incase of catastrophe. So assuming you feel you DO have the right to make a backup of your copy of King Kong, you will likely encounter 2 problems. The 1st is that the Hollywood discs are copy protected. The 2nd is they are often burned on dual-layer discs these days and packed with all sorts of special features that push their size up around 8GB or so, meaning you can’t fit them on your regular single-layer blank discs.

The Popcorn 2 can be used for to copy Hollwood DVDs with the aid of DVD ripping software.

Well, we know Popcorn has our solution to the 2nd problem, so let’s tackle the first. There are many free DVD rippers available on the web that will remove a DVD’s copy protection, but by far the easiest and most reliable is MacTheRipper. With one click, MacTheRipper quickly rips your commercial DVDs to your hard drive, giving you an UN-copy protected VIDEO_TS folder. Once you have that VIDEO_TS folder, Popcorn 2 suddenly becomes almost invaluable.

Using that folder, Popcorn 2 can now make a perfect copy of the DVD for you to use as a backup. If you are lucky enough to have a dual-layer DVD burner on your computer, then Popcorn will not compress the DVD at all; you will get a 1-to-1 identical copy. However, if you have a single-layer drive, Popcorn’s “fit-to-DVD� feature will recompress the feature to fit on your standard 4.7GB disc, albeit with some loss of picture quality (the audio is left unchanged). However, you can reduce the amount of compression needed by selecting only the parts of the VIDEO_TS you want burned to DVD. Popcorn will scan the VIDEO_TS folder and show you a list of available tracks and extras available for burning. For instance, you may choose to burn the entire disc, with all menus, special features, foreign audio tracks, etc., OR you can choose to burn just the main feature (or the main feature and any combination of extras and audio) to save space and reduce the amount of compression. Those worried about loss of quality can relax somewhat, as the compression Popcorn applies is actually quite good. Depending on just how far over the 4.7GB limit your disc is, the results will be somewhere between the original and a good VHS. I found a 3-hour movie with menus and extras (like King Kong) will likely come out closer to the VHS-side, maybe a bit better.

Now, if you REALLY want to push your rights as a consumer (and get even MORE value from Popcorn) you can also use that ripped VIDEO_TS folder you just made using MacTheRipper and use it as a source to export full length movies to your iPod, cel phone, PSP, Archos player, or what have you via Popcorn’s “PLAYER� export option. Here is where the legality gets a bit more touchy (especially for PSP users, as Sony DOES sell movies designed for it). In theory though, as an iPod owner, you could argue you are still using the one copy of a movie you purchased for personal use, and since there is currently no “official� way to get movies onto your iPod, you are not hurting Hollywood. After all, you are an honest guy and WOULD buy the iPod version of Glitter if they sold it, but since they don’t, and you already own the DVD…

Popcorn 2 allows you to choose which tracks and extras you want to include on your DVD copy


Popcorn 2 is a very powerful and easy to use application, but is hampered by the limitation of only being able to work with non-copy protected material. The potential market for people who want to put DVDs they made onto iPods is rather small, and to use Popcorn simply as a tool make copies of your homemade DVDs seems like overkill. I understand a large company like Roxio wanting to steer clear of the whole copy protection issue, but the implied use for Popcorn 2 is clearly to copy Hollywood DVDs and get them onto your video iPod. In fact, Popcorn’s most powerful feature, the “fit-to-DVD� compression, is almost ONLY useful in trying to fit an 8GB Hollywood DVD onto a standard 4.7GB consumer disc.

By combining Popcorn 2 with a DVD ripping application, it suddenly becomes a must-have utility for video iPod owners and movie buffs who wish to make backups of their DVDs. The excellent export options also make Popcorn 2 a great utility for exporting movies to the web. Many of Popcorn’s features are available in freeware in shareware apps found on the web, but Popcorn boasts far more import and export options than apps like iSquint, Podner, and iPSP, and has a more cohesive and intuitive workflow. The ability to export to multiple portable devices, including DIVX players and 3G phones really sets Popcorn apart.

Roxio Popcorn 2 (Mac)

Price: $42.99 (Amazon)

Rating: 9 out of 10 (when used with a DVD ripping app like MacTheRipper)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (when used solo)

Pros: Universal Binary, exports content to almost any portable player imaginable, “fit-to-DVD� compression gives great results, makes copying DVDs easy, best way to get video onto the iPod

Cons: Only works with non-copy protected materials, requiring the download of an app like MacTheRipper to achieve its full potential

12 Responses to “Review: Popcorn 2 by Roxio”
  1. miles says:

    How about converting a DVD to a format that I can access in Front Row, at a higher quality than on an iPod, for watching on a TV? It’d be nice not to have to mess with DVD’s and to compress a little so I don’t need a mondo hard drive but still maintain DVD quality.

  2. MacO says:

    Popcorn would absolutely work for that… easily can export DVDs into MPEG4 and puts them into your Movies folder so you can watch in front row. I do it all the time.

  3. Chase says:

    Once you’ve converted your DVD in to MP4’s you’ll want to tag the file with the proper information and even a summery of the plot with this handy little app “Lostify” which can be found here:

  4. Gary Glitter says:

    Yup, Popcorn 2 can do that. you gotta unencrypt the dvds first, like the article says, but once you got the video_ts folder, Popcorn can compress it for ya.

  5. kugino says:

    for those of us who already have toast 7, why would we need/want popcorn 2? even though it’s a UB, isn’t roxio going to update toast 7 as a UB in the near future? moreover, with free apps like handbrake, converting even copy-protected DVDs to mpeg or h.264 is a cinch…any reason to use popcorn over handbrake?

  6. miles says:

    I’ve used handbrake and it works but the quality of the final movie is low, even with the highest settings. How is the quality with Popcorn 2?

  7. miles says:

    to clarify, my intention isn’t to transfer movies to an iPod. I want to store them on a hard drive and watch them on a TV via Front Row. I would to maintain DVD like quality (compressed if possible). Also, What about connecting a movie that spans 2 DVD’s, like Lord of the Rings, so I don’t have to access two movie files. Can that be done in Popcorn 2?

  8. Gary Glitter says:

    no, i don’t think there is any way to string multiple disc’s VIDEO_TS folders together using popcorn.
    Although, now that you got me thinking, as a work-around…

    … once you de-crypt a DVD, Popcorn can make a video out of it using export for iPod.
    You could do that for both discs of Lord of the Rings, THEN go back into the export for iPod option, and choose VIDEO FILES as your source option. Then Popcorn will string those 2 together. (although you loose menus and chapters).

    The problem is you would be double compressing them, however, if you use your own custom bitrate/size settings for the intial convert for each disc, and choose a really high quality setting, like 1920×1080 MPEG-4 at 10,000kbs or something ridiculous, you won’t notice any quality hit I would think.

    But as far as picture quality, since you can make your own cutom H.264 or MPEG4 setting, so for your final output you can make it as big as you want, space-wise. Popcorn estimates hwo large the file will be when you adjust your settings.

    Oh, and I think when you export to a video file froma DVD, it mixes the surround down to a stereo mix, so you alos loose 5.1 surround that way.

  9. miles says:

    Gary Glitter,
    Thanks for the info. It sounds like it’s definately worth looking into getting this. I can live without menus and chapters but loosing the 5.1 surround sucks.

  10. Gary Glitter says:

    Yesh, that’s tough, but it makes sense when you think about it. In theory Popcorn is designed to make movies for portable players, and I can’t think of one that plays true 5.1.

  11. Jon Crenshaw says:

    I am trying to convert Video_TS files to Home Theatre mode in Popcorn but when I start the process it shows about 1% progress then stops.
    Can Anyone Help Me?

  12. Andrew says:

    I got an important question, i recently got Roxio Toast Titanium 8.01 and since it can burn dvds also, would any of you guys just go ahead and rip the copy protected dvd’s and just use the Toast program to burn the dvd instead os using popcorn? i want to know if i should really invest in popcorn 2.0 or if the Toast can get the job decently, please respond anyone who knows.

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