Smart Converter - The Story of a Hit App!


Last week we released our new free video converter - Smart Converter.

Smart Converter is a multi-purpose video converter that we decided to make free.

We figured that everyone needs a good converter sometime, and if you just want to do single conversions here and there, we're happy to let everyone have this for free.

The Journey So Far

Smart Converter went live on the Mac App Store at 8am (Perth time) on Thursday 7th July 2011.

Within 16 hours Smart Converter shot to the top of the free app list in the Video Category for most countries, and was making a charge on the top free app overall.

Within 48 hours of launch, Smart Converter was the top free app in all major countries except the USA where it remained in spot number 2.

The US took a lot longer to crack the top Free App spot, but we finally got there 72 hours after launch.

We've passed a bunch of popular free apps along the way including Twitter, Evernote and Kindle.

Smart Converter has an average 4 star rating around the world with ratings and reviews increasing by the hour.

What is Smart Converter?

Smart Converter is a video converter that uses our own video tools and FFmpeg to convert videos from one format to another.

There are many free video converters on the App Store and available for general download, but these apps are just simple user interfaces over FFmpeg. These apps just call FFmpeg in the background wihtout applying anyy smarts to the conversion.

Smart Converter does a lot of checking of your video and the output format that you have chosen before doing any conversion. It then does a highly optimised conversion when its ready. This is where it gets its 'smarts'.

Smart Converter includes an ad display system that displays an ad while conversion is underway. We are using this to promote Smart Converter Pro and other Shedworx apps.

What's next?

We are developing Smart Converter Pro right now. It would have been nice to have it ready now, but we decided to get Smart Converter out there now, refine our conversions, then release Smart Converter Pro.

We will continue to improve our conversion engine behind Smart Converter and the free version will always include the same fullly-functional engine as the Pro version. Smart Converter Pro will include batch conversion capability, no ads, and more control over the actual conversion process.

Its been an exciting ride so far! Our daily install rate is still increasing so I think Smart Converter will keep top spot for a while yet.

Thanks to everyone who has installed Smart Converter so far! If you haven't, grab it now - its free after all.

The Mac App Store - 6 months in


The Mac App Store is 6 months old today, so let's look at what's good and bad about it.

The Consumer Perspective

There is no doubt that the Mac App Store is a winner for consumers.

The Pros

Here is the good side of the Mac App Store:

  • Multi user licence - I can buy once and install on all my Macs. This will save me a lot of $ over the years.
  • Single point updates - I can update all my apps from one point.
  • Peace of mind - while I already knew, trusted and liked my apps, when finding something new I will be a lot more confident that the apps aren't flaky or malware, knowing that Apple have checked them
  • Easy purchasing - every software developer that I bought stuff from had a different payment process. I hate putting all the details in every time I want to buy something, not to mention the security risk of deciding every time whether the payment site they are using looks OK or not. With the Mac App Store it's all linked to your iTunes account and you don't even need your password if you've set that to be remembered.

Based on how the Mac App Store has worked for me, I don't think it will be long until an independent software developer will only be able to sell via the App Store. The exception to this is the kinds of apps that Apple won't list, like network monitors, downloaders and things like that.

The user experience is excellent and it's just plain cheaper than the old way. Add to that the safety factor of knowing these apps are Apple Tested and the App Store is a winner.

The Cons

From a consumer perspective, the App Store is pretty much all good. A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Licence lock down - Apple has never locked down it's software to a single machine. You install any app as often as you like and the software will just check that only one copy is running at any point in time. This worked well for companies that ran software infrequently but on many machines. This is no longr possible. Also, borrowing your friend's copy of iLife to upgrade you system won't happen any more. You have to buy it yourself!
  • Special Apps - a whole class of apps will never make it to the App Store. You will have to buy these apps separately which will become annoying as most of your apps will be managed via the App Store.

Migrating to a new computer

I bought a new MacBook Pro earlier this year so I thought it was a good time to check out the Mac App Store and see how it helped the laptop setup process.

I run a fairly common computer setup with an iMac for home and a laptop for work.

I upgraded OSX to the latest version on both machines and purchased all the apps that I have been using for a while. I had already purchased the apps the old way, but I was going to need them all on the new laptop, so I needed to buy them again anyway.

The best thing about the Mac App Store from the consumer perspective is that every purchase is a "family" licence where I can install the software on all my Mac computers. I've got 3 Macs now, and that will only grow so this is a big plus.

On to the migration. I ran the Mac Migration Assistant from old to new laptop (over AirPort) and 16 hours later was done. All the App Store apps were there and I just needed to re-enter my iTunes password the first time I ran each one. Too easy!

Now all three of my Macs have the same set of custom apps which I can update with the click of a button on the App Store.

The Developer Perspective

At Shedworx we didn't jump straight into the Mac App Store because we were getting ready for our trip to MacWorld and finishing off Cosmos. We also wanted to try it out for ourselves to see how it worked.

We tried it out early on and decided to jump right in.

Today all of our Mac apps, except Jaksta and HD Quick Look are listed on the Mac App Store.

Here's why two of our Apps aren't listed:

  • Jaksta - requires admin access to listen on the network interface for downloads. Jaksta's big technical strength is it's abilty to run outside of any application and pick up any download entering your machine. Requiring admin access is outside of the App Store guidelines which is fair enough. The full version of Jaksta will not ever be able to run on the Mac App Store.
  • HD Quick Look - this is a QuickTime plug in so needs an installer to run when setting it up. It also copies it's plugin into a special QuickTime plugins folder, which isn't allowed under the Aop Store guidelines

The Pros

The App Store is a great place for customers to buy apps. For us developers it also contains a huge number of benefits:

  • Discovery. It's a big world out there. It's hard to get noticed for some of our smaller apps. Our less popular apps have seen a big sales improvement since going on to the App Store.
  • Purchase. The purchase process on the App Store is second to none. We can never make it as easy as Apple does when it comes to buying. This results in more sales.
  • Testing. Apple actually tests your stuff. Apple picked up a couple of bugs we had missed when putting up our apps. We fixed them and they're live now.
  • Support. We get almost no support emails from our App Store sales. This is because Apple has conditioned customers to not expect software support. It's making our life easier!

The Cons

There are some negatives to the App Store.

  • Won't list some kinds of apps. Jaksta and HD Quick Look won't be listed because they don't fit in. This is disappointing, but I can see why Apple don't want to support these kinds of apps
  • No bundles. It's no secret that we want you to buy the Shedworx bundle rather than just one product. We don't have any ability to upsell to a bundle on the Mac App Store. We can still use in-app promotions to highlight features of our other apps though.
  • No customer details. We run a mailing list where we send out news, run the occasional survey and generally try to understand our user base better. This is all gone with the Mac App Store. Apple owns the customer and as a developer you will never know who they are. As a software developer we have to come up with other ways to find out what is going on.
  • Impact on regular sales. As soon as the Mac App Store opened we saw a reduction in sales from www.shedworx.com. Since listing on the Mac App Store we have more than recovered these sales. This makes Mac App Store listing mandatory for us and I'm sure all the other software developers are finding the same thing.

There is one thing I haven't put on the Cons side which most other developers list. It's the 30% Apple commission. I havent listed it because I see this as a cost of using their store. They handle all payments, reduce support and provide us with a new customer base that would possibly never get to our site to find software.

The Bottom Line

The Mac App Store is great way to buy apps. The ease of purchasing, peace of mind and multi-seat licensing making it a real winner compared to the old way of buying apps.

There is anecdotal evidence out on the web that a large percentage of people don't buy software from anyone but Apple. If this is true, the App Store will open up a huge new market for small software companies like Shedworx.

There are a few restrictions about what can be sold on the App Store which hold back some developers. These restrictions will force us to look at our apps in a different way to make sure all our stuff can get into the App Store and get in front of millions of potential new customers.

AVCHD 3D and Progressive update

The AVCHD Format Co-Promoters (the owners of the AVCHD Format) have just released an update to the AVCHD Spec that covers 3D, Progessive and 3D Progressive.

AVCHD 3D

Panasonic started shipping 3D cameras using 'side by side' encoding in 2010 and Sony joined the 3D race in March 2011 with Full HD 3D which means two video channels are used (instead of side by side recording).

The Sony approach uses a 50i or 60i video stream capturing 25 or 30 interlaced frames per second, per side.

AVCHD now supports a true 3D mode, but until we see the new spec we don't know whether the official AVCHD 3D mode will be side-by-side, Full HD or both.

AVCHD Progressive

Panasonic again was first with this format to the camcorder market and now Sony camcorders support 50p and 60p shooting. We have supported Panasonic 1080/50p and 1080/60p since last year but now we'll have a spec to see exactly what is going in with this videos.

AVCHD 3D Progressive

This one is new to us. We will have to see the spec to know what this is all about, but we're guessing it's 3D 50p and 60p support, so that each video channel (one for each eye) is a progressive video stream.

Next Steps

It's good to see AVCHD finally formalise the 3D and Progressive video formats which have been shipping for over 6 months now. We have to go through the paperwork now to get licenced under the new AVCHD Spec, then we will check out how it all works.

Once we have access to the official AVCHD spec we will post another update.

Final Cut Pro X AVCHD support

Final Cut Pro X is here!

Today we fired up Final Cut Pro X for the first time to see how it goes with AVCHD editing and support.

Getting Started

Final Cut Pro X looks a lot more like iMovie than the old Final Cut Pro.

On startup, you have the Event Library in the top left. This Event Library looks just the same as the iMovie Event Library that you see down the bottom of the iMovie window.

The Final Cut Pro X Event Library replaces the previous Asset Browser window, so that you can now browse assets from all of your imported Events, rather than assets from the open Project only.

In the bottom of the Final Cut Pro X window you have a Project browser, which is similar to the Project Browser you see up in the top left of iMovie. This allows you to open Projects from within Final Cut Pro X rather than loading each Project from the filesystem.

Overall, Final Cut Pro X is very similar to iMovie in the way it deals with Events and Projects. iMovie users will find it much easier moving up to Final Cut Pro X than moving up to the old Final Cut Pro 7.

AVCHD support

FCPX claims 'Native AVCHD Support'. What does this mean?

Importing

FCPX can import AVCHD video from an AVCHD camcorder. The difference this time is that FCPX does not have to convert to ProRes as part of the import workflow.

Note that the import process does 'rewrap' the AVCHD video file to a QuickTime container. This means that the video and audio streams from the file are unaltered, but they are re-wrapped to a QuickTime format.

A nice option on Import is the ability to 'Create Optimised Media' when importing. This allows you to convert to ProRes on the way in, if thats what you still want to do. Going to ProRes will still be important when working on older, lower powered Macs.

Final Cut Pro X will still not import a stand-alone AVCHD video file. Importing AVCHD still requires access to the original AVCHD camcorder, or a valid Camera Archive disk structure.

Editing

Once you get through the import process, editing is smooth and easy. No rendering is required - the AVCHD just works.

We haven't done extensive edit testing yet - that will come soon. We will look at mixing AVCHD formats (e.g. 1080p and 720p) on the timeline.

Exporting your finished Movie

FCPX gives you some basic exporting options from within the application, but to do anything fancy you still need to use Compressor. Compressor is a Apple's full-featured video converter available via the App Store.

FCPX now includes AVCHD DVD exporting from the Share menu. You can take a project and create an AVCHD DVD which will play back on most Blu-ray players. You can also create a Blu-ray disc, but you need to have an external Blu-ray burner for this.

Buying

FCPX is now $300 US. Compressor (multi-purpose video converter) and Motion (for titles and special effects) are $50 each. No sign yet of Color (used for colour correction and tuning in video), but Color is only for Pros.

That brings the new 'Final Cut Studio' equivalent to the grand total of $400, down from $1,200 for its previous version.

FCPX, Compressor and Motion are only available on the Mac App Store. This is great news as you only have to buy it once and you get it on all your machines. Its not such good news if you installed Final Cut Pro across many machines under different Apple IDs in the past (not that anyone would do that).

As a side note, Compressor is now available for the first time as a stand-alone app. This means that for $50 US, you can now have a top quality video converter from Apple without having to buy Final Cut Pro as well.

What happened to Final Cut Express?

Final Cut Express used to be $200 compared to $1200 for Final Cut Studio. With FCPX now down to $300, Apple doesn't need to provide a 'budget' version of Final Cut. At $300, FCPX is now a realistic 'step up' option for home video editing enthusiasts as well as any video editor that needs something more than iMovie.

Wrap up

Final Cut Pro X now supports native editing of AVCHD video, but still requires you to import from a Camera or Camera Archive. If you have stand-alone AVCHD (.MTS) video files, you are stuck.

You can now create AVCHD DVDs from a Final Cut Pro X project. These DVDs will play in Full HD on most Blu-ray players sold today.

Final Cut Pro X contains improved, but not complete AVCHD support. Final Cut Pro X still does not support the workflow of 'Editor to HDTV playback' without going through a Blu-ray player or AppleTV (not that AppleTVs are anywhere near Full HD capable). The Shedworx Full HD playback workflow is still the best way to go straight from an edited Project to playback on a HDTV.

Overall, Final Cut Pro X is far easier to get started with than its predecessor, Final Cut Pro 7. It will be interesting to see what the Pros think of it, but for the prosumer and part-time video editor, Final Cut Pro X is a winner.

Final Cut Pro X coming soon

Final Cut Pro X is due for release anytime now - even Apple is talking about June 2011.

What does this mean for you?

We will be doing a review as soon as it comes out to let you know exactly how FCPX fits in with your workflow and the Shedworx product line.

Final Cut Express no more

Firstly, it looks like Final Cut Express will disappear. This means home users looking for 'something better than iMovie' will have to shell out $300 instead of $200. We've been using Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro here at Shedworx for years now and for the home or semi-pro user, there is no practical difference between Final Cut Express and Pro.

So, it will be more $ required to move up from iMovie.

The Mac App Store

Final Cut Pro X will be sold through the Mac App Store. While it will cost more than its predecessor (Final Cut Express) the Mac App Store will let you install on more than one computer (legally).

Native AVCHD Support

Final Cut Pro X is rumoured to have native AVCHD support. This should mean no more transcoding to ProRes.

This has been a long time coming and is why we developed Cosmos from the ground up as a Native AVCHD movie manager. With Final Cut Pro X no longer requiring transcoding, all the native AVCHD video in your Cosmos library will be very easy to 'Send to Final Cut' when you are ready to edit.

Our guess is that native AVCHD will be coming to iMovie'12. Again, Cosmos will fit in just fine.

Keywords

The demo at the NAB Supermeet in April hinted at some keyword tagging within video clips as a way to highlight subclips of interest.

We will look into how this works and see if there is a useful way to transfer keywords from Cosmos into Final Cut.

Wrap Up

Final Cut Pro X will be a huge step forward for the high-end editors. For those of us who just want something better than iMovie, the ability to edit native AVCHD will probably be the biggest improvement.

The user interface looks like it could be easier to use than the current Final Cut Pro, but we'll need to see it first.

We will put out a series of Final Cut Pro X guides aimed at people like you - people who need a better editor than iMovie, but don't spend much time editing Hollywood blockbusters!

iMovie and Full HD editing

So you bought the best HD camcorder around, shot some great movies and got them imported into iMovie. The editing went just fine and now it's time to share your masterpiece with the world.

So all you want to do is get that HD movie out of iMovie and playing on your TV. That should be easy right?

Well, no.

The Apple way...

  1. Share out of iMovie to AppleTV (iMovie->Share->Export Movie)
  2. Add to iTunes
  3. Go to your AppleTV and watch your movie

What's the catch? Firstly, you need an AppleTV.

If you're happy to shell out the $100 or so for an AppleTV, there's bad news. Apple isn't interested in helping you watch your movies in Full HD. Apple created the AppleTV so you could rent movies off iTunes.

Your AppleTV runs at a maximum resolution of 1280x720 (often called 720p) but your movie was shot and edited at 1920x1080 resolution (or 1080p). The Share option out of iMovie is even lower at 960x540.

But wait there's more. The AppleTV requires your movies to be at a maximum bit rate of 5Mbps, but you camera shot the movie at 20Mpbs.

What does all this mumbo jumbo mean? When you watch you edited movie on an AppleTV it is running at one tenth to one quarter of it's real resolution.

Don't believe us? Plug your camera directly into your TV using a HDMI cable and take a look. Compare this to your AppleTV movie. The AppleTV is closer to standard definition TV than HD TV.

There has to be a better way! And of course there is.

The ShedWorx way...

RevolverHD can take an exported Full HD (1080p) movie from iMovie and create a top quality Full HD movie that will play on most TVs and Blu-ray players.

It's as simple as this...and you don't even need an AppleTV.

Export from iMovie using QuickTime conversion (Share->Export Using QuickTime...)

Set up your Export type to "Movie to QuickTime Movie" then click the Options... button.

You need to set up an Export as follows:

  • H.264 Video, Size 1920x1080 HD
  • Audio to LPCM, 16bit, 48kHz

Here is the RevolverHD User Guide if you want to see the QuickTime screens for these settings.

Do the Export and drop the new movie into RevolverHD.

Now you can:

  1. Burn a high definition DVD to play on a Blu-ray player or PlayStation3
  2. Export for Panasonic TV
  3. Export for Sony Bravia TV
  4. Export for PlayStation3

All of the TV Export options require you to copy the export onto a USB drive for playback on the TV or PS3. RevolverHD helps you with this.

The Results

We can't show you how this all looks on a big screen HDTV, so we've uploaded both the AppleTV and Full HD samples to YouTube. Even with YouTube's low bit rates, the quality difference between the AppleTV 540p and Full HD 1080p movies is clear (Go full screen to get a feel for what they will look like on a big TV).

Make sure you go to 1080p resolution once playback starts - otherwise you will only get 720p

Getting Technical

If you want to know how this works, here you go...

Firstly, we create an AVCHD movie from the QuickTime export. This is a very fast conversion because we do not re-encode the video stream, just rewrap it from a QuickTime container to an AVCHD (MTS) container.

Our rewrap process relies on Revolver being given a movie with the right video and audio codecs for AVCHD. Revolver checks the video and audio codecs when you add the movie to Revolver.

Next, we take the new movie and put it into the required file structure for playback on a TV. We set up variants of this file structure as required by the different brands of TV.

RevolverHD also supports the creation of an AVCHD DVD which is special format DVD that can play HD movies on a Blu-ray player.

Thats it! Download Revolver now and see for yourself. We're sure you'll be impressed!

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