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.

3D Editing on a Mac - RevolverHD

Panasonic was first to the home 3D camera market with its HDC-SDT750 (also called the TM750) 3D camcorder. We put up a quick review back in November 2010 and now it's time to show you how to edit 3D!

The Panasonic camcorder came with some software to do importing from the camera and simple edits on a PC but, as usual, nothing for the Mac. We've updated both Cosmos and RevolverHD to take care of this.

Shooting

First, go and shoot some footage. Keep in mind the limitations of 3D - there is no zoom and the depth of field is quite shallow so you need to keep your subject between 6 and 10 feet away.

Once you have your footage, it's time to get it off the camera and into your Mac.

If you want to try this 3D game out, but you don't have a 3D camera, feel free to download our sample disk image containing 3D footage straight from our camera. You will need a Panansonic 3D TV to view the results though.

Importing

There are two ways to do this - using Cosmos or doing a manual copy from the camera's filesystem to your Mac.

Cosmos

Fire up Cosmos and plug in your camera. Cosmos will do the rest!

Manual Import

Plug in your camera and wait for the SD Card to mount as a drive. Drill into the drive and go into PRIVATE/AVCHD/STREAM to find the video clips. Copy the whole lot to your hard drive somewhere for safe keeping, then eject and switch off your camera.

Editing

Now load up your clips into RevolverHD. If you use Cosmos to import and manage your clips, just navigate to the album containing your clips and right click to 'Send to Revolver'.

If you imported manually, find your MTS video clips and drag them onto RevolverHD.

Once your clips are in RevolverHD you can run a preview and set in/out points to trim the clips as required. If you find some dud clips in there, just remove them from the list.

Exporting

Your simple edit is now complete and it's time to export.

We have added a special TV Export option for Panasonic TVs to create the file structure that Panasonic requires for 3D playback.

The export that you create will playback directly on the TV, straight from your USB drive, so go and find a USB drive and stick it in your Mac.

Click on TV Export in RevolverHD. On the next screen select Panasonic as the TV type and select your USB Drive as the destination for your Export.

RevolverHD now does its magic, trimming your clips then putting them into a structure to play back on your TV.

Eject your drive and plug it into your 3D Panasonic TV. Enjoy!

The process described here works just as well for regular 2D high definition video too. For quick edits and perfect quality HD playback, its a great way to go.

Digital SLR vs Camcorder video - which is the best for you?

For the past 12 months we've been using our regular HD Camcorders and also some of the new Digital SLR video cameras.

The Digital SLRs are very impressive video cameras, but there's some gotchas.

This review pits the Panasonic GH-1 Digital SLR against the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 (also sold as the TM750) HD Camcorder.

Handling

Weight

The TM750 weighs in at 450g while the GH-1 is 850g. In fact, the GH-1 lens weighs more than the entire TM750. If you've ever had to shoot a long scene with your camcorder, this is a big deal. In our real world tests, it is easy to hold up the TM750 in one hand for long periods. The GH-1 takes two hands to hold it for for long periods and eventually gets too hard!

Zoom

The TM750 camcorder has powered zoom while the DSLR is manual. This means that you really can't zoom while shooting with the DSLR, while its easy with the camcorder. Even on a tripod, zooming on the DSLR moves the camera far too much to keep shooting.

Auto-focus

The DSLR has a narrow depth of field (DOF) which gives you the 'professional' look where your subject is in focus while the background isn't. The problem with this is that the camera has to work hard to auto focus, especially in a moving scene.

The camcorders on the other hand have a very wide depth of field (like a compact still camera) so don't need to do much at all to keep the subject in focus.

The result of all this is that DSLRs really struggle in high movement scenes while the camcorders do a very good job.

Shooting Conditions

In a crowd

Because of it's narrow DOF, the DSLR will find it impossible to auto-focus into a crowd scene. It will always focus on the nearest person, leaving everyone else out of focus. If you have to shoot someone in a crowd you will have to go to manual focus. Manual focus isn't easy with a video camera.

The camcorders do a good job in a crowd because the whole crowd will be in focus, so you can just zoom right in to your subject.

Action scenes

In fast moving scenes the DSLR falls down again because of it's need to continually auto focus. Te camcorders shine again due to their limited need to change focus as subjects move around.

Powered zoom on the camcorder lets you shoot one-handed and zoom, allowing you to keep tracking your subject. The DSLR requires two hands to hold and zoom, and you will probably lose your subject when you bump the camera around.

Video Quality

For this article I'm going to look at video quality under action or high-movement scenes. This is the technical bit of the article. The short answer is the GH-1 struggles while the TM750 does a good job. Read on to find out whats going on under the hood...

When shooting video yourself, panning is not good. You should avoid panning as a rule since it creates too much movement and the consumer cameras just can't handle it.

Having said that, if you want to take a sport or action video, panning has to happen.

DSLR video cameras (and cheaper camcorders) suffer from what is known as 'rolling shutter'. This is caused by the image sensor taking some time to record each frame, and the sensors scans from top to bottom. It means that the image recorded at the bottom of the frame is slightly different to the image recorded at the top.

Camcorders are less prone to this due to a number of reasons but the main one being that the high-end consumer camcorders use multiple sensors (rather than one for the DSLRs) and have built-in processing software to deal with this.

Rolling shutter, and a number of other problems that come up with fast panning, can be reduced on any DSLR by using a higher frame rate (the GH-1 can shoot at 50 frames per second) and higher shutter speeds. The manual controls on the DSLR video cameras are very good and you can control shutter speed, just like shooting still photos. If you do this remember that shutter speed on a video camera works the same as for your still photos - go too quick and you will not get enough light.

With its 3 sensors and better video capture, the TM750 camcorder easily out-performs the GH-1 in this area. Its more than out-performing too. Fast action shots at Full HD (1920x1080, 25fps) on the GH-1 just don't work. The quality is almost unwatchable.

Conclusion

The Panasonic GH-1 got rave reviews from Indy filmmakers all over the world because it gave them professional video results with a $1,500 camera. These rave reviews made it look like the new DSLRs would take over the home video world.

Under ideal conditions (like you get when shooting a movie) the GH-1 is outstanding. See our Parrot video for a sample. Put a DSLR video camera in the real world and the story isn't so good.

Throw in busy scenes, fast moving subjects, camera panning and low light and the traditional camcorders look a lot better.

If you need a video camera for all those usual things like family events, sports, holidays and so on, I recommend a top of the line HD camcorder. Panasonic is still our number one choice, but you won't go wrong with a Canon or Sony.

If you want to get creative and take control over your movies, the Digital SLR can be for you.

For me, it's back to the HD camcorder for regular video shooting. The GH-1 will be our special project camera.

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!

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