Top positive review
Confusing, messy and fiddly, but capable of recording pretty much anything.
15 June 2010
I picked up a copy of Audials One thinking that maybe it would help me transfer films from my DVD collection onto my various portable video devices (iPod, PSP, DS etc.). It wasn't clear from the blurb how the software actually copied the content, nor how successful it would be a doing it, so I got a copy to try it out.
Before continuing I should point out that Audials functions on the fringe of legality and the application's interface reflects this; it looks like something made by a computer hacker and is just as user unfriendly. It is possible for a non-computer literate person to use the software and record some video, but it will feel confusing and frustrating. If you don't know your Xvid from your h.264, a lot of what this software has to offer will go over your head. Likewise, a certain amount of this review might by a bit hard going.
While talking about computer literacy, I should also mention my experiences installing the software. First off, the CD in the box is practically empty (5MB), it just contains an installer that downloads everything else from the internet. The software is built around a huge amalgam of freely available encoders/applications/libraries which all seem to want to connect to the internet at one time or another. My firewall has never given me so many access requests in such a short amount of time. To top it all off, the installer also tried to trick me into installing adware and applications that are unrelated and that I didn't want, while also adding a bunch of guff to my system that I would have preferred to have avoided (shortcuts in Internet Explorer and who knows what else).
Finally, to end my installation story, Audials replaced the DivX Codec for Windows Media Player with a different one - which didn't work! It took some digging into obscure setup menus to fix that, which demonstrates the need to be a minimum tech savvy to use this.
OK, back to how Audials One works.
Audials One gets around file or stream DRM protection by letting the video get decoded to your computer screen as normal, where it then grabs it and re-encodes the grabbed images as a new video file. This has the benefit of allowing you to copy any video content that passes across your screen, which is the good news. The bad news is that this means you need to record the video in real-time. If you want to record a 2 hour movie then it'll take you 2 hours.
In this world of instant file access, this is a bit of a shock to the system, but at the end of the day it is the same type of thing you'd do to record a TV program, with a few inconveniences thrown in for good measure. For example, start recording something and go off to do something else and you may come back to find your screen-saver active and your video file blank. The screen-saver cuts the video decoding and display, so Audials has no input source. This is obviously very annoying if you've come back after a couple of hours expecting everything to be finished, only to have to start again.
As for recording streaming video, since you record the playback, any stutters or freezes in the stream get recorded as is. Accidentally put the mouse pointer over the video window and you'll record the video player interface when it displays too. Mask part of the video with another window, or even move the window or minimise it and your recording will be ruined. All this adds up to the fact that you should avoid using your PC whilst recording video which, given the time the recording takes, can be a bit of a pain. Another thing that happens to me is that the PC will start slowing down, which affects the decoding of the input video and the encoding of your converted file, causing frame lagging and video stutters. This seems to be a processing issue, not an internet connection issue and the only means to correct it I have found is to exit all applications and then start again.
The good news is, once you've learned all the quirks, figured out how to set everything up so you can record without incident, you can get some pretty good results from Audials. There is going to be some quality reduction, since you're re-encoding video that has previously been encoded, but the degradation is generally imperceptible. I've tried and succeeded in recording from DVD, the BBC's iPlayer and from the Lovefilm website. There remains the question of the legality of the act. For me, recording from the BBC iPlayer is the same as recording the same program from the TV, so I'm not overly concerned by that. However, DRM protected content such as that from Lovefilm is a much bigger grey area and only your conscience can guide you here.
This review has become very long and I haven't even talked about the purely audio features, but in essence they are more numerous but work in a very similar fashion. The plus side with audio is that it works without windows and screensavers don't (generally) affect it, but other sounds will probably be recorded along with your music (new email arriving or a chat window opening, for example), so you still need to pay attention.
To wrap things up, Audials One will do what it claims - the thing is whether you have the patience to get it to do it. As I mentioned, it is still a long way from being user friendly; the interface and menus are messy and confusing and make you feel like a pirate. Audials One also requires some degree of computer literacy and knowledge of video formats to get the best of. It's for these reasons that I find it hard to recommend it, even though it gets the job done, because it is not for everyone. For those who are not afraid to fiddle and experiment, all I can say is that it does work, so you might as well go for it.