Elemental's Badaboom 1.0: The Redemption

Remember Elemental? It’s the company that put out Badaboom, the world’s first GPU accelerated H.264 video transcoder built using CUDA. NVIDIA was particularly excited about Badaboom as it finally gave NVIDIA a consumer-level CUDA application to point to when making the argument of why its GPUs were better than both ATI’s GPUs and Intel’s CPUs alone.

Unfortunately, the beta release of Badaboom needed some work. It didn’t do anything well, at all. After that original Badaboom review I met with Sam Blackman, Elemental’s CEO and we went through the list of things that needed to be fixed.

I should give credit to Mr. Blackman, normally whenever we post any sort of a critical review of any product, the company is fiercely upset with us. I argued with Intel PR for years over our Pentium 4 reviews, AMD felt our review of the Radeon HD 3870 was unfair, and if we don’t mention PhysX as a feature advantage of its GPUs then NVIDIA gets a little emotional. As harsh as the original review was however, Sam wasn’t irrationally upset, I believe his exact words were “that was harsh” and then it was straight to “what can we do to make it better?”.

It’s Sam’s attitude that was reflected so greatly in what became Badaboom 1.0.

The changes were sweeping, now gone is the Pro version, which is welcome given that the Pro version was anything but that. Elemental is instead only focusing on the consumer version and will be rolling in features into this version over time.

The initial consumer release was only supposed to support up to 480p output files, while the new 1.0 release can do up to 720p (the old “pro” version supported up to 1080p). The 1.1 release due out in the next few days will add 1080p support. While originally being slated for use in the Badaboom Pro, AVCHD and HDV input formats are now both a part of the $29.99 consumer version.

All in all, killing off the pro version and folding mostly everything into the consumer version made a lot of sense.

There are still some pretty serious limitations: 1) there’s no official support for Blu-ray movies, 2) no official support for DivX, 3) the highest H.264 profile supported is still baseline (although Elemental plans on adding Main support in 1.1 and High profile support in the future).

Elemental did add support for Dolby Digital audio input, although DTS is still being worked on. The only audio output format supported is still AAC-LC.

The total sum of all of this is that Elemental’s first version of Badaboom now has a focus, a very specific one, but it gives us a target to shoot for. This isn’t an application that you’re going to use to backup your Blu-ray collection, it’s not even very useful for backing up your DVDs, but what it can do very well is transcode your DVDs for use on a portable media player like an iPhone or iPod.

Funky Issues? Resolved

The biggest problem with the previous version of Badaboom was that it couldn’t do anything right. I tried transcoding Blu-rays, DivX files, chimpanzees, DVDs, and each input file had some sort of quirk associated with it. Even taking a simple DVD, which Badaboom was supposed to support flawlessly, and transcoding it sometimes left me with an unusable output file of the wrong frame rate.

Focusing Badaboom’s attention, Elemental now made one thing work very well: DVDs. Point Badaboom at an unencrypted VIDEO_TS folder or a DVD disc/image and it will now perfectly rip the DVD to the appropriate resolution.

I should mention that DRM is rearing its ugly head here once more as Badaboom won’t automatically convert an encrypted DVD. Thankfully Slysoft’s AnyDVD simply running in the background is enough for Badaboom to transcode any DVD. If you haven’t used AnyDVD, I highly recommend it - it’s a great way of getting rid of encryption on both DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

Elemental also fixed the weird image quality issues, the output no longer gets scaled out of its correct aspect ratio when downscaled. Hooray.

Badaboom: Quad-Core Desired

Badaboom obviously does very well with a fast GPU, but the CPU requirements are also reasonably high. Keeping the GeForce GTX 280 fed actually ate up 50% of the CPU power of our Core 2 Quad Q9450 in our tests, it seems that Badaboom won’t scale beyond two cores.

The problem is that Elemental and NVIDIA make the argument that using the GPU to transcode video frees up your CPU to do other tasks while you’re doing this. The reality is that this is only true if you’ve got four cores, otherwise your dual-core CPU is just as pegged as it would be if you were doing a CPU-based video transcode. The difference here being that the transcode is going a lot faster.

While NVIDIA wants you to spend less money on the CPU and put the savings towards a faster GPU, the correct approach continues to be buying a decent CPU and a decent GPU, even with GPU accelerated video encoding. If you’re going to be doing a lot of video encoding, a quad-core CPU is still a good idea regardless of whether you’re doing your encoding on the GPU or not.

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  • plonk420 - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    this review is irksome... no mention of x264 version, no mention of resolution or bitrate used on the chart. as a previous comment says, the PQ on the x264 encode looks like the resize was screwed up... the comparison to a software solution was pretty poor. Reply
  • plonk420 - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    http://plonkmedia.org/demo/test.html">http://plonkmedia.org/demo/test.html <-low resolution stream (zoomed 2x)
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=ECOIUXQL">http://www.megaupload.com/?d=ECOIUXQL <-low resolution download
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TPJVM0Y6">http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TPJVM0Y6 <-high resolution
    http://www.viddler.com/explore/plonk420/videos/1/">http://www.viddler.com/explore/plonk420/videos/1/ <-what i'm assuming is a transcode (but same site that Anandtech used)
    Reply
  • plonk420 - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    quick and dirty tests... (emphesis on dirty; i have Opera with 30+ tabs open, uTorrent, VNC Viewer, handful of other programs open)
    source: Star Wars 4 VTS_02_4, 18 mins
    low res: 320x128 took 310 seconds (±10 sec), processor use was ~30-40%
    high res: 640x272 took 325 seconds (±10 sec), processor use was 60-70%
    bicubic resizing, no cropping to exactly 2.39:1; couldn't be arsed. just used MeGUI's default iPod encoding settings, but set Quant 19. did SubME 2, 4, 5, and one test with 6 (the high res). it didn't seem to change the time it took to encode.

    i'm sure you could up quality, significantly, too with better resizing options (i ususally use Lanczos4), other iPod compatible switches, at minimal speed cost. i don't usually encode for low bitrate/PMPs, but settings to do so are a google away.

    but this pq looks decent to me. no issues the hardware encode had. using x264 has a BIT of a learning curve, but can be as fast as these hardware solutions (and possibly excede PQ with the proper options). recent builds have Peryn, i7, and even Phenom optimizations (that weren't utilized in one of the other site's i7 x264 tests).

    my tests were encoded on a "mere" Phenom 9550 @ 2.2ghz on Vista x64 SP1, drives fragmented to hell.

    options were --qp 19 --level 3 --nf --no-cabac --partitions none --merange 12 --threads auto --thread-input --progress --no-psnr --no-ssim (with --level being 1.3 for low or 3 for high, and --subme being 2, 4, 5, 6). build was 1051 (a few builds out of date; 1055 has better CAVLC PQ according to changelog)
    Reply
  • mvrx - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    I've been grumpy about this for years. Most all the commercial video editing packages have treated mananging and encoding 1080p as a pro-only, or "coming next year" feature.. 1080p isn't pro folks. It's consumer level.

    I have to use StaxRip with x264.exe encoder to do what I really want, as most commericial packages still have issues with 1080p. Everything should be ready for any resolution, including super high def. Don't try to charge customers more just because they are ready for what will be considered common in another year or two.

    I'd also like to see the upconverting technolologies that HD dvd/BR players do in real time mature for software converters. I'd like to take my home movies and DVDs and convert them to 1080p, then encode to h.264. I know that doesn't give me true native quality content, I just like the idea of standardizing all my media to 1080p.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    Thanks for keeping up with these articles. GPGPU's killer app for most consumers is video encoding. One thing that's missing from this article as was alluded to by an earlier comment is a reasonable price comparison - I'd like to see how the GPGPU encoders stack up to a dual core CPU since adding a video card is a much easier upgrade and lots of people have dual core CPU systems already. Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    It's interesting comparing this review to the Avivo vs Badaboom article I read elsewhere earlier this month (using the leaked pre-release Catalyst) where they achieved significant performance improvements over using a CPU (i.e., it was actually encoding on the GPU in that review, whereas the conclusion here is that it isn't). They didn't use a Core i7 however. Still, when it comes to using a $200 video card with a $200 CPU, or a $1000 CPU to achieve the same thing, the choice is obvious (well, when the quality is sorted out).

    Regardless AMD really shouldn't have released Avivo in that state, or they could have at least just called it a preview. What's wrong with AMD/ATI's developers? Don't they have any pride in their work?
    Reply
  • bobsm1 - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    Looks like Anand is actually reviewing the products instead of taking the marketing crap that is being provided and just posting it. Takes a bit more work but the result is more interesting Reply
  • daletkine - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    I used my Sapphire Toxic 4870 to convert the MPEG2 recording of Lost in Space VCR tape, to DivX using Avivo Video converter. My size went from 5.10GB to 3.48GB, from 720x480 (12Mbps) to 640x480 (converter doesn't give res options). Speed wasn't drammatic, like around 40min for 2h10min movie, on an Athlon 64 X2 @ 3.23GHz. CPU was utilized 100% and GPU was utilized (can be seen with RivaTuner) around 8-10%. Video quality was great, nothing to complain, no artifacts like anand pointed out, looks fine. So, seems to have worked for me, but not what I expected. The bad: WMV displays artifacting just like anand showed, Catalyst 8.12 drivers have issue with Xvid stuttering playback, so I saw that in WMP when playing my converted file (solved by using VLC player), no compression that I can see taking place (I used max quality setting, but medium only gives savings of 500MB, don't know about low), and it still needs a quad core.
    The good: it actually works for me, free, simple, good quality (when works).
    This on Vista 64, 8GB ram, Athlon 64 X2 5000+ @ 3.23GHz.
    Reply
  • Jovec - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    8.12 Avivio just creates a 0 byte file when trying to transcode my Xvid (AutoGK) videos. Ah well... Reply
  • Etsp - Monday, December 15, 2008 - link

    Man, that's some high level of compression. Careful with that, it may just have made an information black-hole on your hard-drive. :) Reply

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