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.

And now, the rest of the story Image Quality


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  • mediaconvert - Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - link

    I record a lot of tele on my computer and am always wanting faster ways to convert and compress my videos. When I heard about ati producing an equivilant of badaboom I was really excited and thought I could finally justify spending £150+ on a graphics card especially when it would be faster than the cpu. I have a ati 3450 and man was I dissapointed. I tried to compress a 120mb mpeg2 file and ended up with a 150 mb file. Also if the reviews are right it doesn't use the gpu. whats the point in having a gpu converter that doesn't use the gpu??? I can only speak for myself but if amd/ati comes out with a serious way of quickly converting/compressing the mpeg2 files (perhaps also with a batch processing mode) then they have a sale here especially if it allows me to play the latest video games.

    Currently I have been looking at video cards and I have to say there are two things pushing me to nvidia one is badaboom and the other nvidias hybridpower (use of an nvidia motherboard integrated graphics to reduce gpu usage and hence gpu fan noise when gpu is not needed)

    I recon ati/amd needs to get creative here and really commit to gpu video conversion. ( or even gpu + cpu video conversion ) If they can produce real world speed benefits then people will buy it.
  • Focher - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    I have a 3-way SLI of 280s with a QX9650 CPU. I have both Badaboom and TMPG Xpress, both of which support GPU encoding. In my experience, I can actually encode video a bit faster with just the CPU. Badaboom apparently supports multi-GPU configurations now, but only to split encoding when you have queued multiple files. TMPG Xpress is definitely the more powerful and capable tool, but doesn't support multiple GPUs. Also, Badaboom apparently just released 1.1 that adds quite a few features but I have not yet tried it. Reply
  • Rainman200 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Just assign resources to help the developers of x264 to make use of GPU's through OpenCL and that will do more good than any of these waste of time apps.

    Anand I'd definitely say the x264 is sharper vs Badaboom in the two pictures you posted, also please use Ribot264 or AutoMKV as they use the latest builds of x264, Handbrake trails development of x264 because of its Apple Mac focus so important features added to x264 which improve its image quality are left out months behind other x264 encoders.
  • dryloch - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    I had a few ATI cards years ago but have been using Nvidia recently. I decided to try a 4800 series ATI card this time around partly because I hoped the number of stream processors would be useful for stuff like this. I have been looking forward to this driver for months and now they release something that doesn't work. My time is valuable to me ATI, don't waste it trying to make somthing work that you know is broken. I don't care what happens with the speed of the next gen cards I am going back to Nvidia. Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    This review seems to have gotten it to work better. Althought still not flawless.
  • talmholt - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link


    I think some of your issues are coming from Vista. I have used the converter on a WinXP32 machine with good results. It converts a 2 hour movie (MPEG2 640x480 3GB initial size) to an iPod file (320x240 500MB final size) in 8 minutes and the result is flawless!

    I have also tried converting HDTV (OTA) content to a DVD format and that worked great too.

    PS, my system is only a Intel Core 2 E6420 with a AMD 4850 (everything at stock speeds). Please try again Anand.

  • Chris Simmo - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    I use handbrake, but noticed something wierd. I had a 9800GT in the system, using handbrakes default movie options x264 and I would get about 150 turbo first pass, 48fps second pass on my overclocked q9400@3.5. I changed the graphics over to a HD4850, and saw an option for VP3. I selected it, the CLI crashed, the handbrake UI was still running though, changed back to x264, and then it was 290 turbo first pass and over 150 second pass. This is running vista 64 with the 8.12 drivers. During this time the GPU temp went up 2 degrees, all four cores were at 100%. I really need some one else to have a play and see what they get. I put in a 4870 to try, but I hadn't worked out the VP3 thing yet, so it didn't change form the standard 48fps Reply
  • Chris Simmo - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    Sorry, that was 'Shaun of the dead' DVD to MKV, Reply
  • niuniu2012 - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    You can use http://www.dvdtomp3converter.com/">http://www.dvdtomp3converter.com/ to select target subtitle and audio track according at your will. DVD to MP3 Converter also provides you with fruitful options to set audio properties of audio bitrate, Sample Rate and so on. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - link

    "Last year, NVIDIA introduced it's CUDA"

    it is CUDA!

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