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First Look: Video Monkey swings in to save the day

Aron Trimble

When Techspansion closed its doors in October of last year, there were hordes of individuals clamoring for a slice of easy video-conversion pie to fill the void in their now-empty hearts. Many did not find consolation in the fact that Handbrake supported universal input within a scant two months.

An application that offers every configuration option available is all well and good for many fine folks; but there are some of us that want this type of thing to be simple. What I and others desired so greatly was a video-conversion app for the rest of us -- and that application was VisualHub.

Enter Video Monkey. Following the release of Tyler's source code for VisualHub as the TranscoderRedux project, one lone soul, named Chris, decided to brave the trepid waters and save all of us from drowning in a sea of videos awaiting conversion for our iPhones and AppleTVs.

Chris makes it perfectly clear that Video Monkey's mission is inspired by, and borrowed from, Visual Hub. However, while Visual Hub relied heavily on AppleScript, Video Monkey is written exclusively in Cocoa. After Chris got in touch with TUAW, I got right to work checking out this holy grail of simple video-conversion applications. Read on for my first impressions and initial thoughts or just check out the gallery.

Gallery: Video Monkey: dead-simple video conversion | 6 Photos

Users of VisualHub or iSquint will feel pretty comfortable upon first launching Video Monkey, as the interface is very similar in many regards. However, to be fair, there is not a lot of variety to be had in a dead-simple video conversion application. For starters, there is a grid for dropping files on to which you would like to convert. It provides such useful information as the file name/location as well as the duration of the file. There are also columns for output file size, frame size, bitrate and audio quality. These magic numbers change depending on the conversion options selected from the lower half of the application.

In the application's toolbar is a button labeled "Show Movie" which provides a nice preview window ensuring you grabbed the correct file. The preview window seems to contain some as-yet-to-be implemented functionality for selecting a clip from the previewed video and only encoding that selection to get a sample of the output. When this functionality is implemented (or fixed) it will be incredibly handy for testing the quality settings and providing an easily-distributed sample of the encoded work.

The section below the grid will seem oddly familiar to VideoHub converts; but rest easy folks, the devil is in the pudding, or something. There is a drop-down list of items to which Video Monkey can convert. Currently it is limited to Apple-specific devices but as you can see from viewing the list, Chris plans to add more in the future.

The quality slider is a nifty little one-trick pony that allows the user to adjust, you guessed it, the quality of the output file created by Video Monkey. Rather than having five separate options on the slider, as VisualHub did, Video Monkey allows the user to dynamically move the slider to any point along the line. While making these changes Video Monkey updates the output file size, frame size, bitrate and audio quality to show the user exactly what the slider affects when it is moved.

Similar to VisualHub, Video Monkey supports H.264 encoding as well as Dolby surround tracks for the Apple TV-owners in the crowd. Also similar to VisualHub, Video Monkey allows you to select from a pre-determined list of actions you would like accomplished when Video Monkey completes its encoding task. My personal favorite is the "Add to iTunes and delete from destination" so I don't end up filling my hard drive with duplicates of miscellaneous video files option.

Video Monkey is a available now and is currently at a very fresh 0.1 release. However, Chris has plans to keep the project rolling and would love for people to submit issues and provide help. Apart from just general Cocoa-development any expertise in XML-crafting and database-scraping would also be of great benefit. In the future Chris plans to add DVD creation as well as support for other output devices. Right now, however, color me impressed with this little monkey!

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