Automen: a small yet brilliant video converter

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Automen is a free GUI for Mencoder that can perform video conversions across multiple formats and encoders.

It supports XviD (for AVI encoding), FLV, X264 (MP4 for Ipod/PSP/PS3), WMV, MPEG4, MPEG2, and Huffyuv and is designed to be simple and straightforward for quick video conversion.

I will not mince words: this little program has unexpectedly come out of nowhere to become one of my favorite video conversion program hands down. The primary reason for this is in it’s user interface: the design is simple and makes sense, yet delivers a high degree of control and advanced functionality.

Here are the top 8 reasons why this program rocks:

  1. Set output width, not output resolution: you can tell Automen, for example, that you want your output video to be 640 pixels in width and it will determine what the height should be based on the input video aspect ratio. This is a good thing, as one thing I do NOT understand in most video converters is their insistence on the user defining the full, fixed output video resolution (e.g. 630×480), which is totally needless and in many situations results in converted movies with aspect ratios that are out of whack. You will not have to worry about wrong aspect ratios with Automen.
  2. Encode by desired file size, not bitrate: how many people know what bitrate is? Not many, yet many video conversion programs insist on asking the user for their desired video bitrate. Instead these programs can do what Automen does and ask the user for the desired video size in megs, something which everyone can understand (the larger the video the more bitrate it can give you and the higher the quality). If you must adjust the bitrate manually, however, you can do so in the “advanced settings” tab.
  3. Supports multithreaded processing: i.e. will take advantage of multiple core CPUs for faster conversion (check the box in the lower left corner of the ’basic settings’ tab to turn this on).
  4. Offers multiple encoding quality settings: aside from setting the output size, which will greatly influence the output quality, you can select from a number of encoding presets (e.g. single pass or two pass, slow or fast, etc). In this case the tradeoff is between quality on the one hand and how quickly you want the conversion to be completed on the other.
  5. Process only video, only audio, or both: simply check the appropriate box in the “advanced settings” tab. You can extract (demux) audio tracks from video files by checking the audio tab and unchecking the video tab.
  6. Split output videos into multiple files: simply set the size in megs for each desired chunk to split into.
  7. Normalize audio: for your audio track, whether as part of a video or when demuxing. Check the appropriate box in the “advanced settings” tab for this.
  8. Automen Screenshot program path(s)Self contained: once you download and uncompress, the Automen directory comes with all the tools/filters you will need to perform conversions. Note that on first use you will need to adjust the paths to point to the various tools inside the Automen folder (see screenshot on the right for an example whereby Automen is placed in the root (C:) drive); MKVMerge is optional). If you need a freeware program that can decompress .RAR check out Tugzip, Jzip, or ExtractNow.

More info on this program:

  • Other advanced functions: cropping (with preview option), denoise (light/normal/severe), and the ability to pick and choose a resizing filter. There’s even the option to download and convert streaming video from a URL in the clipboard, which I tried without success (but wasn’t really that interested in anyway).
  • Containers: are bound to codecs, such that encoding with Xvid will always result in an AVI file, and encoding with x264 will always produce an MP4 file, etc. This, is to provide “simplicity and automation” according to the program’s author.
  • Batch encoding: is possible. Add jobs to the queue then start all jobs at once. One glitch here is that if you close the queue window for whatever reason then continue adding jobs there does not seem to be a way to get it back again.
  • Source code: is available for download.

Wish list:

  • The ability to merge output files: please.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: this program combines a simplicity of user experience while simultaneously being powerful and offering advanced functionality under the hood. One thing that some users will miss I am sure is the ability to use and or create “profiles”, which has become fashionable in many video converters. It also lacks some functionality such as support for hardcoding subtitles, joining output files, and the ability to mix and match container formats and codecs.

On the flip side, the reason I am giving this program the (coveted ;) ) Freewaregenius Pick award is because Automen is an intuitive tool that delivers effective video conversion very well and is flexible and powerful enough to do exactly what I want quickly and easily. Definitely a keeper.

Version Tested: 5.0

Compatibility: WinAll. Also coming soon for Linux, it seems.

Go to Automen forum page to download the latest version (approx 10.3 megs).