What the makers of Blaze Media Pro (www. MystikMedia.com) have created is a kind of multimedia Swiss Army knife. Like a Swiss Army knife, though, there are better standalone tools for specific jobs, but it’s still a great thing to have all the tools you might need in one single location.
When I first delved into this program, I was blown away by the breadth of what was available. There are tools for doing almost every kind of operation to every kind of media. Whether you’re a home user looking for a Windows Media Player alternative for ripping disc tracks and sidestepping the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that WMP is so strident in enforcing on you, or you’re a web developer looking to compress video files down to a reasonable size for web delivery, this tool has something for you.
Price to Value (5 out of 5)
There’s no way any honest person could evaluate Blaze Media Pro and not see it as a value. I’ve always thought Quick Time Pro was a great value for $30, but Blaze Media Pro does a whole lot more for not much more money. At $50 for the full version (the 15-day fully functioning trial is free), the program is a steal. You could literally only use a segment of the program’s functionality and it’d still be a value.
This is a counter-intuitive argument about what’s not hot about the price of a product, but I wonder if the folks at Mystik Media couldn’t work through some of the less than stellar features of Blaze Media Pro if they charged more for it and therefore had more capital to spend on refinements.
Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)
The download was fairly quick at just over 16MB, and installation was a breeze; it was fast and had few prompts. I have a lot of other audio/video tools on the machine that I installed Blaze Media Pro on, and I’m glad to report that it didn’t take over any file associations, a predisposition that I wish some of the “big guys” would emulate. It comes as an .exe file that runs an InstallAware installer, which also contains options to remove or repair the installation. Blaze Media Pro also contains a Update Wizard feature on the program’s Help menu.
Like a lot of other programs, the installer routine requires a reboot of your system. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it’s just an annoyance that I dislike. The only other aspect of installation I take exception with is this: software generally gets licensed in two ways, “per machine” or “per developer.” The example of a “per machine” license would be Microsoft Office applications. Your license allows you to install it an Office program on a single machine, but you can install it on a desktop and a laptop, as long as you don’t use them concurrently. An example of a “per developer” license would be Microsoft’s Expression Web; it’s licensed to the developer who buys it and as such can be installed on each machine the developer will use.
Blaze Media Pro requires an additional payment of $25 for an “upgrade” if you want to use it on another computer. I’d like to see them be at least as licensee-friendly as Microsoft is with Office. Besides, this is definitely a program that, if you have it on your desktop, you’re most likely going to want it on your laptop too.
User Interface (3 out of 5)
The main window of this application is great. It reminds me of a cross between Quick Time Pro and Nero Ultra. It’s got that brushed silver look, with the main program functionality very accessible on buttons to the right of the main window. The manufacturer says it’s skinnable, but that’s not something I’d ever be bothered with. The developers of this program have used what often seems to be the most elusive component in UI design: logic. By logically separating the main functionalities in the main window, they’ve made it so that you can easily get to what you need, when you need it, without deep menu hunting.
While the main window is very nice and attractive, each of the program’s logical function groups (audio conversion, audio editing, CD burning, video conversion, video editing, etc.) springs up in new windows. That’s not really a problem; what I didn’t like is that the new windows for the task-specific functions were pretty unattractive and reminded me of how programs used to look back when I was using Windows 98. This is one of the things that made me wonder about the “what’s not” regarding the price.
Product Features (5 out of 5)
This is a product that you could never accuse of being short on features. This is truly a Swiss Army knife type of tool. For video conversion, you can convert from just about any type of video file to MPEG 1 or 2, WMV, or AVI formats; you can even convert video to Flash (.FLV) and more. For audio conversion, you can convert just about any type of audio file (including CD) to MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, and more.
Note: all these conversions are “two way,” where any of its output file types can also serve as input file types and vice versa. The utility also provides for compression, editing, batch processing ,and so on for each type of file it works with.
The feature set is so broad in fact that you can mimic Windows Media Player’s ability to rip the tracks from a CD and allow the application to get album and track information from the Internet. Blaze Media Pro uses GraceNote for this information.
My experiment was with a song by one of my daughter’s “tween” vocalists, from a Walt Disney CD. I chose this one because the disc generally spins up in a computer as a Flash application rather than the default behavior of a normal CD. Plus, it’s fairly new and had the best chance of not being identified by the CDDB at GraceNote. My initial guess was right; the application couldn’t find the album or track information. It was, however, able to find the information for other conventional audio discs without a problem.
I also experimented with a video track. This one was from a customer of mine who wanted a video (.WMV) set up to play on their website. They received the file as a fairly large Windows Media Video file from the TV station. I used Blaze Media Pro to resize and compress the video, add a title and closing slide (just images I made in my image editor), and then output the file as a .FLV (Flash Video) file, which I could stream into a conventional Flash (.SWF) file embedded into the customer’s web page. There were no problems with any of the operations at all.
While the application strives to do a lot of things, and it does a lot of things well, there were some issues. At one point I received an out-of-memory warning when struggling to grab my daughter’s CD information from GraceNote, and at a couple of points the video conversion would run but result in a converted unusable file of 0 bytes.
I’m sure with more experience using the product I would have overcome these issues, and I’m not surprised to find some things that didn’t work perfectly. I’ve found less than perfect functionality in A/V programs costing literally ten times what Blaze Media Pro costs, but they’re issues nonetheless.
Performance (5 out of 5)
Regardless of the task, Blaze Media Pro didn’t crash my system, lock up the screen, or take longer than another program to complete the same operation. I’m comparing the general performance to conversion and compilation in Techsmith’s Camtasia, Adobe’s Quick Time Pro, and Windows Media Encoder. I’m running Blaze Media Pro on a Windows XP Pro operating system, and a computer with an AMD Athlon 64 single core processor at 2.19GHz, with 3GB of RAM.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary in the performance of this application. It stands up against the applications from the larger software companies and shows no performance weakness at all.
Help & Support (4 out of 5)
The Update Wizard is definitely this application’s best attempt at support. The company also has a toll-free phone number, which is a real rarity these days. They have the Help menu in the application’s main window arranged fairly well, and it will forward you to the right contact, help, or FAQ page consistently. The FAQ isn’t bad, either. Another facet of the “hotness” of their service is this: I queried them by filling out their form asking about the issue I was having with 0-byte output files and received a good answer and a link to the latest build. The answer was obviously from a real person and came less than three hours after I asked it. That’s pretty darn hot.
With an application as broad as this (doing everything from ripping and burning CDs to video editing and conversion) the manufacturer should have (in addition to solid help menus) a section on their site for tutorials and a forum for users to help each other and for company staff to answer questions.
I’d be willing to bet that the low cost of this program contributes to the weakness in the support/help aspect, but maybe the majority of users would see it as a fair trade.
I’d like to see this application work with MP4 files, I’d like to see it output an HTML file and an .SWF file to stream the .FLV files it does create, and I’d like to see the applications within it all share the theme from the main window.
Blaze Media Pro is a tool I can definitely see being in my arsenal permanently. Should you buy it? There’s no need; one of the best things about this product is that you’ll get a free 15-day trial with it. I can’t think of a more fair way for people to find out whether a product is a value to them personally. I can say with 100 percent certainty that you won’t regret giving it a try; you have nothing to lose.