Stoik Video Enhancer: Good Idea, Poor Implementation

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Almost everyone has a mobile phone with a camera that can record both still images and video nowadays. The only problem is that mobile video codecs don't exactly produce video of the highest quality. In fact, phone video is typically blocky, out of focus, shaky, and, well, pretty much useless for anything other than showing grandma your latest kid-spitting-up-strained-peas masterpiece. So I had really high hopes for this nifty-sounding tool from Stoik Imaging, makers of the very well-received Imagic and Panorama Maker image editing and management applications. Their work on techniques that improve the quality of marginal still images is really out on the cutting edge. Could their free demo do the same for mobile video? Unfortunately, in this first version of Stoik Video Enhancer ($49, free demo with watermarks), the answer is a resounding no.

Stoik Video Enhancer
Video Enhancer offers a wide range of options designed to clean up most of the problems with mobile phone videos.
I certainly wasn't expecting the kind of fantasy, CSI Miami-esque super resolution enhancement that's only possible in the world of television and movies, but almost anything would be an improvement. The software supports a wide range of mobile video codecs, which is good because most desktop PC media players or organizers offer spotty coverage to replay video from phones. That's about where the good news ends.

Stoik Video Enhancer requires the latest version of Windows Media Player and DirectX, so factor in the storage and time-to-download and -install these products into your consideration. If you're already up to date, great. If not, it could add another 15 minutes, a reboot, and about 75MB of hard drive space to the installation requirements.

I started out by picking some short (under one minute) clips of standard-definition video from my Android mobile phone (352 by 288 resolution, encoded in h.263). The largest was about 1.6MB in size and 33 seconds in length. The program, by default, has some modifications checked -- these are the real powerhouses of the program, and the reason you might pay $49 for Video Enhancer instead of just transcoding your mobile video into a more compatible format using something free, like FFMPEG.

By default, Stoik Video Enhancer opts to perform noise reduction and deblurring, and to make adjustments to the color balance and exposure levels, which (again, in theory) should drastically improve most of the things that are wrong with your average mobile phone video. It does not, by default, perform image stabilization or deinterlace videos, but you can check off boxes that will add those tasks to the video's enhancement to-do list, as well.

I clicked the Start button but I'm not really sure what happened next. The program informed me that it would take about 30 minutes to complete the tasks I selected, so I walked away. About an hour later, I came back to the PC to find that the program had crashed. I tried again and again on different test systems running 32-bit XP, disabling one of the enhancement features at a time, but each time something prevented the file from completing. The vendor was unable to replicate or explain this issue.

Eventually a different error message began to appear and, after a little closer analysis, I realized that the program had completely filled every last byte of storage space on my hard drive with its attempts, and those files were massively too large: Even when I simply tried to transcode video with no enhancement options whatsoever, Video Enhancer generated about 1GB of output for about every three seconds of video. That would make my 33 second video into an 11GB opus that could make James Cameron's IT director cry. Even with a terabyte of storage free, I found that the program chewed through the hard drive with reckless abandon.

Sadly, this version of Video Enhancer doesn't really make the cut, but perhaps your mileage may vary. Maybe the next release will be better, but for now, Stoik Video Enhancer is a great hard drive stress-test tool that, if you're luckier than me, may be able to convert and enhance your mobile phone videos as well.

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