DeBabelizer Pro 6 for Mac OS X

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, December 2005
Published by: Equilibrium
Requires: Mac OS X v10.3 or higher, Power Mac G3, G4 or G5 processor, 128MB free RAM, 100MB free hard drive space, 1024x768 monitor resolution or higher, Internet connection
MSRP: $399.95

DeBabelizer Pro is designed to automate repetitive media editing tasks on the desktop and server. It's a tool designed with both print and Web output in mind. It is also definitely aimed at professional graphics and video processing applications. DeBabelizer Pro is fundamentally a program which, with potentially only basic input from users, automatically prepares images, animations and digital video files for optimal multi-channel delivery (prepress, print, Web, DVD, mobile devices, interactive products, e-mail) with a simple drag and drop. DeBabelizer Pro 6 is designed to handle any core digital media assets in your inventory.

I can't remember exactly how long I've been using DeBabelizer. Eight years? Ten years? In any event, during the course of my 'relationship' with this software, I had occasion to try a few competitors. After every comparison however, I kept going back to DeBabelizer. In this case familiarity has not bred contempt, contrary to the old aphorism. I've been stuck back at DeBabelizer version 4.5 on Windows since it was released in 1998 and version 5 for Mac (2001), so I jumped at the opportunity to review (and more important for me personally, upgrade to) version 6 for Mac. Installation in OS X is typically trouble free. The program registers itself online and then immediately checks for any available upgrade. Among other things, I use DeBabelizer for batch processing digital photos and digital video files for use in online galleries. I prefer the Mac OS X version, but I frequently use the Windows version as well.

The explanation of what DeBabelizer does should be comparatively simple. It processes batches of graphics, digital images, animation files and video files in every conceivable way. The range of conversion and adjustment functions include palette changes, filters, canvas adjustments, image size changes, flip, rotate, trim, adjust DPI, alter intensity and contrast, control Gamma, adjust hue and saturation, invert colors, translate values and a whole lot more. The actual conversion and adjustment function list, combined with the selections available in the Conditional Workflow dialog, amounts to hundreds (or thousands) of combinations in addition to the fine controls available within each main function. So the program has power to spare with a processing engine that offers more than enough horsepower for even the most intensive professional environment.

As long as we all agree that DeBabelizer is a serious professional tool with a proven track record, looking for problems becomes, well, problematic. I could suggest that DeBabelizer Pro 6 is not the best product to use for processing single image files. On the other hand, if it's already up and running, why launch Photoshop if the processing you have to do can be properly handled by DeBabelizer? I also tried to find problems with DeBabelizer's image import and export filters which are one of the key components to the product's success. Again, and despite trying a wide variety of problem TIF and TGA files in my collection, I couldn't stump DeBabelizer. It appears to be able to handle even the oddest and rarest file formats too, and remains the reigning Queen of file conversion. You name it, DeBabelizer can convert it, including several dozen 17 year old Atari PI3 bitmaps (stored on positively ancient DSDD floppy disks no less) flawlessly converted to JPG and TIF.

There are a number of user interface improvements in version 6. You can open an unlimited number of batch windows, so you can drag & drop files between windows, workflows and batches. Ditto for Actions (scripts, batch files, etc.). Changing or editing commands is much easier than it used to be. There are a number of new file types for handling workflows and batches. For industrial users, it's a boon. The new job lists file type helps distinguish jobs destined for the new DeBabelizer server product.

I particularly love the drop-target icon in the new Workflow window. Drag a file or a batch of files onto the drop-target and processing begins immediately. The drop-target assumes the global workflow settings. Dragging & dropping the Action Arrow onto an image or batch of images to begin processing is also one of the neatest time savers around. Photoshop file open options have been enhanced and the composite/layers selection switch is very handy. DeBabelizer Pro 6 has something called Droplets, which are essentially processing actions coupled with a workflow, any of which can be saved and reused at any time. The ability to leave Droplets on your OS X desktop means you don't even have to open DeBabelizer to process images—just drop an image or a batch of them onto a Droplet, whatever your needs you can create an unlimited number of Droplets.

Complex conditional workflows can be set up from a single dialog. This is one of my favorite features in version 6. The condition options are all set from a series of selection drop lists which include Boolean operators and lots of logical choices. Conditional workflows can also be sent to a DeBabelizer server. Need to convert a folder full of mixed-depth scanned TIFs into completely different size 8 bit PNGs with no borders and a completely different series of file names, except for the 8 bit ones and anything scanned prior to March? No problem. Set up a workflow, add the TIFs to the batch, click once or twice and away you go. Maybe you have a folder with 160 assorted image files (BMP, TIF, PNG, TGA) that all have to be converted to JPG except for the 16 bit ones with July 2004 in the file date and "mookie" in the file name? No problem. I could go on, but you get the idea. If you can think of an image or video file conversion complication, it's likely that DeBabelizer can handle it with a few clicks.

File cataloging, file comparison functions, script actions and creation, slideshow and superpalette functions have advanced to the point where desktop users of DeBabelizer should be able to exert tremendous control over image and video content prior to beginning any processing or conversions.

I think the key to understanding DeBabelizer and its power is in recognizing and working with its batch processing capabilities. Every new session with the software should begin with the Batch window. Continue work on an existing batch, add files to create a new batch, set up a workflow, and process the files. It's so logical and simple that it belies the power under the hood. You get some glimpses of that power whenever you assemble a workflow of course, but the clean user interface helps everything go quickly and smoothly—an important factor when you have to process dozens, hundreds or thousands of files. The tool should never get in the way of the job.

Cons: On the Mac, certain user niceties which exist in Windows aren't quite as obviously available. For example, because DeBabelizer is so thoroughly batch-process oriented, the simple act of loading a whole bunch of files at once becomes a four-step process in the Mac version as opposed to the three-step process in Windows. In other words, the Open File function on the main Mac menu should allow users to pick one, several or all files from the open file dialog rather than limiting you to dragging & dropping files onto the batch window or making precise selections only from the batch window's open file command. It's not much of a 'Con' really. As of this writing, version 6 is not yet available for Windows XP (grumble, grumble).

Pros: DeBabelizer Pro 6 sternly and wisely adheres to its batch processing strengths. The program ships with something called Action Pack 1, which is a series of (editable) workflows—52 of them—which work with Apple's OS X Automator function. The combination of the Action Pack (and the editability to add your own logos or whatever) and Automator is quite amazing. Just plug in the Action Pack files by dropping them into the Automator folder) and away you go—a ton of workflows to choose from available throughout OS X. Unlimited number of windows and workflows. User interface is much improved. Unlimited number of batch files. Reads Photoshop CS layered files. Provides anti-aliased text rendering which print proofers and file pre-flight people will love. This desktop version ties in perfectly with the new DeBabelizer Server version. That means you can literally deliver any prepress image files or processed files or workflows directly to a Web or network connected DeBabelizer server. Equilibrium has held the high ground for years, in my opinion, because they stick to their knitting. That means the company seems to be keeping its eyes clearly focused on the real professional needs of its end users, evolving the program as needs expand and grow. For pros, hobbyists, amateurs, and anyone who regularly needs to process large numbers of image, video and animation files, this is the Rolls Royce. Amazing product. Not as expensive as a Rolls. Highly recommended.

Comments? Questions? Qualms? Technical problems? Send an e-mail!





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