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A Review of Sorenson

A Review of Sorensonís New Compression Suite for Macintosh
A Creative COW "Real World" Product Review



Jerry Hofmann reviews Sorenson’s Squeeze 3
Jerry Hofmann
Jerry Hofmann
jlh productions
Denver, Colorado USA

©2003 Jerry Hofmann and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Article Focus:
Jerry Hofmann has been impressed before by Sorenson Media's efforts -- after all, he reviewed Sorenson Media Squeeze for Quicktime. But with Sorenson's new Compression Suite, Jerry is totally blown away by the Suite's deceptively simple but incredibly powerful new interface. "It just doesn't get any easier than this if you want to compress video for the web, email or CD!"


I’ve been impressed before by Sorenson Media’s efforts, and am happy to say that Sorenson’s latest offering is for anyone who really wants to compress video for the web, email, or CD. Like Sorenson Media Squeeze for QuickTime, the new Suite’s interface is deceptively simple but incredibly powerful. Again, anyone can sit right down and become immediately comfortable with this software. But this new software Suite has an added bonus. It compresses not only QuickTime movies with a state of the art codec (arguably the best codec for QuickTime on the planet, the Pro version of Sorenson 3), it also compresses Flash files with the super great Spark Pro codec and introduces Sorenson’s new codec for MPEG-4 compressions! Better yet, you can do them all at the same time, even to sets of multiple source movies. Can’t keep Sorenson Media down, that’s for sure!

Available for both Mac and PC, I’m reviewing the Mac version here and again am totally blown away with the software. If you need the absolute best of the best in a software encoding system, and need very high quality compressions for the Web, CD, email, Flash, and even MPEG-4, you should run, not walk to http://www.sorenson.com and place an order.

Let’s walk through the Interface. When you startup the application, you are presented with this window:



You have three choices here: Import a single QT movie, import a “Watch Folder” or even capture a file from DV tape.

Squeeze allows you to perform batch processing with multiple source files using Watch Folders. You can put as many source files as you want in a folder and then have Squeeze compress all the files in that folder. It’s used for those batch jobs. This looks simple, and it is. Once you’ve selected one of the three, the main interface window opens.



Main Interface Window

I’ve selected a single clip here for demonstration, but if you are running Final Cut Pro, I can also report you could use a non-self contained FCP movie of any sequence as well. You are given a preview window in this case, to take a look at your source footage. I see a problem here with blanking on the sides, but not to worry, there’s a tool to repair this right in Squeeze…

Take a look across the top. The first four buttons let you select the output file type: .mov, .swf and flv (for Flash movies), and MPEG-4. Select your choice, (in this case I’ll make a QT compressed movie). Then select the “Filters” button and up pops a window to make some adjustments with:

Filters Window

You can adjust Contrast, Brightness, Gamma, White Restore, and Black Restore, Deinterlace (with no less than 5 different ways to approach this, notably with Telecine options), Two choices for Video Noise Reduction, Cropping, adding a fade in and/or out and Normalize audio. These filters can be added to any source file and used in any of the output formats too. As you make adjustments here, they are reflected in the preview window on the left. How easy is this? Can’t imagine an interface that could be more intuitive. I selected to crop out the blanking seen on the sides, and brighten the file up a bit, lower the contrast and adjust Gamma, as I know the person I’m going to send this file to is going to be viewing on a PC, and left the rest alone in this case.


The result is here:



Next step is to decide the amount of compression I’m going to apply. In this case, I’m going to email the result, and don’t want my receiver to have to wait for a long download, so I’ll compress pretty heavily. In this “test” case, I’m setting up to send a QT movie for my client’s approval many miles away, and will use e-mail to send it and will choose MPEG-4 as my compressed movie format. As a side note, all I had to do to crop the movie to my liking was select “Custom” from the popup menu, and drag the sides and top in with my mouse in the preview window and click OK, great for getting rid of the blanking areas that may be present. Note I don’t have audio involved here, but if I did, I could normalize the audio during the process by simply clicking on the checkbox in the lower left corner.

Now it was time to choose the MPEG-4 compression settings I was going to apply, and the 8 custom presets are on the right of the filter and Player options buttons. They are from the left, Streaming 56k, 100k, and 300k. These are followed by progressive small, medium and Large. Then the last two are for presets of compressions of files for a LAN, or CD. You can even select any number of them and compress the source to many versions, and don’t forget you could be setting up more than one source file as well. Pretty cool, eh?

So I’ll make a small streaming file, as my mythical client has a dial up connection. 56kbps works in my situation, content is what my client wants to see, and not quality. Though the 56kbps QT streaming quality of this software is remarkably good, and the result of an original uncompressed file that was 92.75 MB in size is now a file that’s 92 KB. And certainly good enough to show my client so he can decided if he likes the treatment of my animated logo. This is almost 1/100th the original size! Not a problem emailing it now!

It took 100 times longer to write this article than it did to do the compression too. But I wanted to check out how this compared to using Final Cut Pro for the job instead, and even use the Sorenson 3 codec supplied with FCP 3. It lacks all of the customizing features of the Pro Codec and I wanted to see for myself just how much better (if any) this compression would be because I used the Pro Codec for the job.

Turns out a LOT better. Not just a little. The Pro in the Pro codec means something; dual pass VBR also improves the compressed files’ look and at no cost to size. Adding the Suite of tools to your system gives you options you’d not have without its addition. The filter, the ability to do a whole slew of compressions to a whole slew of different source media files makes the Suite a wonderful addition to your set of tools. AND it plugs right into your NLE software. For example, if you have Final Cut Pro, the Pro version of Sorenson’s codec shows up in the list of QuickTime export codec options! Great for a quick export when you want quality and don’t want to bother opening Squeeze to access the quality…

There isn’t much of a learning curve either take a look at the excerpt from the Help menu below. Each of the colored underlined letters would be links in the help menu you can access by clicking on them. They won’t work here, but trust me, they will with the product!


To compress multiple source files:

1. Launch the Sorenson Squeeze application by clicking on the Launch Squeeze icon to access the Squeeze Project dialog box.

2. Select the Open Watch Folder icon or from the Menu bar, select File/Open Watch Folder to access the Choose a Folder dialog box.

3. Create a folder to use as your “Watch Folder” by selecting the New Folder button.
  • You can use an existing folder or create a new folder to serve as your Watch Folder. If you want to use an existing folder, you can skip this step.

4. Browse to the folder you want to use as your “Watch Folder” and then select the Choose button.

5. Squeeze automatically creates two folders inside of the Watch Folder.

  • Squeeze Work (Located at the root of the Watch Folder)— Where Squeeze places your compressed files.
  • Squeeze SourceFiles (Located at the root of the Squeeze Work folder)— For storing source files after Squeeze compresses them. As Squeeze compresses your source files, they are moved to this folder.

Note: If you designate a specific Output Folder, the output files are placed in the specified folder rather than the Squeeze Done folder.

6. The Main Squeeze Interface indicates that you have opened a Watch Folder. Select your output format(s) and Preset Data Rate Button(s). You can select multiple formats and presets if you desire.

7. If the Preset Data Rate Settings do not meet the needs of your specific audience, you can modify your output compression settings.

Note: If you intend to stream your MOV file, you must select the Prepare Output for Streaming (Hinting) option. If you selected one of the Streaming Preset Data Rate Buttons, this feature is already selected.

8. If you want to adjust the filter settings, select the Filter Settings button on the Main Squeeze Interface to open the Filter Settings dialog box.

9. Adjust the Filter Settings and then select the OK button.
The changes you make to the Filter Settings are applied to all the files that you compress in the active Watch Folder.

10. Select the Squeeze It button .

11. Squeeze compresses the existing contents of your Watch Folder.

12. While the Watch Folder remains open, you can add additional source files to your Watch Folder and Squeeze compresses them based on the settings you specified.

Clear, concise and to the point. I’ve been studying up on this business of “compression” because it’s a skill set that any professional editor needs to have on the rate card. But with Sorenson Media’s Suite, it doesn’t take long to come out looking like a pro. It’s just a few clicks away. In fact, Apple Computer is so enamored with the Sorenson Codec, they use it for all of those unbelievable streams they put in their QuickTime section of the site, I’m always asked whose software was used, and guess what? Sorenson Media’s product that’s who…


Here’s a list of the features of the Macintosh version of the Suite:

One-Pass Variable Bit Rate (VBR) compression
One-Pass VBR compression reduces processing time to non-VBR standards while delivering only slightly lower quality than Two-Pass VBR compression.

Two-Pass VBR compression
Squeeze supports Two-Pass VBR, which produces higher-quality video than standard compression while only adding slightly more processing time.

Constrain output file size
Squeeze allows you to request a final target output file size and adjusts the compression settings to reach the desired file size.

Intelligent presets
Squeeze includes optimized presets for streaming, progressive download, as well as local delivery with various data rates for each preset. Squeeze lets advanced users customize their settings.

In/out Trim Points
With this feature, you can create multiple output files from a single source file without having to chop up your original source.

DV Capture
Squeeze captures digital video through any DV source, whether it is a digital video camera or an analog-to-digital converter.

Batch processing through Watch Folders
Squeeze saves you time by using Watch folders to process multiple files.

Stitching for large SWF files
Stitching takes larger files and breaks them into smaller SWF files. The stitched files then play in succession like one long movie instead of a series of short videos.

Player templates for SWF output
Squeeze lets you create your own custom video players built for the Flash Player 6.

Integrated links for SWF output
This feature allows external links to be triggered at a specified point during the playback of a Flash video.

Playback action controls for SWF output
This feature allows ActionScript variables to be encoded as part of the video and Flash.

Adjustable cropping
Squeeze's cropping ability allows you to "cut out" undesirable areas within your video.

Audio/Video filters
With Squeeze, users get maximum flexibility with advanced control of audio/video parameters such as:

Telecine removal

Telecine removal maintains video quality by removing the extra frames that are added (3:2 pull down) when film (24 frames per second) is transferred to video (30 frames per second).

Fade in/out
Fade in/out lets you create a black or white fade segments at the beginning or end of your movie.

Contrast/brightness
Contrast changes the range of dark to light pixels in a linear fashion. Brightness makes the image lighter or darker. These two filters can improve the compression quality.

Smoothing
Smoothing evens out blocky edges for low data rate video.


Audio Normalization
Squeeze analyzes your audio to find the loudest sound and then adjusts the audio to maximum volume.

Video noise reduction
The video noise reduction feature reduces video noise in your content without causing it to look fuzzy. Reducing noise can increase video encoding quality.

Deinterlacing
Squeeze's deinterlacing feature can make your video look better by removing interlacing artifacts caused by the two fields per frame nature of conventional video.

White/black restore
Squeeze gives you the option to control the levels of white and black in your video.


MPEG-4 support
Squeeze includes tools for MPEG-4 Visual Simple Profile and Visual Advanced Simple Profile.

Video output support
Squeeze supports output for multiple formats including QuickTime, MPEG-4, and Flash Player 6.

Sorenson Vcast integration
Squeeze integrates with Sorenson Media's Vcast service for video storage and delivery. Vcast allows you to easily and affordably deliver rich media content to anyone, anywhere in the world over the Web.


System Requirements:
Sorenson Squeeze 3 Compression Suite (for Macintosh)

Power PC with G3 processor or greater
Mac OS X or later
128 MB of RAM
20 MB available hard disk space
QuickTime 6.0



Make no mistake; they’ve done it again! Sorenson Squeeze 3 Compression Suite's drag-and-drop interface makes intelligent compression of audio and video media as simple as importing a file and selecting a preset. You don’t win Best of Show awards at MacWorld expos without actually being one of the best… Sorenson won this prestigious award this year and for good reason.

I can whole-heartedly recommend this product to any editor or compressionist as a “Must Have”. Keep up the great work Sorenson, the industry needs you, and thanks for the super products you produce! I can’t wait for the next products coming down the pike, because Sorenson Media never disappoints. It’s a 5 COW rating in anyone’s pasture. The best just got better.


Jerry




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