A One-Step Compression Tool for Near Universal Export

Even with all the advances in video compression, the amount of poorly compressed video I see- particularly online- amazes me. Sorenson Media, however, has been combating that for several years with its Squeeze software. To accommodate the release of Adobe Flash Player 9 Update 3, which supports H.264 video, Sorenson Media has released Sorenson Squeeze 4.8 for Adobe Flash.
Adobe Flash has boasted MPEG-4 support for some time now, but not all MPEG-4 videos are Flash compatible. Sorenson Squeeze 4.8 aims to ensure that all video it compresses will play back properly in Flash.
It is important to note that H.264 is the same groundbreaking standard that has been integrated with the Blu-ray Disc and now defunct HD DVD platforms as well. Although H.264 is part of the MPEG-4 standard, lumping it in with MPEG-4 doesn’t do justice to the quality and versatility characterized by this codec.
From all my tests, the results were completely acceptable, though not massively better than what I get inside of the Flash encoder. The real beauty of Squeeze is its convenience and its list of export options, such as MP4, Windows Media, SWF and MP3.
I especially appreciate the ability to export WMV and MPEG-4 files from the same package. Typically, when I have to generate a video that can be previewed remotely by a client as a WMV or FLV, I have to export using Flip4Mac Studio, followed by the Flash video encoder. Squeeze 4.8 makes this a one-step process. The number of preset options is great, too: There are 27 FLV presets and 17 WMV presets- enough for most bandwidth scenarios.
Squeeze can automatically detect the source file’s pixel aspect ratio. The user can either use the source pixel auto detection or define the aspect ratio manually.
Squeeze 4.8 can accept Meta data input from Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, MPEG-4 and MP3.
You can check the auto deinterlacing feature to remove interlacing artifacts caused by the two fields per frame nature of conventional video.
Interestingly, not all FLVs I made using the Flash FLV encoder (with the MX 2004 suite) played properly in the Sorenson FLV player. Fortunately, there are enough quality FLV players out there, so this isn’t a huge problem.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Exports from full NTSC source files to CD quality FLVs seemed to take a long time. (To be fair, I have the same complaint about the Flash encoder.) Exporting my full NTSC test movie, with a length of 2:43, took over 17 minutes. Still, the fastest and best-quality results occurred when the source file was at the highest quality possible and at the same dimension as the movie I was exporting. This version of the movie took 8 minutes, 51 seconds. I was secretly hoping for a magic bullet on my 2.33 Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro running OS X 10.5.1. I guess the magic bullet was that it worked well.
One thing that I would like to see is better integration of an output preview during the exporting process as well as during the setup process- something the FLV encoder that comes with Flash does. Squeeze 4.8 has a "Show Compression Preview" option under the View menu, but I could not get this to work. Also, when selecting or editing presets, Squeeze does not generate a side-by-side preview, like Autodesk’s Cleaner does.
The Capture Video feature works only with DV cameras. I discovered this when I tried to capture from the Webcam of my MacBook Pro. I’d love to be able to make quick FLVs directly from my laptop using only Squeeze.
A bright spot in Squeeze 4.8 is the support for AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). The most famous implementation of AAC is Apple’s iTunes music store. It will be interesting to see how media creators embrace this for the delivery of audio content in Flash. I’m sure other software will be supporting this as well, due to the fact that it is essentially the successor to MP3.
So, do you need to run out and get, or upgrade to, Squeeze 4.8 if you already have a good workflow between QuickTime Pro, Compressor, Flip4Mac and the Flash encoder? Not necessarily, but there are pluses. If you’re an all-video shop and you don’t have the Flash suite and Flash encoder, Squeeze 4.8 will let you export all the media you’d like, especially if you’re looking to bring your work to the Web.

As of early April, Sorenson began shipping Squeeze 5. For full details and specs on the latest version, visit www.sorensonmedia.com.
Dylan Wood is vice president and a creative director at Berlin Productions (www.berlinproductions.com), an interactive media developer and video production company in White Plains, NY.