To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze?

When it comes to managing and manipulating digital video, Sorenson Squeeze has been a reliable workhorse. That continues to be the case with the advent of Squeeze 9 Pro, the most significant revision to the transcoding tool since v6 over three years ago.
Among its notable new features, Squeeze 9 offers extensive HTML5 support. As creators of web video content, we understand how HTML5 today dominates the distribution landscape. The format incorporates a tag that allows native playback without resorting to an auxiliary player or plug-in like Flash. The HTML5 spec includes playout options at full-screen or at reduced sizes, so a tool like Squeeze that can handle the full display gamut is imperative. HTML5’s sophisticated algorithms in Squeeze 9 are linked to a single preset that can make the web video preparation process deceptively simple for most users.
The understated user interface of Squeeze 9 is a tour de force of simple, clean design.
Recognized for years as an all-purpose transcoder, Squeeze 9 has emerged now as a dominant web video transcoding tool. HTML5 support is still not found in two key competing products — Adobe Media Encoder and Telestream’s Episode. For video production, both AME and Episode are far more capable and robust, with the Adobe encoder offering support for umpteen mobile devices, DPX image sequences, and dozens of other popular video environments like TiVo and Vimeo. Episode Pro goes further in supporting the professional video community, implementing AVC-Intra and the Blackmagic codec among other high-end options in the latest v6.4 release.
Sorenson cites quality, not speed, as the company’s main impetus in crafting the Squeeze update, tweaking its own variations of H.264 and X.264.  I recently revisited the speed versus performance paradigm in Squeeze 9 Pro, comparing its performance and output quality to Adobe Media Encoder CS6 and Telestream Episode. Even considering comparable quality and a similar size output file the speed advantage in Squeeze is still apparent, albeit less dramatically so in this case when treating particularly complex source files.
Squeeze 9 offers a much easier search for settings options, which is good since in a tool this sprawling, one can easily lose track of what is needed. The net effect in v9 is increased screen space available with less clutter.

NOTE: The following images have been saved in the PNG format to eliminate compression artifacts associated with JPG and GIF images. They have been reduced in size, however, to fit inside this page layout. Click on each image to see it at higher resolution.

Squeeze 9 retains excellent sharpness and contrast in the encoded file. The superior look in Squeeze 9 is apparent from the first frame.


Source file: ProRes 422 HQ QuickTime 1280 x 720p. TRT: 5:08. High-complexity scenes, urban night with high contrast, deep shadows; many point sources, rain, reflection in puddles, abstracts.
Destination file: Apple iPad 2 H.264, 1080p; 5 Mbps target
Test Machine: 2009 MacBook Pro 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 8 GB RAM


The original ProRes frame.

SQUEEZE 9                                                            Time: 17:55

The torture test. Little, if any, dither or softness is applied in Squeeze 9 in order to suppress objectionable artifacts. One downside of this preferred strategy is the increased risk of banding, macroblocking, and contour artifacts.

Quality rating: 9.0 (out of 10)
Comments (encode quality): Very sharp, good contrast; some notable contours/banding and macroblockage in ‘torture test’
Other comments: Outstanding user interface and ease of use, MLTU (Most Likely To Use) factor = HIGH; robust HTML5 support; H.264 implementation is best in class

TELESTREAM EPISODE 6.4                              Time: 44:36

Episode applies more extensive analysis than Squeeze, helping to minimize serious artifacts at the price of much longer processing times. 

Quality rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Comments (encode quality): Higher contrast overall with deeper blacks than Squeeze; look is not as organic but with good sharpness; fewer contours and less banding apparent in torture test.
Other comments: Pro version supports the industry’s top codecs and workflows. Much more video-centric than Squeeze. Analysis pass is time-consuming but may produce cleaner results. Uninspired user interface. Supports X.264 VBR encoding. No HTML5 support.

ADOBE MEDIA ENCODER CS6                       Time: 36:37

Compared to Squeeze, Adobe Media Encoder produces a softer, more primitive look. Owing to its inclusion in the Adobe Creative Suite, AME sees wide use among a broad range of users. As in the case of Apple Compressor, engineers appear to have traded some degree of sharpness and contrast in order to suppress the most serious artifacts.

Quality rating: 6.7 (out of 10)
Comments (encode quality): overall less professional look than Squeeze or Episode; lower contrast, muddier, softer, thus macroblocking and serious artifacting not as severe (see Fig 4d)
Other comments: Excellent operational efficiency and integration with Adobe suite of applications. Presets are numerous, well organized, and clearly defined. Performance is lackluster overall. Tool is underpowered for high-end professional applications. No HTML5 support.