In the world of Internet
Video Compression on the Mac, Discreet
Cleaner has been as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.
But those shoes are showing their age. This past summer they
were upstaged by the new shoes on the block, Sorenson
Squeeze 4 Compression Suite. But the one thing that the new
upstart couldn't do was Windows Media, and Cleaner could, albeit
with the older codec, WM7.
If Discreet was hanging their hopes on
Cleaner being the only Mac software that could encode Windows
Media, then the fall of 2004 may also represent the fall of Cleaner.
Two new applications have been released that allow you to encode
Media 9 on your Apple computer. One is Telestream's
Flip4Mac, a Quicktime export component used within Quicktime
Pro (and eventually within other Quicktime based applications
like Cleaner and Squeeze). The other is the focus of this review,
Popwire's Compression Master 3.
Popwire, a Swedish company, first introduced
Compression Master here in the States last winter with Compression
Master 2. The original Compression Master was developed as a
means of creating settings for Popwire's Compression Engine,
an application designed to do very large batch encoding. The
engineers realized that "the Master" could also be
used as a stand alone application, so after a few modifications
they offered it for sale.
The original version had some issues
with the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which had been designed
by engineers for engineers. I was hired by Popwire last March
to write a Quick Start User's Guide and to create a few presets
for Compression Master 2.3. Compression Master 3 has a much improved
GUI and I had no input into any aspect of this release.
Double clicking on any of the presets
in the Settings window will open that setting in the batch window,
as shown below. As you can see from this image, Compression Master
can output a long list of video formats, from Quicktime to Windows
Media to Real to 3gp(used with cell phones and PDA's) and Mpeg.
It can also output audio in MP3, AIFF, WAV, WMA, and ACC.
For anyone who does high quality video
compression for the internet, having a fully adjustable encoder
is very important. No two source clips are the same, and to create
the best looking and sounding output means being able to tweak
all aspects of the encoding process. You would be hard pressed
to find a more adjustable video compression application than
Compression Master 3. Take a look at the parameters that you
can adjust when you click on the Video tab of a setting.
And to further explore, let's click on
the triangle to the left of the Windows Media Video 9 heading.
As shown below, this opens up all the individual settings you
can tweak and adjust within each parameter. By clicking on the
small box to the far right of each parameter title, you activate
it. By clicking on the arrow to the left of each parameter title,
as we did below, you can go in and make adjustments to it.
The Audio tab opens up a similar window
for adjusting all the audio parameters, as seen below. You can
also add Metadata to your encoded clip, prepare it for Streaming,
and the Engine tab is a carry over from Compression Master's
origins and can be used to place the settings you have selected
into the Compression Engine application.
After you have adjusted a setting, you
click it and drag it from the Settings window to the Batch window
and drop it onto your source file. Then click the play button
in the lower right hand corner of the GUI, and Compression Master
does its magic.
And how does that magic compare to the
competition? If we focus on Windows Media, Quicktime, and Real,
it is easy to compare the output of Compression Master 3 with
Flip4Mac, Cleaner 6, and Squeeze 4. Let's take a look at Windows
Compression Master 3($395), encodes Windows
Media in single and two pass CBR(constant bit rate) and VBR(variable
bit rate). To get the same options with Flip4Mac, you need the
Pro/HD version($179). I encoded a source clip with a preset that
Popwire provided after I made a few minor tweaks (hey I'm a compressionist,
I'm always tweaking something). I then took the same source clip
and opened it in Quicktime Pro and selected the Windows Media
(Flip4Mac) export option and went in and adjusted Flip4Mac as
close as possible to the parameters in Compression Master. I
then encoded both clips. Compression Master encoded the clip
in less than half the time that it took Flip4Mac. The results
looked fairly similar with the CM3 clip having a higher Playing
bitrate but a smaller file size than the F4M clip.
The advantage of Compression Master is
that for a compressionist, the above scenario is just the starting
point. I will now go in and tweak some more, sharpening here,
smoothing there, etc. until I arrive at the best looking and
best sounding clip possible. With Flip4Mac, I am done, there
are really no more adjustments I can make.
When we move on to Quicktime, Compression
Master does very high quality Mpeg-4, H263, MJPEG, DV and a few
other codecs for Quicktime Movies. Unfortunately, at this time
it does not do Sorenson Video. Popwire is currently in negotiations
with Sorenson. While Compression Master can hold its own in Mpeg-4
Quicktime Movies it cannot compete with a codec that it does
not have. Cleaner 6($549), with the addition of the Sorenson
Video 3 Pro codec($299), can create very high quality Quicktime
Movies that will play in Quicktime 5 or Quicktime 6. Squeeze
4 Compression Suite($399), and its included Sorenson Video 3
Pro codec can also create the same Quicktime Movies. Compression
Master can create Mpeg-4 Quicktime Movies that look as good as
those created by Cleaner or Squeeze, but they will not play in
If we look at Real Media, both Compression
Master and Squeeze 4 can create high quality Real 10 video and
audio with 2-pass VBR. Cleaner 6 only comes with the ability
to encode Real 8 video and audio, but you can add a separate
Real Media 10 export component, which gives Cleaner the ability
to export Real 10, but only in single pass CBR. Comparing the
results from compressing the same source clip, Cleaner compressed
the clip in the least amount of time, but with the lowest quality,
which is to be expected with single pass CBR. Using two pass
VBR, Compression Master encoded the clip in half the time it
took Squeeze 4, and the final clip from both compressors was
of the same high quality. And even though Squeeze 4 is quite
adjustable, it is not as adjustable as Compression Master 3.
There would come a point where I could continue tweaking and
improving the final output with Compression Master, after I had
run out of options with Squeeze 4.
At this time, Compression Master does
not export Flash Movies (.swf) or Flash Video (.flv). Squeeze
4 is the only major compression application for the Mac that
can compress both of these formats.
So is Compression Master 3 the right
choice for you? That depends. If you want to create high quality
Windows Media and Real Media files on your Mac, I would say a
definite yes. If you are concentrating on Quicktime Movie files
and want to use Sorenson Video, I would say wait a while.
I'd like to close on one note about the
adjustability of Compression Master 3. For someone who is new
to video compression, all that adjustability could seem pretty
intimidating. Rest assured that Compression Master 3 comes with
a large supply of presets developed by the engineers at Popwire.
There are presets for progressive download and streaming video
in multiple sizes for every codec that Compression Master can
output. These presets will deliver the same quality as you would
get from the presets that come with Cleaner or Squeeze. So you
can still produce very high quality compressed movies without
having to go in and tweak any of the parameters. But it's nice
to know that you can, if the mood strikes you.
©2004 Tim Carroll
All Rights Reserved
Carroll is a director, writer and video compressionist who
runs Lil' Folks Productions LLC (an independent film company)
in Chicago Illinois. He also moderates the Cleaner, Quicktime
and other Compression Applications forum on 2-POP.com.