Although many Mac users may consider it sacrilege,
we're faced with delivering content for a Windows world. Whether
it's the corporate client who's banned QuickTime from their servers
or simply reaching the masses of Windows users who fear installing
QuickTime, deliver we must.
by Telestream, enables Mac based
content creators to deliver Windows Media 9 files. In the past
we were limited to using Cleaner's
Windows Media 7, a not very pretty or efficient predecessor or,
buying a Windows box and dancing back and forth between computers.
Unlike a full-blown compression program,
Flip4Mac is an export component. It runs in FinalCutPro 4.5,
QuickTime Pro 6.5 & up, even iMovie. This is great if you
just need to make a WM9
file and don't have the budget for a complete compression
app nor the tweaking time such apps bring. Certainly if you're
a dedicated compressionist you can run Flip4Mac in Cleaner and
Squeeze 4.1 (announced at MacWorld and coming soon). Final
Cut Express and Compressor support is also in the works.
In FCP you can output using QuickTime
Conversion but my preference is to use Flip4Mac in QuickTime
Pro. This keeps FCP free to do what it does best, editing, while
QuickTime Pro exports the WM9 file. Just output a reference or
self-contained movie, open QuickTime Pro, Open Movie In New Player,
go to File Export, chose Export Movie to Windows Media.
Flip4Mac comes in two flavors, a standard
version which includes single pass CBR and VBR and a "Pro/HD"
version which adds 2-Pass and WMV HD encoding along with 5.1
channel audio (surround sound) as well as Window Media Advanced,
Windows Media Audio Professional and lossless encoding and sampling
rates up to 96 kHz.
You can choose between CBR (Constant
Bit Rate) and VBR (Variable Bit Rate), 1-Pass and 2-Pass varieties
and 2-Pass VBR constrained. CBR is predominantly used for streaming
servers. Don't confuse this with the more common "progressive
download." A true streaming server has to have tight reigns
on the bit rate and bandwidth to allow heavy multi-user access.
CBR encodes will keep to the targeted bit rate even if it means
VBR allows the codec to increase the
bit rate for more complex scenes (fast action, camera motion,
dissolves for example) and lower the bit rate for scenes with
less motion like talking head shots.
In the Pro/HD version of Flip4Mac both
CBR and VBR have 2-Pass versions. The first pass allows the codec
to "know the future" so it can make intelligently make
decisions when managing the bit rate on the 2nd pass.
One-Pass and 2-Pass VBR operate differently
on the Windows side as seen in Flip4Mac. In 1-Pass VBR the bit
rate setting is ghosted. You're targeting the Quality setting.
This also means you'll get very different average bit rates with
a given Quality setting depending on the content you're encoding.
Again, the faster the action, camera moves, dissolves, the higher
the data rate needed for a given Quality setting. This also means
if you want to target a give data rate may have to experiment.
Two-Pass VBR allows you to target a bit
rate. Either select one of the suggested bit rates or simply
type in your target in the field. Don't forget that audio bit
rate will be added to this total. The bit rate is an average
over time since, VBR, by its nature, varies based on the content
at a given moment. In this case the Quality slider informs the
encoder whether to drop frames to maintain a sharper image. Since
I find dropped frames irksome so I put the Quality slider to
Zero and increase the bit rate setting if I want a sharper image.
The quality and bit rate control that 2-Pass VBR offers makes
getting the Pro/HD version of Flip4Mac a must for the serious
There's also a 2-Pass VBR Constrained
mode. This puts a ceiling of two times the bit rate. I found
this setting created dropped frames in areas where the video
would likely exceed the ceiling. You'll likely see this ceiling
user settable in a future version, which should help this issue.
Flip4Mac delivers HiDef too. This is
great for those thinking about delivering HD in the corporate
environment. You can create full screen HD at 1280x720p and 1920x1080p
with 5.1 surround sound no less. You'd need some hefty Windows
XP iron to play those files back though. You would be able to
play those from such a PC to a HD TV set or monitor as well as
create a WMV HD DVD playable by one of the very few DVD players
that can decode it.
Flip4Mac will allow you to choose between
WMV 9 Standard and Advanced. When you try to compress with Advanced
you'll get a warning that such files won't play on your Mac.
Advanced might handle some aspects better such as interlace video
but you'll lose cross platform compatibility with your files.
The nice thing about a third party export
component is the user flexibility. You don't need a compression
app to export WMV from FCP or QuickTime Pro. On the other hand
you can run Flip4Mac in Cleaner and take full advantage of Cleaner's
"tweakability" and you'll have another option with
Squeeze in the near future. One issue I found is that any attempt
2-Pass audio encoding in Cleaner caused it to crash. Stick to
a good 1-Pass audio encode setting along with 2-Pass video encoding
and your ears really won't notice the difference.
Flip4Mac also brought to light just how
poor Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 is on the Mac compared
to the PC. I'd often run into PC created Windows Media files
that would cause WMP 9 stall on the Mac. There's no difference
here with files created on Flip4Mac. It seems there's an issue
around file buffering and/or data rate spikes that choke the
player on the Mac only. Not only were these files smooth playing
on my PC, I had great success playing Flip4Mac WM 9 files on
my ancient Windows 98 Pentium II using WMP 7.1. In addition,
those WMV Advanced encodes and WMV HD encodes won't play back
on the Mac. The backwards compatibility of the WMV 9 Standard
encodes is critical though when dealing corporate clients with
stodgy IT people who refuse to update their servers.
Even though WMP 9 on the Mac is crippled,
Flip4Mac allows you to create great encodes playable on cranky
old PCs with WMP 7.1 or the latest PCs with WMP 10 with HD and
Surround Sound playback. The Pro/HD version is great for those
who need mission critical 2-Pass VBR encoding too. At $99 for
the standard or $179 for the Pro/HD version it'll greatly broaden
your online reach and satisfy your corporate clients. With the
additions of 2-Pass features at such a small price difference,
I'd recommend the Pro/HD version.
Disclaimer: 3rd Planet Video consulted for Telestream and
tested the Flip4Mac export component as part of that work. This
article is a result of that extensive testing.
Seeman is a Shooter/ Editor
/ Compressionist for 3rd
Planet Video in NYC. With over 20 years experience in post
production his work has ranged from corporate videos and local
Cable spots to docs aired on PBS and Discovery.
first appeared on the nyc fcp user group web site and is reprinted here
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