Sorenson Media Squeeze 6 Test Drive
Back again on Sorenson Media Squeeze 6. My video review from last issue provides a high-level workflow overview and details the new features. In this review, I'll focus primarily on quality and performance.
One very significant caveat: During my tests, I found a bug that prevents Squeeze from producing VP6 files to anywhere close to my target data rate. For example, I dialed in 500kbps and Squeeze produced a file that was 3Mbps. Sorenson is aware of this problem and will release a patch "very soon" after the Thanksgiving holiday. Obviously, I couldn't test either VP6 encoding performance or encoding speed.
Here, I'll present platform-specific results for Windows and the Mac.
Quality is job number one for all batch encoding tools, and in the formats that I was able to test, Squeeze performed very well. Briefly, for SD tests, I used my standard SD test file, which contains about 42 different scenes, and encoded to 500kbps (468 video/32 audio) using two-pass VBR encoding. For HD comparisons, I used my standard 720p test file, with seven test scenes, encoded to a video data rate of 800kbps and audio data rate of 128kbps. I compared Squeeze 6 to Squeeze 5 and competitive programs on the Mac and Windows platforms: Adobe Media Encoder CS4, Telestream Episode Pro, and Microsoft Expression Encoder.
In SD H.264 Windows comparisons, Squeeze 6 was a clear improvement over Squeeze 5, besting Episode Pro and matching the quality produced by Adobe Media Encoder, which uses the same MainConcept codec as Squeeze. HD comparisons showed similar results.
In Windows Media Video (WMV) comparisons, Squeeze 6 produced quality similar to Squeeze 5, about the same as the Adobe Media Encoder, and noticeably better than Episode Pro, which also dropped frames during extremely high-motion sequences.
I tested Windows performance on my 3.33GHz, dual-quad-core processor HP Z800, encoding a single file to H.264 and WMV 9 formats, and then loading eight files into the program and encoding again. With the WMV files, Squeeze 6 (as with Squeeze 5) encoded the files in parallel, producing significant time savings. Note that you have to check the "Allow simultaneous jobs" checkbox in the Preferences panel to encode in parallel (see Figure 3).
With H.264 files, Squeeze doesn't encode in parallel, which is why encoding eight files in sequence took eight times the single-file encoding time. When I asked why, the Sorenson product manager told me it was because the H.264 codec was hyper-threaded and encoding in parallel might slow the process down. To test this, I loaded eight instances of Squeeze and encoded my 1-minute test file to the target parameters in each one. You can see the results in Table 1.
For Windows Media files, Squeeze 6 is an absolute screamer, decreasing Squeeze's already category-leading encoding time by 33 percent for single files and 23 percent for multiple files. If you're producing Windows Media files, between the quality and encoding speed, Squeeze 6 is a great choice.
For H.264, Squeeze 6 is significantly slower than Squeeze 5. Note that I used MainConcept's multipass encoding for both versions, prioritizing quality over encoding time. If you opt for the available two-pass mode in Squeeze 6, you'll cut encoding time down to 1:04 (compared to 2:08 for multipass). I didn't compare the quality of the two-pass vs. the multipass file, but if you're in a hurry, you can run that analysis and see if you can shave your encoding time without too much loss in quality.
As you can see, my tests seemed to indicate that Sorenson could improve multiple-file encoding times by encoding H.264 files in parallel, as it does with WMV. If you're encoding multiple files, you can also load multiple instances of Squeezejust keep selecting the program in the Start menu or clicking on the desktop icon, and multiple instances will load. Load separate files into each instance, choose your encoding parameters, and click the Squeeze button. They'll all happily chug along, cutting your multiple-file H.264 encoding times by around 43 percent, according to my tests.
Overall, if you have Adobe Media Encoder and you need single- or multiple-file H.264 production, there's little reason to look to Squeeze unless you need the review and approval workflow, or other features offered by Squeeze. If you're choosing between Episode and Squeeze 6 solely based on H.264 output quality and performance, Squeeze 6 is the winner.
As was the case in the Windows tests, both MainConcept-based encodersSqueeze 6 and Adobe Media Encoderproved superior to both Apple Compressor (which uses Apple's own H.264 codec) and Telestream Episode Pro (which uses the dicas codec) in my Mac tests. The difference between Squeeze 6 and Compressor was significant, particularly in HD comparisons. In contrast, the difference between Squeeze 6 and Episode was minor and commercially irrelevant, since it wouldn't be noticed without side-by-side comparisonswhich, of course, web viewers never have.
There are few sub-$1,000 Windows Media encoding tools on the Mac, since neither the Mac version of Adobe Media Encoder or Compressor produce WMV files natively. To fill out the comparisons, I added Telestream's Episode Engine into the mix, which starts at $3,995 and is much more efficient at producing multiple WMV files than Squeeze (it's the most efficient multifile encoding engine I've reviewed on the Mac).
When producing WMV files, Squeeze 6 was noticeably clearer and sharper than Squeeze 5, with less fading and much better color fidelity. As was the case with the the Windows version, both Telestream products dropped frames during extremely high-motion sequences, so though single-frame quality was comparable, Squeeze's smoothness was superior. In HD trials, Telestream kept pace in high-motion quality, but Squeeze pulled ahead with much better quality for talking-head clips.
In my tests, Squeeze's Mac performance was mixed, with WMV performance outstanding and H.264 performance a clear step backward. Let's discuss the good news first. When producing Windows Media Video files, my 2.93GHz, dual quad-core processor Intel Xeon-based Mac Pro proved slightly faster in single-file encoding time, and an absolute screamer in multiple-file encoding compared to Episode Pro.
This video provides an overview of Squeeze's workflow and streaming encoding capabilities, and demonstrates new features such as the review and approval workflow and preset exchange
You'll have to load multiple instances of Squeeze to get these results since the Mac version doesn't encode WMV files in parallel, but if you're in a hurry, you'll find the effort well worth it. Note that I couldn't complete this eight-instance encoding test with Squeeze 5 because the program kept crashing.
Single-file H.264 encoding time dropped by 85 percent, and I was unable to load multiple instances of Squeeze and encode to H.264 format. Strangely, though I could produce WMV files with multiple open instances of Squeeze, the H.264 and VP6 presets were unavailable in all open instances beyond the first. I queried Sorenson about the issue, but I haven't heard back.
As with Windows, with equal quality and much faster encoding, Adobe Media Encoder is a great choice for H.264 production on the Mac. Between Episode Pro and Squeeze, I would definitely go with Squeeze, though the quality difference is minor, and I would avoid Compressor unless producing at the lowest-possible data rates simply wasn't an issue.
Overall, with Squeeze 6, Sorenson appears to have made a good thing better, though I wish I could have tested VP6 encoding performance and quality to be sure. On both platforms, WMV is top-notch, so if you're producing in that nearly obsolete format, Squeeze is a great choice. H.264 performance is an issue, but if you're a quality-comes-first producer (as I am), you'll take the quality and won't worry about the slower encoding.