Encoding Made Easier: Compression Sessions with Sorenson Squeeze 10 Desktop

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Squeeze Desktop 10 Pro

Video formats don’t hold still for long, and neither do video codecs used for file encoding. As the industry looks at 4K delivery over the web and Internet-based television streaming services, we now get more codecs to consider, too. Target delivery had seemed to settle on H.264 and MPEG-2 for awhile, but now there’s growing interest in HEVC/H.265 and VP9, thanks to their improved encoding efficiency. Greater efficiency means that you can maintain image quality in 4K files without creating inordinately large file sizes. Sorenson Media’s Squeeze application has been an industrial-strength encoding utility that many pros rely on. With the release of Sorenson Squeeze 10, pros have a new tool designed to accommodate the beyond-HD resolutions that are in our future.

The Sorenson Squeeze ecosystem includes Squeeze Desktop and Squeeze Server, as well as Squeeze 360, an OTT and VOD solution, and Squeeze Stream, a streaming and approval platform designed for use with Squeeze Desktop. This article will address Squeeze Desktop.

Squeeze Desktop 10 includes three variations: Lite, Standard and Pro. Squeeze Lite covers a wide range of input formats, but video output is limited to FLV, M4V, MP4 and WebM formats. Essentially, Lite is designed for users who primarily need to encode files for use on the web.

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Squeeze Desktop 10 Pro adds professional broadcast formats, such as Avid DNxHD.

Desktop Standard adds VP9 and Multi-Rate Bundle Encoding. The latter creates a package with multiple files of different bit rates, which is a configuration used by many web streaming services. Standard also includes 4K presets (H.264 only) and a wide range of output codecs.

The Pro version adds support for HEVC, professional decoding and encoding of Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes (Mac only), and closed caption insertion.

All three models include simple format conversion presets, which convert a video to an H.264-encoded MP4, MOV and/or MKV file using the x264 CQ (Constant Quality) encoding method. With simple format conversion, the source size, frame rate and quality are maintained, but the file is converted into the target media format. It’s available for MP4/WebM with Lite, and MP4/MOV/MKV with Standard and Pro.

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Squeeze encoding presets include audio and video filters, such as basic color correction. A split-screen displays the before and after comparison.

Squeeze is supposed to take advantage of CUDA acceleration when you have certain NVIDIA cards installed, which accelerates MainConcept H.264/AVC encoding. I have an NVIDIA Quadro 4000 with the latest CUDA drivers installed in my Apple Mac Pro running OS X Yosemite (10.10.1). Unfortunately, Squeeze Pro 10 doesn’t recognize the driver as a valid CUDA driver. When I asked Sorenson about this, they explained that MainConcept has dropped CUDA support for the MainConcept H.264 codec. “It will not support the latest cards and drivers. If you do use the CUDA feature, you will likely see little to no speedup, maybe even a speed decrease, and your output video will have decreased quality compared to H.264 encoded with the CPU.”

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The viewer window can be detached from the Squeeze window when you have enough screen real estate, such as in dual-display configurations.

As a test, I took a short (:06) 4096 x 2160 clip that was shot on a Canon EOS-1D C camera. It was recorded using the QuickTime Photo-JPEG codec and is 402 MB in size. I’m running a 2009 8-core Mac Pro (2.26 GHz) with 28 GB RAM and the Quadro 4000 card. To encode, I picked the default Squeeze HEVC 4K preset. It encodes using a one-pass variable bit rate (VBR) algorithm at a target rate of 18,000 Kb/s. It also resizes to a UHD size of 3840 x 2160; however, it is set to maintain the same aspect ratio, so the resulting file was actually 3840 x 2024. Of course, the preset’s values can be edited to suit your requirements.

It took 3:32 (min/sec) to encode the file with the HEVC/H.265 codec. The resulting file’s size was 13 MB. I compared this to an encode using the H.264 preset, which uses the same values. It encoded in 1:43 and resulted in a 14.2 MB file. Both files were wrapped as MP4 files, but I honestly couldn’t tell much difference in quality between the two codecs. They both look good. Unfortunately, there aren’t many players that will decode and play the HEVC codec yet—at least not on the Mac. To play the HEVC file, I used an updated version of VLC from VideoLAN, which includes an HEVC component. Of course, most machines aren’t yet optimized for this new codec.

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Encoding batches using multiple formats can be set up as a Squeeze encoding job.

Other features of Squeeze aren’t new but are still worth mentioning. For example, the presets are grouped in two ways: by format and by workflow. Favorites can be assigned, giving you quick access to the presets you might use most often. Squeeze enables direct capture from a camera input or batch encoding of files in a monitored watch folder. In addition to video, various audio formats can also be exported.

Encoding presets can include a number of built-in filters, as well as any VST audio plug-in installed on your computer. Finally, you can add publishing destinations, including YouTube, Akamai, Limelight and Amazon S3 locations. Another publishing location is Squeeze Stream, the free account included with a purchase of Squeeze (Standard or Pro versions only). Thanks to all of these capabilities, Sorenson Media’s Squeeze Desktop 10 will continue to be the tool many editors choose for professional encoding.   dv

Product: Sorenson Squeeze 10 Desktop

Score:

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Pros: New 4K presets for H.264 and HEVC. New support for V9 and HEVC codecs.

Cons: GPU acceleration is not well supported.

Bottom Line: A solid upgrade to one of the top-of-the-line media composers.

MSRP: Lite $199, Standard $549, Pro $749

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