Today’s ideal workflow is to create once, and publish anywhere. Compression software is the crucial tool allowing you to deliver your content to an ever-increasing choice of distribution channels. The most important attributes of compression software are video quality and speed. Essentially you want it pretty and you want it fast. How well does Sorenson’s new version of Squeeze deliver?
Sorenson’s Squeeze Compression Suite has always been one of the pioneers of compression technology, and its 4.5 update packs some new features into what was already a mature product. New to this version of the software are speed enhancements (Sorenson claims a 3x-speed boost for encoding and pre-processing), improved H.264 support, 3GPP and PSP output, Metadata support, DVD burning and a new Universal Binary to run natively on Intel-based Macs.
Setup and installation of Squeeze was simple and straightforward: simply click on the install program and enter the serial number. There are no annoying dongles or activation requirements. The product runs on both Windows and Macintosh computers.
Bringing it In
Using Squeeze 4.5 is very straightforward and the user interface is well-designed. You start off in the Import pane, where you can import a file directly, create a watch folder or capture directly from a DV device.
Watch folders in Squeeze 4.5 are a handy way of batch compressing source files into many different delivery formats without having to manually assign the settings for each process. You start by creating a special folder on your system that Squeeze 4.5 continually monitors. You then assign as many compression encoding presets as you want to that folder. Any file that you move there will then be compressed, using the attributes you selected. For example, you have several HDV footage clips that all need to be output as a NTSC video for broadcast, a DVD for home use, and an iPod compatible video for online distribution. You simply assign those compression attributes to the watch folder; drag all the clips you wish to convert into that folder and voilà! The computer processes all the clips sequentially, without the need for any further user intervention.
Once you’ve imported your footage, you then have a myriad of options of how you want that footage re-encoded. Squeeze 4.5 supports a great many compression settings (see list in Tech Specs). Once you’ve decided which setting to use, simply drag and drop it onto your footage in the main window.
There are many presets included in the software; all are modifiable, and these settings are a good start if you’re looking to simply encode to a specific output format. However if you are a compression expert, you can also roll your own settings from scratch, with an extremely detailed set of options.
The Test Bench
We fired up Squeeze on a MacBook Pro (2GHz, Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB 667MHz DDR RAM, running Mac OS X 10.4.8) and put it through some real world tests. We were curious to examine how well Squeeze 4.5 was optimized to work with multiple processors. Using the new encoding thread priority setting, we cranked the slider all the way to max, to make sure that Squeeze was using all the power available to it.
The DV Test
This test involved compressing a finished DV project to a DVD, and a smaller MPEG-4 video for posting online and playback on a video iPod.
The footage that we chose for this project was a 1-minute and 15-second clip of underwater SCUBA shots with fish, divers and constant camera motion. Because everything in the video is some shade of blue, with subtle color differentiation, this type of video tends to be challenging to compress. We were watching closely for banding and compression artifacts.
We first encoded the clip to a regular MPEG-2 DVD, for playback in the home. We modified one of the DVD settings to use the 2-pass VBR option.
The 1-minute and 15-second clip took only 3 minutes to encode, which we felt was quite speedy for 2-pass VBR encoding. During the compression, both the processor’s cores sprang to life with the CPU monitor showing 160-170% of the CPU being used out of a maximum of 200% (100% for each core), indicating that the threading was very efficient. Picture quality of the resulting footage was exceptional, with no banding or compression artifacts in this tough scene.
The next encode used the same footage with the iPod Low preset in the MPEG-4 folder. This time it took about 5 minutes to encode the clip. However, Squeeze used only one of the cores in our dual core processor for this encoding. Currently, some codecs in Squeeze 4.5 are optimized for multithreading and some are not. The resulting video was pristine though, with no noticeable artifacting or banding.
The HDV Test
For the second test, we used a 1-minute and 35-second clip of some HDV 1080i60 footage shot during Thanksgiving, and compressed it to the same formats as we did our DV clip.
The MPEG-2 DVD test encoded the clip in 8 minutes 30 seconds, and it used 120-130% of the CPU. Taking into account the extra processing involved in scaling the picture from HD to SD, this is a still a very respectable time. The video quality was also exceptional.
It took 11 minutes to encode our footage to MPEG-4, again only using one of the two CPU cores. The output video was again outstanding.
If the elements of good compression software are video quality and speed, Sorenson 4.5 Compression Suite gets high marks for both of these. While there could be some improvements in the handling of multiple CPU systems (especially for MPEG-4 encoding), the proof is in the picture, and Squeeze 4.5 consistently delivers great video.
OS: Windows 2000 or XP; Mac OS 10.3 or later
Processor Windows: Intel P3 or greater, Mac: Power PC G4 or Intel processor
Memory: 128 MB RAM
Disk Space: 40 MB (Windows), 90 MB (Mac)
Display: DirectX 9.0b or later (Windows)
Support: Microsoft Windows Media Format Runtime, QuickTime 7 or later (Windows), QuickTime 7 or later (Mac)
Input Formats: AAC, AIF/AIFF, ASF, AVI, DV, MOV, MP3, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WAV, WMA, WMV
Output Formats: aacPlus, AAC, AIFF, DV, DVD, Sony PSP, 3GPP, FLV (Sorenson Spark and On2 VP6), HD for MP1/MP2/MP4 and RealMedia, MOV, MP3, MPA, MPG (MP1 and MP2), MP4 AVC (H.264), MPV, RM, SVCD, SWF, VCD, WAV, WMV
- Great looking encodes
- Watch folder
- Fast encoding
- Mixed bag of multithreaded codecs
Anyone who’s serious about encoding for a wide variety of formats and doing it efficiently will find this their main squeeze.
John Burkhart is Videomaker’s Editor-in-Chief
Sorenson Media, Inc.
4179 Riverboat Rd., Ste. 208
Salt Lake City, UT 84123