Compressor 3.0.1

With version 3.0.1, Compressor joins the ranks of advanced, speedy video-compression tools such as Sorenson Squeeze (   ) and Autodesk’s Cleaner 6.5. Compressor 3.0.1 offers a simple setup for distributed rendering and nearly flawless transcoding to Apple’s new ProRes 422 codec. The program now has the tools needed for a majority of compression tasks: third-party plug-in support for professional encoding operations, filter capability for on-screen timecode burns and watermark protection, and changing a video’s aspect ratio or frame rate during compression.

In addition, Compressor 3 sports a full-blown interface makeover and enough engineering refinements to make even diehard fans of other compression applications take note.

Settings galore

With more than 100 presets for various devices, Compressor now lets you customize your settings to fit any need, even custom sizes for projects such as video Web banners, presentation graphics, or digital signage. You can even reuse settings from a previous rendering session via the new History palette. In addition, Compressor 3 lets you simultaneously process multiple versions of the same video: for the iPhone, the iPod, the Web, and even BluRay and HD-DVD formats, all in the same batch.

The program’s new plug-in architecture lets developers create increasingly dynamic encoding tools. Compressor 3, coupled with Telestream’s Episode Pro plug-in, offers broadcasters drag-and-drop encoding for various broadcast formats such as the MPEG program stream, the transmission format that broadcasting networks use to deliver content to your TV set. This simplifies delivery in the ever-growing tapeless broadcast-production market.

Version 3.0.1 has several new features. Automatic Center Cropping lets you crop widescreen video directly into the 4:3 format common to TV and iPods or define one of the five common letterbox formats for your output. In addition, the new Pixel Aspect pop-up menu in the Geometry pane of the Inspector window allows you to define a specific pixel aspect ratio to conform to your output media file during compression.

Production of 5.1 surround sound is greatly enhanced in Compressor 3. You no longer have to define speaker placement in other applications or use DVD Studio Pro to properly program channel settings for surround sound and Dolby audio compression settings. However, since the Mac Pro’s optical audio port currently supports only stereo output, monitoring surround sound requires another application and third-party audio cards ($300 and up) to correctly hear all channels of the mix.

Transcoding between formats is easy; Compressor 3’s built-in presets let you convert footage from heavily compressed, CPU intensive HDV format to the less-compressed DVCPro HD or ProRes 422 codecs. This gives you greater real time playback and effects capabilities in Final Cut Pro.

While not quite achieving the quality of AJA Video’s Kona or Blackmagic’s DeckLink video-capture cards, Compressor’s conversion capability does offer a fast, cost-effective way to transcode content, a real plus for people with older PowerPC Macs who can’t capture HD directly into the new ProRes codec.

The program’s new Optical Retiming function, derived from Apple’s Shake (   ), lets users change a video’s base frame rate. I used this feature to convert 1080 60i HDV (1440 by 1080 pixels) to 720p24 DVCPro HD (960 by 720 pixels). While the conversion from interlaced to progressive was cause for concern, Compressor handled the cross-conversion faster and with higher-quality results than I expected from an exclusively software-based procedure.

Such conversions lets you create smaller files for DVD playback (with fewer frames) or convert your 1080i content for playback within the smaller 720p format (smaller files) frame size, a common technique for producing high-quality HD files for a laptop-based presentation.

However, this process can create an inconsistent order of duplicate frames when converting 24 frames-per-second (fps) content to 30 or 60 fps. A similar problem exists in Apple’s Final Cut Pro 6 (   ) when mixing frame rates in the Open Format Timeline.

Watermark protection

Adding filter adjustments to your video as part of the final output is easy in Compressor 3. One example is placing a professional looking watermark on your video, the most visible form of copyright protection. In addition, Compressor 3 now allows you to embed that same copyright information as metadata in your output

Rendering magic

Overall, rendering in Compressor 3 is remarkably fast when using the default compression settings. For the majority of users, deviating from the defaults is not really necessary. However, changing any of the settings to “Best” when resizing or retiming your video engages the program's optical flow functionality, and can greatly increase the rendering time of your project.

Creating multimachine network rendering requires the included AppleQmasterNode software (in the Extras folder on the Install disc). The new one-step render setup, called AutoCluster, allows you to create a render farm on a lone multiprocessor Mac or distribute that processing across several computers with a single software license.

Motion and LiveType timeline elements sent directly from a Final Cut Pro timeline without first rendering within FCP will increase Compressor’s render times and frustrate users who forget that those elements need to be rendered before compression can begin. Uncompressed video files offer the fastest compression times because the CPU doesn’t need to first decompress a clip prior to applying new compression to each frame.

Compressor 3.0.1 is a welcome upgrade from the previous version, and it delivers the fastest render times on multiprocessor Intel Macs. Apple has added a stylish new interface and simple render-management tools that augment the program’s processing power. The History palette, which allows you to manage or confirm previous settings, and the optical flow features are both destined to become user favorites.

[ Gary Adcock is a Chicago-based consultant in HD and Film production, and he’s the technical chairman for HD Postproduction for the National Association of Broadcasters. ]

Compressor’s new window layout offers quick access to common tasks.

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