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Sorenson Squeeze 4 Compression Suite

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For many video producers, the last step in a production project is using a compression utility, which takes full-resolution video and prepares it for Web, CD-ROM, or DVD delivery. Sorenson Squeeze 4 Compression Suite can grind video into nearly every popular rich-media format, including QuickTime, RealMedia, Macromedia Flash, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4.

Missing from that laundry list is Microsoft’s hugely popular Windows Media format. Sorenson Media plans to support Windows Media encoding by the time you read this. Alas, the plug-in for this support will cost an additional $179.

Squeezing Made Simple

The big changes in Squeeze 4 are its revamped interface and enhanced optimizing features. Indeed, Squeeze 4 can hold its own alongside Discreet’s Cleaner (   ; June 2003 ), long the king of compression.

Advanced users will delight in numerous new image filters and settings, and beginners can get great results from Squeeze’s built-in presets (See screenshot). More than 100 presets cover delivery methods ranging from dial-up modems to broadband connections to CDs and DVDs.

On the downside, the presets have arcane names, such as Med_Prog, that only hint at a setting’s parameters and make it harder for inexperienced users to choose one setting over another. I’d like to see Squeeze display a brief summary of a selected setting in the Details area of its window.

Squeeze 4’s interface has other rough edges—its dialog boxes look like those of Windows programs, and some of its keyboard shortcuts behave inconsistently—but I can’t gripe about the new preview area, which makes experimenting easy and efficient. A new split-screen feature lets you see before-and-after previews that show how a frame will look after compression. To assess how a specific section of footage will compress, you can mark its starting and ending points and then compress only that section. This is a huge time-saver that streamlines the trial-and-error phase of compression.

Looking Forward

Squeeze 4 adds the ability to create MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 files for use on Video CDs or DVDs. But don’t buy it for this reason alone: in my tests, Squeeze’s MPEG quality was inferior to that of Apple’s Compressor, which is included with both Final Cut Pro HD and DVD Studio Pro 3.0 (   ; September 2004 ).

Squeeze 4 can also compress to the H.264 format, a brand-new variant of MPEG-4. Also called AVC, H.264 is so new that you can’t play it back—QuickTime doesn’t yet support the format; however, Apple has announced that OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and QuickTime 7 will.

Squeeze’s RealMedia support is a welcome addition, but an annoying bug requires that you save compressed movies on your internal hard drive. There are several glitches like this in Squeeze 4, and Sorenson Media plans to address them with a free version 4.1 update, which should be available by the time you read this.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Sorenson Squeeze 4 Compression Suite excels at compressing video to common Web and CD-ROM formats. If your needs revolve around the Flash or MPEG-4 formats, consider Squeeze 4 for Macromedia Flash MX ($119) or Squeeze 4 for MPEG-4 ($199). Both share the Compression Suite’s interface and optimizing features.

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