Competently compressing video is an exercise in compromise — you must balance image and audio quality with available bandwidth. But making the right choices can be difficult even for video mavens. Like Discreet’s $599
Cleaner 6.0 (
; June 2003), Sorenson Media’s $449 Sorenson Squeeze 3.1 Compression Suite takes much of the guesswork out of compressing movies intended for delivery on the Web, CD, or DVD. Unlike Cleaner, Squeeze sports the simplest of interfaces; it also supports fewer output formats.
Sorenson Squeeze 3 Compression Suite provides the capabilities of three separate Sorenson applications — Sorenson Video 3.1 Pro Codec, Sorenson Squeeze 3 for Macromedia Flash MX, and Sorenson Squeeze 3 for MPEG-4 — in a single program. (Regrettably, Sorenson no longer offers the $299 QuickTime-only version of Squeeze.) Using the suite, you can output video files in QuickTime, Flash, or MPEG-4 — formats that are common on the Mac. Windows Media and RealMedia are the most common formats for movies intended for Windows users. Unfortunately, the Mac version of Sorenson Squeeze 3 Compression Suite supports neither of these formats (MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 encoding is also conspicuously missing from the Mac version), although the Windows version of the suite does. To deliver media in these formats, you must turn instead to the more expensive (and fuller-featured) Cleaner.
Squeeze is extremely easy to use. If you know the format of the movie you’d like to generate and its delivery method, just click on a couple of buttons and wait for your movie to compress. You accomplish this with three sets of buttons that represent Squeeze’s workflow. The first set determines the movie’s output format — QuickTime, Flash SWF (viewable with Macromedia’s Flash Player), Flash FLV (viewable with Macromedia’s Flash MX), or MPEG-4. The second set provides access to video-filter settings (which let you alter the movie’s brightness and contrast levels, for instance) and — if you’ve chosen to save your movie in a Flash format — Flash Player options. The buttons in the third group denote default compression settings for movies intended for streaming, progressive download, and network or CD delivery. To create multiple versions of your movie for various delivery types and speeds, click on the appropriate presets. Alas, the ability to create multiple versions doesn’t go far enough. Unlike Cleaner, Squeeze can’t generate the QuickTime reference movies necessary to stream versions of your movie optimized for specific bandwidths.
All Work, No Play
Squeeze’s simple design doesn’t prevent you from making fine adjustments to both filter and compression settings. When you click on the Filter button, the pane that appears offers the expected options for adjusting contrast, brightness, gamma, and white and black restore. You can also choose to fade your movie in and out, normalize audio, reduce video noise, crop your movie to fit standard or custom aspect ratios, or deinterlace the video. Squeeze doesn’t have Cleaner’s A/B preview feature, which allows you to compare unprocessed video with video that you’ve applied filters to. This omission makes it difficult to tell whether you’ve strayed too far from the original.
Squeeze produces very good results with its default compression settings, but you’ll eventually want to modify some of them. For example, you might want to change the frame size if you need a smaller video window for quicker Web delivery. Or to speed up compression, you could choose one-pass variable bit rate (VBR) compression rather than the two-pass VBR compression that’s part of the progressive-download and LAN or CD presets (two-pass compression takes twice as long to encode video). However, customizing settings is a little clumsy. You must select a default setting and control-click on it to edit its parameters.
Retrieving your custom settings is also a chore. Squeeze offers no option for storing them in the toolbar or accessing them via a menu. Instead, you can open custom settings only from within the Filter and Compression panes.
Squeeze does include some nice touches. It allows you to capture video from any digital source and bring it directly into the program. You can also batch-process movie files by dropping them into a Watch folder and directing Squeeze to compress the contents of that folder. And if you have an account with Sorenson’s Webcasting service, Vcast, you can deliver compressed video straight from Squeeze to Vcast by clicking on the Vcast It button. Compression Suite also supports Flash stitching — a process that allows you to overcome the file-size limitations on Flash files by breaking large files into smaller parts and playing the parts in succession.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you need compressed video only in the QuickTime, Flash, and MPEG-4 formats, and if you need an all-in-one suite, you should consider Sorenson Squeeze 3.1 Compression Suite. Despite its occasionally inflexible interface, it offers the easi-est way to apply professional-quality compression to movies. People who need video compressed in the Windows Media and RealMedia formats should look into Cleaner. And if QuickTime movies are all you desire, the $299 Sorenson Video 3.1 Pro Codec, coupled with Apple’s QuickTime Pro, offers similar quality at a savings of $150.