How do you review a product as complex and capable as Sorenson Squeeze? I mean, video compression approaches rocket science. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and inadequate just trying to compress a single video for YouTube.
Apple’s Compressor runs only on the Mac, but is tightly integrated with Final Cut Pro X. It is also easy to use and it’s cheap. Adobe Media Encoder runs on both Macs and Windows and is the compression engine behind all of Adobe’s video products. It’s bundled with all Adobe media products and it’s free. Then, there’s the ubiquitous, and free, MPEG Streamclip.
So why would anyone consider spending several hundred dollars to buy media compression software such as Sorenson Squeeze? There’s only one reason to buy any software for your business: it enables you to complete a task faster, better, cheaper, or more easily than what you are doing now.
If all you need to do is transcode videos for video editing or compress a file for YouTube, any of a number of software tools can do the job. But, when your job is to supply videos that play smoothly on different websites with the highest possible image quality, viewed on different browsers each running on different computers and mobile devices — suddenly the world becomes a very scary place.
Sorenson Media was founded in 1995 specifically to focus on the emerging field of video compression. Since that time, they have developed a number of award-winning video compression tools. Their two highest profile products are Squeeze 9, for video compression, and Sorenson 360, for video review and distribution.
This review looks at Squeeze 9 Pro.
WHAT IS IT?
Sorenson Squeeze is a video encoder; which means it compresses audio and video files from whatever they are into whatever you want them to be.
I asked the folks at Sorenson how they would describe their program and they wrote:
For over 10 years, Sorenson Squeeze has been Sorenson Media’s powerful and easy-to-use encoding tool for rendering the highest-quality video and audio files. The desktop software includes NLE plug-ins for Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier to streamline professional video workflows. Squeeze supports one of the most extensive collections of input and output formats commonly used today and is perfect for rendering media files for the web, cell phones, disc players, and Apple’s iOS devices. The advanced features of Squeeze meet the demands of professional multimedia creators and offers a vast selection of customized encoding presets that require only limited knowledge of the complexities of video encoding.
There are two versions of Squeeze:
Both versions have a 30-day free trial, which I encourage you to download and play with.
Squeeze Pro 9 currently includes plug-ins that support:
Sorenson tells me that they are currently developing plug-ins for both Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro CC, which are scheduled to ship “soon.”
There are also two add-ons to both versions of Squeeze:
Here’s a chart that compares the features of the two versions.
NOTE: Mac users wanting to use Squeeze for transcoding to and from ProRes will need to purchase the Pro version.
WHY USE SQUEEZE?
While both Compressor and Adobe Media Encoder can create a wide variety of QuickTime and MPEG-4 files, and Adobe Media Encoder also creates Flash files, neither program creates all the formats demanded by the web today.
Significant new features in the latest release of Squeeze include:
Here’s a link to a forum post Sorenson wrote that describes the new features in more detail: forum.sorensonmedia.com/forum/content.php?553-New-in-Squeeze-9
But there are also long-standing features in Squeeze that make it stand-out from other compression software:
Sorenson Media gets multiple gold stars for the quality of their website and on-line training tools. Screen shots, video tutorials, step-by-step guided tours are all designed to enable the new, or inexperienced user to quickly become familiar with the software.
When it comes to learning complex software, this is one of the most approachable and helpful websites I’ve seen. Their Tour page contains seven Quick Start videos, while the Video Training page contains 27 videos. There is LOTS of help available online from Sorenson, all very easy to find and access.
However, I wish that Sorenson had not reduced the image size on their training videos as much as they have. The purpose of a training video is to show how the application works. By reducing the image size 50% almost all on-screen text is really, really hard to read, and the cursor can become difficult to follow.
This is the first thing you see when starting Squeeze – video tutorials on how the software works. I like this. Anything that helps me become successful without requiring a ton of searching for help is a good thing. And, once I’ve run these tutorial movies, I can uncheck the box in the lower left corner and this window never bothers me again.
This is the Squeeze interface. Inputs, presets and other settings are in the left column. The large preview window and the task, or Settings, window is at the bottom.
Encoding (which is a more precise way of saying “compression”) is a three step process:
Naturally, there are lots of options that can be taken with each of these three steps, but let’s just take a look at a simple process to start.
Click the Import File icon in the top left.
Here, I’ve imported a 1080p clip of two girls on a merry-go-round (or carousel, if you prefer). The icons on the left allow you to quickly crop, zoom in/out, sample a portion of the image or move the image or something in it.
This is a list of the compression codec categories supplied with Squeeze, and each category contains multiple options and settings.
For example, a typical compression format is MPEG-4. But, when you twirl it open, you are confronted with a host of unintelligible presets. The best option here is to roll over a preset and read the yellow tool tip that explains what each option is designed to do.
NOTE: It is way beyond the scope of even a detailed product review to explain all these different options. Your best choice here is to visit Sorenson’s website to learn more about your choices to determine which is the best choice for your particular compression.
In this example, I want to compress my 1080p clip to 720p suitable for posting to a website, so I selected the 2000kbps_720p setting. To apply it to the clip, either select the setting and click Apply or drag the setting and drop it on top of the clip.
The setting appears below the clip in the Settings window below the Viewer. To learn more about the setting, twirl down the right-pointing arrow. Settings can always be changed even after they are applied to a clip.
Sorenson ships eight filters with Squeeze.
To modify the settings for a filter, double-click the name of the filter. To apply a filter, either click the Apply button or drag the filter on top of a clip. In this example, I’m modifying the Timecode filter to create burned-in timecode for a clip.
There are five preset publishing options, which means that when compression is done, Squeeze can automatically send your file to any of these five sources.
You also have the ability to create your own publishing option, for example to automatically send the compressed file to your website via FTP.
A FEW EXTRA QUESTIONS
I sent a few questions to Sorenson to learn more about Squeeze. My questions, and their answers, are below.
Larry: Does Squeeze support job chaining, where the output of one transcoding job becomes the input to the next job?
Sorenson Media: Yes, you can achieve this with Watch Folders. However, instead of re-encoding a file over and over again, you can set up an input file to encode to as many different output formats as desired, and then all of the transcoding is being done from the source file, and not a compressed output file.
Larry: Does Squeeze support HTTP Live Streaming?
Sorenson Media: Yes, that is Apple’s adaptive bit rate format, also commonly known as HLS.
Larry: Does the Sorenson Preset Exchange also include filters and is there a link to the exchange, or is this only accessed from with Squeeze?
Sorenson Media: Here is the link to the Preset Exchange: http://exchange.sorensonmedia.com. If filters were used to create the preset, then they should be included in the preset when it is downloaded.
The Preset Exchange is not intended to be used to locate filters, but instead, it should be used to search for encoding presets that are not available in the Default Preset Library in Squeeze. Once you locate a Preset you want, you can download it and save it to Squeeze 9 and then (within Squeeze) you can add any desired filters to the encoding preset from the ‘Filter’ section in Squeeze.
A SIDE-NOTE ON H.264 AND X.264
A codec (COmpressor/DECompressor) contains the mathematics that describe how video is to be compressed, stored, and decompressed for playback. ProRes is a codec, so is DV, H.264, and many others. In general, codecs determine file size, image quality, and the how easily a file can be compressed and decompressed. (That isn’t a completely true statement, but for this article, it’s close enough.)
Currently, on the web, the two most popular codecs are H.264 and its cousin, X.264. Both of these are contained in different “wrappers,” such as QuickTime and MPEG-4 movies.
Jan Ozer is a well-respected compressionist who has tested a lot of different compression software. (If you want to learn LOTS more about compression, visit Jan’s website at http://www.streaminglearningcenter.com/users/jan-ozer-1.html.) Jan writes:
“H.264 is a video standard adopted by multiple standards organizations, and there are multiple H.264-compliant codecs available on the market, including Apple’s…. X.264 is an open source and free option that’s been rated as the highest quality H.264 codec for the last few years in the highly-regarded codec comparison published annually by Moscow University.”
The big benefit to X.264 is that as bit rates decrease, X.264 creates higher quality images than H.264. And, unlike other compression software, Squeeze includes both H.264 and X.264 in the package.
Sorenson Squeeze lives at the high-end for video compression tools. It is flexible. It is powerful. It is fast. And it is designed to handle any compression job you throw at it; with presets designed for new users and all the controls a dedicated compressionist could want.
The application can take you as far as you want to go in improving the quality of your compressed videos. Keep in mind, however, that like any powerful tool, you will need to invest time to learn how to use it well. One of the things that impresses me about the Sorenson website is that they have already taken the time to provide the tools you need to learn the application.
When you combine Squeeze with Sorenson 360, you have a powerful set of tools focused on media professionals who want to make their videos look great and share them with the world.
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