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Encoding Tools Product Review

Spot Shines And Industrial Cleansers
Cleaner XL, ProCoder, and Squeeze all automate multi-format encoding, and each one offers at least a few codec choices. Each can encode individual files into one or multiple formats, and all except Squeeze can encode several different source files as a batch. All offer a variety of helpful presets and let users customize and save new ones to automate redundant tasks. Each even offers basic clip-trimming capability and video filters to help minimize file sizes and maximize impact without needing to open an editing application for minor adjustments.

Yet the tacks these three tools take vary greatly and the result is far less direct competition than it might appear at first glance. Sorenson Squeeze is the most basic application, featuring virtual one-button encoding to a variety of formats including basic Windows Media, QuickTime, and Real codecs, and that will appeal to those new to encoding. However, Squeeze Compression Suite should also attract encoding veterans as a package of proprietary Sorenson codecs, its Spark Pro for Macromedia's Flash MX amongst them.

Interestingly, the most direct feature and function comparison comes from two non-competitors: ProCoder for Windows and Cleaner 6.0 for Mac. That's not surprising, since Cleaner 6.0 for the Mac follows the same five generations of Cleaner that were the effective benchmark for ProCoder's development. Both ProCoder and Cleaner 6.0 handle small jobs and batches by assigning output parameters to individual files, letting compressionists easily tweak and preview output to optimize quality. Each supports a full array of codecs and opens a vast array of fine-tuning parameters, which can be augmented by video and audio filters and cropping, to allow experienced compressionists to create top-quality output.

What about Cleaner for Windows and ProCoder? Those anticipating more of the same from a hypothetical Cleaner 6.0 for Windows may be quite surprised by the new Cleaner XL, which moves away from many of Cleaner 5.1 and ProCoder conventions. Indeed, if you loved the old Cleaner, you might be sorely disappointed with the direction Discreet is taking the Windows product. But don't let first impressions and the surprise of something new fool you; there's a lot more here than just a visual makeover. More filtering and image-processing tools are matched with even better previewing options that anyone compressing files will love.

Cleaner XL is clearly raising the bar on both features and target audience. It follows the workgroup leanings of Cleaner Central, but builds that higher-end focus and workflow into one product that will replace Cleaner 5.1 and Cleaner Central. It's a bold move from Discreet to be sure, and one that deserves praise. It dramatically increases Cleaner's reach into and effectiveness within larger organizations by highly automating repetitive tasks and providing a virtual paper trail for all encoding work. Multiple copies of Cleaner can share presets, files, folders, and workflow, and that's a logical progression for a company like Discreet that sports heavyweight, high-end content creation tools—like Smoke, Flame, and Inferno—that are typically used in larger studios where collaboration is the rule.

But there's no doubt that Discreet is also risking alienating the existing user base of Windows Cleaner users with a product that arguably has more in common with AnyStream Agility and Telestream FlipFactory than with ProCoder and Squeeze. Smaller studios who love the tweaking may find the workflow rituals of Cleaner XL little more than an extra load of mouse clicks and pull-down menus that don't help with visualization. Does anyone work like that anymore? Or is Discreet on target knowing that so much of today's encoding chores are about presets and repetitive tasks? More importantly, does the new methodology serve your needs?

Next Page: Canopus Procoder 1.2

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