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Flash Video Compression Choices

A few weeks ago, at the IBC show in Amsterdam, Adobe announced the Flash Media Encoding Server (FMES). The product holds potential as an enterprise-level tool, and Adobe notes that encoding is central to content workflows for delivery to the web, desktop or mobile devices.

During a pre-release call, a group of us heard the presentation on Flash Media Encoding Server, which has an interface much different from Adobe's desktop programs and bore enough of a resemblance to Rhozet's Carbon Coder line that it prompted a question, which was answered affirmative, as to whether Adobe had partnered with Rhozet.

The product was—and is—interesting, and is designed to handle large workflows. Past experience with similar products that moved from the desktop to the server, such as Terran's Media Cleaner Pro (which ultimately found its way into a server version and the basis for the Anystream server-based products) brought back the memory of a conversation around $6,000 versus $600 tools that thwarted Terran's attempts to move into server-side encoding tools in a big way.

The question of price versus functionality was especially timely, given the fact that we had also been playing with the Creative Suite 4 package for several weeks, which was rolled out today in a series of webcasts delivered by iStreamPlanet. The CS4 suite now has a stand-alone encoder, Adobe Media Encoder (AME) that has several functions that move it closer to a true point product, even though it can only be purchased as one of the suite bundles.

Adobe confirmed during the call that the pricing for FMES would run around $6,000 and spent some time in a follow up email differentiating between what it sees as the primary difference between a budding desktop application and its encoding server.

"Flash Media Encoding Server is an enterprise solution whereas Adobe Media Encoder is a desktop tool," an Adobe representative noted. "Flash Media Encoding Server is designed to be integrated into broader workflows, it includes APIs for integration, connection out to web services, e-mail notification, etc."

Grid Encoding
One example of a standout feature that FMES has that AME does not is support for grid transcoding, which Adobe noted "brings in additional agents to enable additional scalability as your encoding needs grow." It's true that AME doesn't have grid encoding; but given the number of Production Premium CS4 Suites that a mid-size production house would need to buy anyway, the number of machines that can be leveraged to support AME encodes would be simply a matter of setting up particular types of encodes on specific machines on which AME is loaded, and then using the watch folder feature that's part of AME CS4 to create a pseudo-distributed encoding model. On top of that, After Effects also has a form of grid computing, which could be leveraged for particular automated transcoding scenarios. Batch Encoding
AME has gained batch encoding, which one blog today called "a set and forget (likely overnight) background task to batch render jobs."

Previous desktop tools—including $600-range products like Sorenson Squeeze and the older Media Cleaner Pro product—complemented batch encoding and watch folders by allowing FTP uploads on completion, but Adobe has chosen to forego this option in the AME desktop application.

"Another feature of Flash Media Encoding Server is the ability to remotely retrieve and deliver files to remote file shares or FTP sites," an Adobe representative noted in the email exchange, indicating that FTP uploading is not part of AME.

FMES includes a number of pre-processing filters. Adobe Media Encoder, by comparison, doesn’t include these directly within the encoding tool, as these types of functions are intended to be completed as part of the editing workflow within Premiere Pro or After Effects.

This is a potential showstopper to keep AME from being used as a wholesale replacement for FMES, but for those who move from an editing or compositing product to direct batch encoding, this may not be a critical issue, and the availability of these pre-processing filters in FMES provides a compelling reason to upgrade for those who do a sizable number of transcodes that don't need editing or compositing manipulation.

VP6 Encodes.
The VP6 implementations, which were mentioned in the recent article about VP8's announcement, are also another set of differentiators—but not by much.

"Flash Media Encoding Server only enables VP6-E (the original VP6 codec) out of the box," the Adobe representative noted. "The product supports what On2 calls 'CBR (streaming)', and On2 does not yet support VP6-S in their Flix Exporter, so the use of the Flix Exporter will not enable the VP6-S option.

On the AME side, VP6-S (or any of the VP6-E enhancements announced in May will probably not be available in the Q4 release of AME.

H.264 Encodes
AME and FMES now supports H.264 encoding, and FMES includes Windows Media and a few other tools.

Stefan Richter of FlashComGuru sums up the benefits of AME quite nicely.

"AME is certainly a step up and brings it very close, if not on par, with dedicated and professional encoding tools," said Richter in his blog. "but it this way, Adobe Media Encoder will suffice most standard encoding tasks for web based video. Nice one."

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