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Review: Sorenson Squeeze 4.5

Squeeze 4.5 is the latest version of Sorensen Media’s mature and highly featured compression suite. Speed improvements make it a "must" upgrade for current Squeeze users (especially those on Intel-based Macs), while the program’s multi-format encoding and automated workflows make it a natural for high-volume shops streaming in multiple formats. Basically, if you produce streaming video professionally, it’s a product you need to download and try, even if you’re completely satisfied with your current workflow and encoding tools. It may not convince you to switch, but it will open your eyes regarding how to streamline your streaming media production.

Squeeze comes in three flavors on both the Mac and Windows platforms; the Suite ($499), which encodes most formats except for Flash; the PowerPack ($649 Windows/$799 Mac), which includes all formats; and the Flash Edition ($249), which encodes only Flash. Suite and PowerPack owners of 4.x versions can upgrade for $79, while owners of Squeeze 3.x and earlier can upgrade for $249, with Flash users charged $39 and $189 respectively. I reviewed the PowerPack, primarily testing Windows Media, QuickTime, and Flash output.

Noteworthy features and capabilities of the new version include the following:
• The ability to batch-produce files in multiple formats—like Real, Windows Media, QuickTime, Flash, MPEG, and others—from one input file. This makes it a natural for any publisher producing in multiple formats.
• The ability to produce Flash files in VBR mode (unlike Adobe’s Flash 8 Video Encoder, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and other applications).
• The ability to batch-produce multiple files to different encoding parameters (say, Flash at 300 and 500Kbps), unlike On2’s popular Flix Pro 8.5, which can only batch-produce files with identical encoding parameters.

In testing, the program also produced higher-quality files than either QuickTime Pro or the Windows Media Encoder, particularly with full-screen video files where deinterlacing quality becomes critical. Squeeze was slightly faster than Flix Pro and produced near-equivalent quality, while matching Flix Pro in most relevant features save the ability to chromakey out a background to create alpha channel video and produce files with EXE projects for standalone playback.

For users of previous Squeeze generations, the new version delivers startling, almost incredible advances in encoding speed. For example, on an Intel Core Duo-based MacBook, Squeeze 4.0 produced four files (MP4, MOV, FLV, and MPEG-2) from a one-minute test file in 37:53 (min:sec), while Squeeze 4.5 output the same files in 11:45, cutting encoding time by about 69%. A six-format project on a Hewlett-Packard xw8400 workstation with two dual-core 3.0GHz Xeons dropped from 13:16 for version 4.3 to 8:32 in 4.5, a savings of about 36%.

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about Squeeze, and so little time to discuss it all in detail. In this review, I’ll describe Squeeze’s encoding capabilities format by format, starting with a review of its interface and general workflow.

Squeeze Overview
Squeeze is arguably the simplest batch encoding tool on the market. Producing a file can take as few as three steps—inputting the file, choosing an encoding template, and clicking the Squeeze button. Producing additional formats within a batch takes one additional step, simply dragging another preset into the project.

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