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Review: Telestream Episode Engine

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The other noteworthy usability issue is the bifurcation of server-related controls between the administrative application and the controls in the preference panel. Maybe it’s a Mac/Windows thing, but if you have an admin program, why not put all relevant controls there, such as the number of simultaneous jobs per encoder node, rather than in the preferences control?

Encoding With Engine
You create encoding jobs in two ways. The most common approach uses watch folders, or folders into which you drag and drop files bound for encoding. When you install Engine, it creates five subfolders in an Episode folder on a designated hard disk. Briefly, these are an Archive folder for source files that you’ve encoded, a Settings folder for canned and custom templates, an Input file for watch folders, a corresponding Output file for encoded files, and a Depot folder, which I’ll explain in a minute.

To create a watch folder, you must create a subfolder in the Input folder and drag settings into that subfolder. Thereafter, Episode Engine will encode any files dragged into that folder using the selected settings and deliver the encoded files to the corresponding Output folder.

You can also set up an Input Monitor to monitor a remote FTP site, remote folders on the network, or input from Telestream’s capture device, Pipeline. When triggered, Engine will retrieve the files and start encoding. For example, for FTP, you would set the normal connection parameters and then choose how often to check the site for files to encode (the default interval is 10 seconds). You can also choose which file extensions to retrieve and encode from the remote FTP site and which to ignore.

All this is performed in a simple application window (Figure 3), which is nice. What’s not so nice is that to transfer the encoded file back via FTP—or even create email notifications—you’ll have to create scripts within Episode Pro. It’s not like programming in zeros and ones, but Carbon Coder has a much simpler interface for postfile transfers and email notifications throughout the workflow.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Input Monitor can be set to watch a remote FTP site and to encode any retrieved files using the selected settings.

Producing Streaming Files
I spent most of my time producing VP6, H.264, and WMV files. Note that Engine uses the same encoding routines as Episode Pro, so output quality should be identical between the two programs. My tests bore this out, which was somewhat of a mixed blessing.

With H.264, for example, output quality was comparable to the best output of quality-leading programs such as Rhozet’s Carbon Coder and Adobe Media Encoder, which both use the MainConcept codec. In contrast, Episode uses the Dicas codec, and until the 5.01 release that occurred in mid-2008, quality had seriously trailed most MainConcept-driven encoders. Today, they’re at parity.

Episode provides access to a good range of H.264 encoding parameters, including the Baseline, Main, and High profiles; entropy encoding (CABAC and CAVLC); and the number of B-frames and reference frames. Carbon Coder does provide a few more parameters, but they’re relatively obscure controls such as pyramid encoding or the Hadamard transform. However, given that quality is comparable, this isn’t a big deal.

As with the Windows version of Episode Pro, Engine failed to encode with settings that used advanced H.264 parameters, though these problems disappeared when I used settings largely based upon Episode presets. Again, since the quality was good, this doesn’t matter, but if you like to tweak your H.264 settings, you may run into similar problems.

Results were also good with encoding to VP6 format, which produced SD and HD files similar in quality to On2 Flix Pro, Carbon Coder, and most other VP6 encoders. On2 must have done a good job making its software development kit (SDK) easy to use, because most encoding tools that create VP6 produce very similar quality.

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