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Telestream Episode Pro 6.1.1 Makes Great Strides

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When Telestream introduced Episode Pro 6.0, I loved the new user interface, which for the first time was shared by all three versions of Episode: Episode, Episode Pro, and Episode Engine, the last of which was also available on the Windows platform for the first time. Unfortunately, when I actually tested the software, there were some significant deficits in both H.264 and WebM encoding that made it very difficult to recommend.

Specifically, though Telestream switched over to the MainConcept codec, with H.264 quality still lagged behind category quality leader Sorenson Squeeze. In addition, the Episode software occasionally mangled the first few frames after a hard scene change, an implementation error of the MainConcept codec that Squeeze also exhibited when it first changed over to MainConcept.

With WebM, Episode Pro produced a file that would become highly distorted when played interactively in Google Chrome. That is, if you played the file linearly start to finish, quality was fine, but if you dragged the playhead back and forth a few times, as viewers often do, the video would almost immediately degrade into extreme blockiness.

Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve tested beta versions of Episode 6.1.1, and the program is now as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside. Regarding H.264, Episode’s output quality is now on par with Sorenson Squeeze on both platforms, and the scene change issue is gone. In addition, Episode Pro has made great strides in encoding performance.

To test H.264 encoding performance, I ran four tests: a single SD file to single SD output, a single HD file to single HD output, a single HD file for eight different outputs (simulating producing for adaptive streaming), and eight SD files to eight separate SD outputs. With version 6.0, on my eight-core Mac Pro test bed, Episode was fastest in all four trials, and version 6.1.1 increased that lead significantly. On Windows, on my 12-core HP Z800 workstation, Episode Pro was slower than Squeeze in all four trials with version 6.0 but faster than Squeeze in all four trials with version 6.1.1.

With WebM, Telestream couldn’t supply a Windows version of the beta with the Chrome fix before my deadline, but on the Mac, Episode’s single file SD encoding time dropped from 23:55 to 12:35 (minutes:seconds), with Squeeze at 15:45.

To be clear, at least from a performance perspective, your results will vary based upon which version of Episode you buy. To explain, the base version of Episode ($495) can only encode a single file at a time, while Episode Pro ($995), which I tested here, can encode two at a time. With Episode Engine, you can designate as many simultaneous encoding slots as you’d like, up to the number of cores in your encoding station. With Squeeze ($799), you can also designate as many encoding slots as you have cores in your computer, but even with that capability, Episode Pro 6.1.1 was faster in all trials.

Obviously, there’s more to buying an encoder than encoding speed and quality. From my perspective, one of Episode’s strongest features is the ability to share encoding chores over clusters created from workstations running Episode on the same LAN. On the other hand, Squeeze offers tight integration with Sorenson 360, Sorenson’s online video platform (OVP). This enables client-side encoding, which reduces upload time for files delivered to the OVP. It also enables a review and approval workflow where producers can upload files to Sorenson 360 and send a link to their clients or customers, who can view the file and enter comments online. All that said, if the quality isn’t there, you can’t use the encoder. I just wanted to let you know that Telestream had upped the quality of its H.264 and WebM output to match the best in class. Nice work, boys and girls.

This article was published in the June/July 2011 issue of Streaming Media under the title "Telestream Episode Pro 6.1.1: Pretty on the Inside."

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