April 2003|Once just an in-house piece of custom coding from a fledgling group of CD-ROM publishers, the original "Movie Cleaner" became a digital studio must-have tool as the norm of mastering to Betacam SP and dubbing to VHS gave way to the oft-dizzying world of digital distribution options. And that was when there were just a handful of compression choices for putting video on a disc. Today's streaming, download, and DVD options mean exponentially more viewing opportunities, but also far greater complexity.
Canopus' ProCoder (Windows only) and Sorenson Squeeze Compression Suite (Mac/Windows) have recently joined Cleaner, formerly from Terran Interactive and now from Discreet, as encoding tools that can help you keep up with the growing complexities of digital distribution. But can they match Cleaner's maturity? A recently released sixth revision of Cleaner for Mac users continues to support the latest codecs and formats with aplomb.
But hold on to your hat. There will be no Cleaner 6.0 for Windows. A new product, Cleaner XL, with a very different interface suited more to large-volume batch encoding has integrated Cleaner Central functionality directly into the main product. Job Queues and Output Profiles sound great, but what if your job is just trying to make a single file look good? Are the new changes and increased mouse clicks overkill?
Here, we take a first look at a Beta version of the new Discreet Cleaner XL and compare it to Canopus ProCoder, Sorenson Squeeze Compression Suite, and the familiar old version of Cleaner 5.1. The field is more crowded now, but direct competition is surprisingly mild as the three products aspire to different audiences. Which is right for your workflow will depend on what you know and what you do.
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.