Sorenson Squeeze 7

Sorenson Media, one of the leading encoding developers, recently released its newly updated Sorenson Squeeze 7 application.  Squeeze has become a popular encoder for many advanced media outlets, such as NBC Universal, which uses Squeeze to encode movie promotional spots for Yahoo, Google and Hulu. Most Avid Media Composer editors have used Squeeze for years, because it has been included as the default encoder within the Media Composer retail bundle (boxed version) or separately as part of Avid’s Production Suite of third party software.

If you already own or are familiar with Squeeze 6, then you’ll feel right at home with the workflow and interface design of Squeeze 7. The interface is designed with specific tabs to organize compression settings by destination, use or format requirements, including Web, Broadcast, Devices, Discs, Formats and Editing. This is a simple method of organization to make it easy to find the right preset, which may appear in more than one group. For instance, you might find the same setting under both the Devices and Formats tabs. In addition, settings can be easily modified and both preset and custom settings may be saved under a Favorites tab for quick access. As before, video can be brought into Squeeze 7 by importing a file from your hard drive, using a watch folder or by direct capture from a FireWire-connected deck or camera.

Squeeze’s Publishing Options feature was originally introduced with Squeeze 6, coinciding with the launch of Sorenson 360 – a robust, professional video hosting service on the web. Now on version 2, Sorenson 360 features content management and user privacy controls that make it an excellent client review and approval site. Sorenson 360 supports plug-ins, too, including a WordPress plug-in that allows you to post Flash or MP4 videos directly into the WordPress publishing platform.

Squeeze 7 still includes a one-year complimentary account to Sorenson 360. The Publishing Options allow you to add an upload component to any existing encoding preset. These include Akamai servers, YouTube and Sorenson 360, among others. At this time, upload settings to MobileMe galleries or Vimeo, another popular video hosting site, are not included.

If you have an established account with any of the enabled services, you may pick from existing Web Destinations presets, which are already formatted for a service’s encoding specs and include a “publish to” component. This isn’t just out to the  web, though. For example, if you select an Apple TV preset, it includes a step to publish the encoded file to iTunes on your machine. FTP publishing is also available. Lastly, you can set up e-mail or text message notifications upon completion. The point of all of these options is to allow you to establish a complete one-step, automated workflow combining import, encoding to multiple formats, publishing to multiple destinations and notification – all as a single Squeeze 7 job.

New features

Several key features were added to Sorenson Squeeze 7. Format options have been expanded to include more broadcast, blu-ray and web encodes. A Dolby-certified AC3 Consumer encoder has been added. If you have an NVIDIA graphics card using CUDA parallel GPU processing technology, you can take advantage of faster H.264 encoding. Sorenson claims up to a 3x performance boost. Even the low-cost GeForce GT120 card will yield some benefit. Don’t have an NVIDIA card? You’ll still get a boost. Squeeze 7 preferences let you launch simultaneous encoding processes, running at up to 1.5x the number of cores. In actual practice this seems to vary with the type of encoding being done, but you should be able to set the preference on an 8-core machine to 12 simultaneous processes and see multiple streams running at once.

Another new feature for Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 and CS5 editors is a Squeeze 7 plug-in. This is similar to Apple Final Cut Pro’s “export with QuickTime Conversion” and Avid Media Composer’s “send to – encoding – Sorenson Squeeze” menu options. From the Premiere Pro timeline, simply select the “export – media” command from the pulldown menu to launch Adobe Media Encoder. Within this interface you may select a Squeeze format and preset instead of an Adobe choice.

Sorenson has targeted large enterprise users with Adaptive Bitrate encoding – also newly added to Squeeze 7. One of the tricks for video hosting sites on the web is to throttle playback by switching among several different synched files encoded at various bitrates. If you are watching a web video on a mobile device and the bandwidth gets bogged down, the site can momentarily switch to a lower data rate version without interrupting the stream. If you are the compressionist who encodes such files, it requires specific target rates and folder packaging formats that are server-specific. Squeeze 7 now includes several Adaptive Streaming presets that take care of this for you. As a test, I picked the iPhone 3G preset. This automatically encoded and packaged six transport streams and the necessary reference files to link them.

Improved quality and performance

Sorenson Squeeze 7 definitely provides better quality encodes than Squeeze 5 and more options than Squeeze 6. However, if you can only use one single encoder, then quite frankly, there is no such thing as “the best” or “the fastest”. I’ve found that some encoders do better with one format than another and some do better on Windows than on a Mac and vice versa. Running Squeeze 7 on a Mac gave me great results on most, non-QuickTime encodes, like M4V, MP4, Flash and Windows Media. When it came to QuickTime-based formats, I was happier with the results from Apple Compressor, but often it was simply a toss-up.

As before, Squeeze requires a bit of color-level tweaking with some source files. This is especially true with Avid DNxHD source files on a Mac. I had several matching QuickTime test clips  using both the Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes codecs. The DNxHD files normally look flatter as compared with the ProRes versions. QuickTime Player doesn’t expand the DNxHD luma levels from Rec. 709 to RGB for the screen. When I converted these in Apple Compressor to the Apple TV .m4v preset, the resulting files matched. When I encoded these same files in Squeeze 7, using its comparable Apple TV preset, the Avid-sourced .m4v looked flatter than the ProRes-sourced .m4v.

For accurate encodes in Squeeze 7 using Avid source files, tweak the built-in filters to adjust black restore, white restore, hue/saturation and gamma. Then save a custom preset for repeated use. This isn’t a criticism, but merely to point out that each encoder has its own peculiarities, which you have to understand in order to make the necessary custom presets. By and large, video levels of encoded files created from ProRes sources typically matched between Compressor and Squeeze 7. You will want to create custom presets for your common routines. This is important not only for proper levels, but also for controlling 16×9 and 4×3 aspect ratios and letterboxed/pillarboxed display attributes.

Time to tackle WebM

A new web format added to Squeeze 7 is Google’s WebM, which uses the On2 VP8 codec. On2 VP6 has been used in Flash, but I’ve never been a fan of these codecs. Clearly Sorenson is trying to stay on the cutting edge, should the web video tide turn away from H.264 and towards WebM. Unfortunately, it’s not ready for prime time. Every encoding attempt I made bogged down about half-way through the second pass and took about 30 minutes to complete. (I confirmed this with Sorenson’s tech support.) The WebM-encoded file did look very nice and played rather smoothly.  That shows promise, but until the encoding time comes down, a 30 minute encode for a one minute clip is unusable. In all fairness, WebM (VP8) encoding is slow on other encoders, too. According to Sorenson, the Squeeze team is currently working on optimizing it for WebM quality and speed.

Sorenson Squeeze 7 remains one of the best all-purpose encoders in the business. Plenty of format options, an easy workflow, relatively fast encodes and high-quality results. Windows users can easily select this as their only encoding application, while Apple users will find it to be a great alternative to QuickTime Pro or Compressor. For a one-step simplified encoding workflow, Squeeze 7 is hard to beat.

Written for Videography and DV magazines (NewBay Media, LLC)

© 2011 Oliver Peters

Simple effects techniques

Many editors have come to rely on one-button filter presets to create their effects, but a lot can be done if you understand the tools that come with every NLE. Like early versions of Photoshop before layer effects were added, the building blocks are there – you just have to learn how to use them. Here are a few simple techniques you can use to spruce up your editing timelines.

Blur/dissolve transition. This is a common plug-in effect, but you can create a more subtle effect manually. Place the outgoing shot on V2 and the incoming shot on V1. Overlap them by the length of the transition. Split the clip (razor blade or “add edit”) on V2 at the start of the transition. Add a Gaussian blur filter to this clip with a beginning and ending keyframe. The first keyframe should have a 0 value and then crank up the blur on the second/last keyframe. Next change the opacity, so the V2 clip fades out over the length of the transition. The end result should be an outgoing clip that blurs out and fades out to reveal the incoming clip.

Glow layer. Duplicate a V1 clip and copy it to V2. Add a glow filter to V2. Now experiment with different composite/blend modes on V2. Adjust the V2 opacity and add color correction to taste. Depending on your settings, you’ll end up with something as simple as subtle highlight glows – or as extreme as stylized action shots common in sports promos.

Skip bleach effect in FCP (or other color correction styles). This is similar to the “glow layer” composite I just mentioned. It’s a trick borrowed from After Effects designers. Place a clip on V1 and a duplicate of that clip onto V2. Change the blend/composite mode of the clip on V2 (such as to screen or overlay). Apply a color correction filter onto the V2 clip and adjust to taste. The classic “skip bleach” effect is high-contrast and reduced saturation.

Bi-packs. This goes back to optical film printing. Essentially the effect is a dissolve on top of another dissolve, so that you get a point with three images momentarily superimposed. Dissolve between clips on V1. Place a third shot on V2 and dissolve to the shot from the blank space on V2. Start the transition so that it occurs on top of the dissolve on V1. Experiment with placement and dissolve durations for the right visual effect.

Insert video into titles. Different NLEs process titles in different ways, but generally it’s a combination of nested alpha information and full color “fill”. You can replace the fill with moving video. Media Composer nests the effect, so step into the effect and replace the fill layer with video. The matte layer (the title letter shapes) cuts the hole through which you will see the video. In Final Cut Pro, build the effect on three layers – V1 background, V2 title, V3 new fill video that is to appear inside the title. Now change the composite mode for the V3 clip to Travel Matte-Alpha or Travel Matte-Luma, depending on whether the title has an alpha channel or not.

Keynote for titles. There are plenty of video titling effects and applications, but if you own Apple Keynote (part of iWork), you have a very powerful and user-friendly animation tool at your disposal. Simply set the project to a video size (i.e. 1920×1080) and create the text pages with the desired animation effects and page transitions. Next, export it as a QuickTime movie. Keynote defaults to a high-quality H.264, so convert the file to ProRes for easier editing, using Compressor or another application. These won’t have an embedded alphas, so full screen text is best or pages that can be luma-keyed or choma-keyed. Avoid gradient backgrounds. These will show banding once turned into video due to the H.264 codec.


One more trick, similar to the glow layer and skip bleach trick mentioned above, is the ability in FCP (or other NLEs) to use layers for tone-mapping and even pseudo HDR (high-dynamic range) looks. A common technique is to create two radically different color grades on the same image and then combine these two through keying or blend modes. In this example, there are three copies of the same clip on three video tracks. I’ve made the highlights (V3) very golden, but the base layer normal (V1). In between on V2, I have used filters to turn the image into a high-contrast black-and-white, which I can use as the source of a key. By changing the blend/composite mode on V3 to Travel Matte–Luma, the V3 clip (the golden image) is using V2 as a key signal to composite the golden highlights onto the normal image of V1.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Digital Film Tools PhotoCopy

Like guitarists searching for the perfect tone, editors are constantly looking for tools, tips and tricks to give their images a signature look. The newest tool in this elusive quest is PhotoCopy from veteran plug-in developer Digital Film Tools. DFT developed the original 55mm and Digital Film Lab filters, which became part of the Tiffen Dfx Digital Filter Suite.

Many of the competing plug-ins and filters used for color manipulation are based on tools that adjust color, video and gamma levels, while others are designed to mimic favorite photographic filters. PhotoCopy doesn’t use a tools-based approach. It differs from other image plug-ins by using the analysis of existing images and then intelligently applying those parameters to your target clip.

Film, video and photos

PhotoCopy is available in two plug-in versions: one for motion applications and one for still photo software. Each variation (motion or photo) is sold as a separate product. The motion filter installs into Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects, while the still photo version works with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture.

Once you apply PhotoCopy to a clip in an NLE timeline, you are able to open its custom interface to select, apply and adjust an effects preset. You can access PhotoCopy in a still application by applying it as a filter in Photoshop or using the “edit in” commands of Aperture or Lightroom. All approaches open a separate PhotoCopy application where you do the work. The motion version of the plug-in only opens a floating “mini” version of the app, while the photo version gives you full access to all of the features of PhotoCopy.

Image-based presets

The full PhotoCopy interface is divided into three sections: a selection of presets, the image with the preset applied and adjustment parameters. Digital Film Tools designed its presets based on the analysis of the brightness, color, tone, detail, grain and texture of 94 Academy Award-nominated features, 72 paintings, 40 photographs and 30 photographic processes.

The presets pane is divided into groups (movies, paintings, photographs, processes and user-created custom presets) and each group displays a series of representative images. The analysis of the preset reference image that’s displayed is then applied to your target image. Click on a bleach-bypass-style preset, as pulled from a frame of the film Letters from Iwo Jima, and that color treatment is applied to your image. Scroll down to a blue frame pulled from Master and Commander and your image is changed to blue tones.

These presets are not simply color washes. PhotoCopy uses its image analysis to appropriately tone-map your image in a consistent manner according to the palette of the preset. In the case of presets with grain or paintings with brush strokes, like a Van Gogh, PhotoCopy simulates a grain or brush texture and applies that to your image, as well.

The actual interface differs slightly between the photo and motion versions of PhotoCopy. For example, as a Photoshop filter, you have the ability to see side-by-side, before-and-after image comparisons, which isn’t part of the motion version. PhotoCopy also gives you the ability to adjust the image parameters, including color (brightness, color, tone) and texture (detail, grain, texture). You can also apply and adjust a vignette. These sliders are placed in the standard effects control panel of a motion application like After Effects, but appear inside the custom PhotoCopy interface when used with Photoshop.

Custom presets

The main difference between the photo version and the motion version – and a reason to purchase both – is the ability to create a preset with texture information. Both versions allow you to adjust the parameters of an existing preset and save that as a new variation. In addition, both versions can analyze the source image’s brightness, color, tone, detail and grain and apply it to a target image. The result can then be saved as an entirely new preset. However, the still photo version also lets you create a preset that contains texture information from any image that you supply.

Simply open an image in PhotoCopy from within Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture and select Create Preset. PhotoCopy will analyze the qualities of your image, including texture information, and apply these as a preset to its default image. Make adjustments to the parameters and save it as a new preset. Now this custom setting, along with a representative thumbnail image, is available in all versions of the filter, including the motion version. Presets can also be imported and exported.

In use

PhotoCopy is a useful tool for establishing a special look for your project, but it isn’t intended as an all-purpose color corrector. Nevertheless, because the presets are derived from an analysis of the palette used in those sample frames – and that in turn is mapped to your image – the result can be the same as achieving that look through more traditional color grading tools. Except that you got there through a single click and a few slider adjustments.

I tested PhotoCopy version 1.0 in both the various motion and photo applications. PhotoCopy worked as expected in all, but there was one issue with Avid Media Composer. Apparently Avid changed how multiprocessing was being handled in Media Composer 5.5, which affected the early versions of PhotoCopy. Make sure you download and install the most recent version of the PhotoCopy plug-in for proper function within Media Composer.

I had no conflicts with Apple Final Cut Pro 7, although there was one minor issue. It appears that clips with the PhotoCopy filter applied stay at full quality (when left unrendered) rather than degrade dynamically under FCP’s RT Engine. As a result, scrubbing through unrendered clips is more sluggish than with other filters when your timeline video quality is set to “dynamic” instead of “high”.

Overall, the plug-in worked best of all with Adobe After Effects CS 5.5, as I would expect. In my opinion, After Effects is simply the most friendly environment for plug-ins. It’s rare to have issues there, as long as you are using a filter designed for that specific version of After Effects. This is especially true with any of the 64-bit versions of After Effects.

I really like the way the plug-in works, but of course, that hopefully will include future compatibility with Final Cut Pro X. At this moment, I would absolutely recommend the 1.0 version for use with Photoshop and After Effects. It offers the editor a great new tool to use in the quest for that unique look.

Written for DV and Videography magazines (NewBay Media, LLC)

©2011 Oliver Peters

Playing with Epic frames

As RED Digital Cinema moves beyond the RED One camera, post production folks will need to keep up with the changes in files mastered on these next-generation RED cameras. RED’s Epic camera is starting to make it into the production world in ever-increasing numbers, but to date, most NLEs on the market aren’t ready yet to accept these files. Adobe has been leading the charge with Epic support available in Premiere Pro CS 5.5 and After Effects CS 5.5. To date, Premiere Pro is the only desktop NLE to be able to open media files and edit sequences using Epic frames in native sizes, such as 5120 x 2160 and 5120 x 2560.

I still advocate conversions prior to editing using RED’s free Redcine-X or The Foundry’s Storm and then editing in the NLE of your choice. If you want to start cutting straight from the camera raw Epic files, then today, Premiere Pro CS 5.5 is just about your only option. This could change with Final Cut Pro X, but we’ll have to wait and see. If you prefer Media Composer or FCP7, then for now you are limited to smaller frame sizes and only RED One files.

So far, my Epic testing has been purely experimental, with only a few test frames generously posted at RED User by Jarred Land and others. I haven’t really been able to check real-world performance – merely how the files work within Premiere Pro. To that end, I’ve focused on color manipulation. I feel there are two viable approaches to the workflow, when you are color correcting the raw files within an NLE like Premiere Pro.

Source clips set to REDcolor2/REDlogFilm – Click to see an enlarged view

The first is to make all the color adjustments within the RED raw source settings pane. Here you can make all the raw-to-RGB adjustments, as well as subjectively adjusting curves, color balance, levels, etc. The second approach is to set a base level with the intent of doing all of your color grading using the regular NLE color correction tools, plug-ins and filters. From a standpoint of image quality, I don’t see much difference between color adjustments made within the source settings panel and those made in the timeline using standard color correction tools. With that in mind, I feel that the best workflow is the latter – use a basic raw setting that applies to all clips and then do your subjective grading in the standard environment.

One thing to point out is that Redcine-X and Storm update the .rmd (camera metadata looks) file when a clip is altered. You can use either of these applications to set the grading for a raw clip and then simply load that preset from the source settings pane in Premiere Pro or After Effects. By doing so, you can make color adjustments in Redcine-X or Storm and have those show up within the Adobe apps without any exports or renders.

The camera “look” that seems most conducive to a workflow where you grade after raw conversion is to use a flat setting that can easily be manipulated. In the newest Premiere Pro RED Importer source settings pane, this means using Color Version 2, a Color Space of REDcolor2 (or REDcolor – slightly more saturated) and a Gamma Curve of REDlogFilm. ISO, Kelvin and Tint should be adjusted to taste, but basically Kelvin/Tint should be set to a neutral white balance. An ISO value of 800 will tend to place the signal in the middle to middle-lower part of the histogram; however, experiment with the ISO setting for an optimal value. Now leave the other color controls alone.

By doing this you have effectively created an image that is very similar to the Log-C profile of an ARRI ALEXA or a scanned 35mm film negative. It provides a good neutral starting point for grading, which can be readily moved into a wide range of creative looks. In fact, this setting responds well to the built-in Cineon Converter, with a few tweaks.

One of the biggest advantages to working this way is that you can stay within the world of all your familiar tools. Premiere Pro CS 5.5 has become much more responsive to third-party plug-ins. I’ve found that common filters like Magic Bullet Looks, Colorista II, Mojo and GenArts’s Sapphire have a much-improved responsiveness compared with earlier versions. As such, it’s quite viable to grade an entire project within a Premiere Pro timeline without bouncing over to After Effects or relying on a dedicated grading application like DaVinci Resolve. In short, drop your native Epic clips into a Premiere Pro project, set the clip source settings to a neutral preset and then adjust the clips on the timeline by using the standard and/or third party filters.

I’ve become particularly found of using the Sapphire plug-ins. Now that they work rather well inside Premiere Pro, you can quickly develop “looks” by building up a stack of filters. For instance, in one of these examples, the combination of HueSatBright, Gamma, FilmEffect, BleachBypass and GlowDarks filters result in a very rich grade. Likewise, the Epic files respond nicely to Colorista II and Magic Bullet Looks.

This is, of course, only one of many ways to work. The outlined workflow is designed to appeal to the editor who wants to work inside the NLE as much as possible. Adobe has now made it possible for Premiere Pro editors to have a viable solution when dealing with RED Epic footage. I’m sure other companies will also get up to speed, but for now Adobe is leading the pack.

Some grading examples using MB Looks (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using MB Colorista II (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using GenArts Sapphire filters (click to see enlarged views)

A grading example using MB Mojo + Sapphire (click to see enlarged views)

Some grading examples using the Cineon converter (click to see enlarged views)

©2011 Oliver Peters