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Multiply Your Compression Ability
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, August 1999

On the video Web, Media Cleaner Pro 4 has provided so much functionality and control inside of one application that it has set the standard for professional digital video compression software.

It's certainly rare that one software product stands out clearly above the rest. The last one that I remember was in the early days of multimedia. But those were "early days" when software products could more easily define their own category. The one I remember is Equilibrium's Debabelizer, but that's more of a graphics tool than it is a video tool.

Media CleanerIn the new world of professional digital video compression, for online delivery as well as for DVD, CD-ROM, PowerPoint presentations, and other digital worlds, Terran Interactive (which is now a subsidiary of Media 100) offers Media Cleaner Pro. Personally, I know of no other video compression tool that comes close to its capabilities.

And now with the recent release of version 4.0, Media Cleaner Pro is cross platform. Up until version 4, it was a Mac-only program, but now it runs on both the Mac OS and Windows 95/98/NT. More importantly, this program is able to output virtually any digital video file into virtually all of the major digital video formats. Most importantly for the video Web, Media Cleaner Pro includes advanced tools for compressing all three of the major streaming formats (Real G2, QuickTime and Windows Media a.k.a. ASF).

I managed to get some hands on experience with the pre-release beta version of Media Cleaner Pro 4.0 on my G3 Mac, and I was truly impressed. Because I think that this is the one essential tool for a video professional who has anything broader than single format ambitions on the video Web, I'm dedicating this month's Video Web column to this video compression leader.

One of the things I like best about Media Cleaner Pro is its versitility. While Debabelizer does some of the same things, when it comes compressing and converting video, Media Cleaner Pro 4 does much more. At the same time, in addition to compression and conversion, you can also use Media Cleaner Pro for cropping, trimming, video noise reduction, adding fade-ins and fade-outs, de-interlacing, removing 3:2 pull-down from film transfers (with a feature called Intelecine), audio processing (thanks to some nifty new features) and more.

As in past versions, there are extensive "wizards" that can ease the complexity of compressing video by offering menus of logical choices that pretty much any video professional can follow. For example, there are decision "trees" which include: Do you want to compress for the Web, CD-ROM, DVD, etc.? What format? What data rate? And so forth. Then, as a result of your choices, Media Cleaner Pro offers settings that are appropriate.

Advanced SettingsOn the other hand, if your more precise about what you want, you can get "under the hood" and tweak and experiment to your hearts content using Media Cleaner's "Advanced Settings."

With version 4.0, Media Cleaner Pro has also added another dimension of versitility: more formats. These include not only the major streaming formats that I already mentioned (QuickTime, Real G2, Windows Media/ASF), but AVI, MPEG-1, DV, MP3, and still image and audio formats. There is also additional support for MPEG-2 that is offered as an optional upgrade.

While Media Cleaner Pro has in the past been recognized as a major QuickTime tool (and they continue to stay on top of the lastest QuickTime features including support for automated poster frames,variable display resolutions, and the latest QT codecs), I took advantage of some of their advanced RealG2 features.

One of the most impressive features in RealSystem G2 itself is SureStream which embeds multiple compressions for multiple user bandwidths (28.8Kbsps, 56Kbps, T1, etc.) within the same file. RealPlayer then automatically upshifts and downshifts depending on available network connection speeds to provide a continuous, uninterrupted stream even if it has to dynamically decrease the quality. I like the way I could simply select multiple bandwidths in Media Cleaner Pro and then compress for multiple bandwidths in a single file. This is the kind of advanced functionality that the Terran has consistently gone out of its way to provide.

While version 4 introduces the Windows version of Media Cleaner Pro, there are still a few features that underscore Terran's roots in the Mac community. For example, the Mac version of version 4 supports AppleScript that can help to automate tedious tasks. This extended functionality is illustrated by a new feature called HelperApps that enables automated pre-compression or post-compression actions such as automatically opening a compressed clip in its target player after compression for checking. If you've got big batches of files to compress, Terran recommends Sonoran Blue's MovieScript application to help connect Media Cleaner with AppleScript. In fact, along with other streaming video-related products, Terran sells MovieScript for $149 on their web site.

Of course, Media Cleaner still features easy to use batch processing. In the business of compression, this feature is truly essential. They also claim to be the only software compression application on both Mac OS and Windows 95/98/NT with a professional set of features that compress ASF files for Microsoft's Windows Media Technologies format.

Non-linear editing project studios may also be interested in Media Cleaner Pro 4 because of its new lossless format conversion. This unique feature enables producers to losslessly convert between certain formats without any recompression nor the additional noise and artifacts that recompression would introduce. For example, Media Cleaner Pro 4 can convert QuickTime movies to AVI without loss of quality.

For pros with pressing demands (pun intended), a budget and little time, Terran is also offering a new accelerated version called Media Cleaner Pro on ICE (or the ICE'd version.) Sold as a bundle with the ICE'd Sorenson Video codec as well as an ICE'd OMF import plug-in for Avid systems, this version sells for $2,495 if you already own the BlueICE acceleration card, or $6,495 with the card included. Terran says that this version of Media Cleaner Pro compresses video up to six times as fast as the software only version.

For the rest of us, Terran sells the Macintosh and Windows versions of Media Cleaner Pro separately and version 4 of each is list priced at $499. However owners of Media Cleaner Pro for one platform can purchase the alternate platform version for $249. Current Mac owners can get the version 4.0 upgrade for $159 with a three-month upgrade special of $99.

With the continuing complexity of the video Web caused by competing formats, seemingly endless innovation and a constantly changing digital landscape, Media Cleaner Pro 4 more likely than most to produce a return on your investment. It's the one way that I know to "cover" all of your digital video format "bases," and it accomplishes this with a logical, versatile and easy to use interface. I wish all software decisions were this easy.

Stay tuned

Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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