Sorenson Video 3.0, by Sorenson
Posted: 6-Dec-2001

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Sorenson Media Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: MULTIMEDIA

Have you ever wondered how web sites post Quicktime videos that only take up 5 MB of space, especially when a 2-minute Quicktime video that you record takes up 600 MB of disk space? The answer is Sorenson Video.

Sorenson Video is the Quicktime standard for high-quality video compression on the Macintosh and Windows platforms. This review is for Sorenson Video 3 for the Macintosh, using a G3 running OS 9.0.4 and a G4 running OS 9.2.1.

Sorenson Video is a Quicktime codec, a compression coding scheme which is displayed in the list of compression options when exporting video from a Quicktime movie.

The installation is pretty straight forward. Once you run the installer on the CD, all the appropriate extensions are loaded into your system. After rebooting, the next time you export from Quicktime, the Sorenson Video compression option is included.

To export using Sorenson Video compression, you must use the Quicktime Player application. Choose the Export option from the File menu, and choose "Movie to Quicktime Movie" as the export format. In the Export dialog, click on Settings to get the Settings dialog. Click on the Settings button to get the Compression Settings dialog, and there is where you choose Sorenson Video 3. To change the Sorenson specific settings, click on the Options button in the Compression Settings dialog.

No special skills are required to use Sorenson compression. When exporting a video to a Quicktime movie, the default settings for Sorenson will suffice for most of your compression needs. For the video professionals, however, Sorenson offers a variety of options. In the Sorenson specific settings, you are presented with tabs for Summary, Encode, Playback, Streaming, Masking, and Watermark. The Summary tab displays a basic summary of the Sorenson specific settings in effect. The Encode tab allows you to set flags, such as bidirectional prediction, playback scalability and quick compress. It also provides settings for Automatic Key Frames and Minimum Quality. The Playback tab allows you to toggle Image Smoothing and assign a Media Key. The Streaming tab allows you to enable streaming, with options for package slice size and refresh rate. The Masking tab allows you to enable masking, and provides lots of options for the masking. Finally, the Watermark tab allows you to add your own watermark to the video, with settings for position and opacity.

The Sorenson specific settings interface was very simple to use, both in terms of a good interface design and organization. What I didn't like was the number of foreground-only dialogs that I had to go through until I got to Sorenson's preferences. A foreground-only dialog prevents you from doing anything else while the dialog is open, such as switch to your desktop or another open application. If you find that you need to look somewhere on your disk or in another application to determine a setting, you have to cancel all the dialogs (a total of 4), go off and do what you need to do, then reopen each dialog in succession. By the second time you go through this, it begins to get annoying.

The compression for Sorenson Video 3 (SV3), which is the heart of the software, is fantastic. Sorenson Video 2 (SV2) was great, and version 3 is that much better. It is advertised as providing better video than Sorenson Video 2 at less than half of the bit rate, delivering twice the compression speed (up to three times the speed when using Variable Bit Rate). In all my tests, I found this to be quite accurate. For example, I recorded a 454 MB movie and exported it using both SV2 and SV3. The resulting size of the compressed file was about the same for both exports, but SV2 took 4 minutes to export while SV3 only took 2 minutes. This was using Quicktime's medium quality setting. The quality seemed very decent, about the same for both. In another test, I set the Quicktime setting to high quality, and a 568 MB movie compressed to 53MB in 25 minutes. For a high quality output, it was very impressive.

With the speed gain over SV2, SV3 is a must have. You get great quality videos in half the time that SV2 created them (just as advertised). The only "gotcha" that users should be aware of is that SV3 only works with Quicktime 5 or better technology. If you are running Quicktime 4.x and export a movie using SV3, that movie will not play in your Quicktime Player. The two negatives to that is that it forces you to upgrade to Quicktime 5 (and the upgrade is not free), and for your potential audience, those who don't have Quicktime 5 (and don't want to upgrade) will not be able to view your movie. For this reason, be sure to keep SV2 around just in case.

Summary

Sorenson Video 3 is a remarkable compression product for Quicktime movies. Its compression technology works magic in reducing the size of a movie while maintaining good quality video. In many cases, I could barely tell the difference between the original and the compressed version. For streaming video over the web, SV3 is the key to creating a downloadable movie of a manageable size. The only negatives I found were the multiple dialogs required to change Sorenson settings, and Quicktime's lack of support for export background processing. After I was done testing this product, I was left desiring a standalone product that allowed me to export in the background without all the Quicktime Player extra dialogs. It would also be nice to see an estimate of how much time is left in the export, something which Quicktime Player does not provide. That aside, and despite the dependence of SV3 on Quicktime 5, I highly recommend Sorenson Video 3. For the novice user, it's a necessity for taking your home recorded movies and making them small enough to share over the web or through email. For video professionals, it's simply a must-have product for your video compression needs.

(It should be noted that Sorenson recently announced a new product called
Sorenson Squeeze which may provide the standalone program that would resolve the negatives mentioned above. I have not yet worked with the product, so for this review, it remains only a possibility.)

Pros:

  • Amazing compression of videos
  • Twice as fast as Sorenson Video 2
  • Hosts a lot of professional options, such as Masking and Watermark.
  • Excellent quality compressed videos
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Does not support background processing
  • Annoying number of dialogs before getting to Sorenson settings
  • Creates movies that are not viewable on any version of Quicktime before version 5
  • For the home hobbyist, SV3 may seem a bit pricey


Overall Rating:

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice