Flix Pro 2.5, by Wildform, Inc
Posted: 23-Jul-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Wildform, Inc Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert Hanno Class: MULTIMEDIA

Wildform Flix Pro 2.501 is a cross-platform tool which enables the user to encode video, audio and image files as Flash video. It outputs all types of Flash video: Wildform's new, high quality Flash MX video, the FLV video required to import MX video into Flash, the ubiquitous Flash 3-5 video, and Flix's one-of-a-kind vector video.

Price: Single - $149.
Also available as Flix Lite Flash Video Encoder ($49).

Wildform Flix Pro 2.501 is a Macintosh OS X package which converts movie clips into MX and FLV video, Flash 3-6 video, and Flix's vector video. Movie files may be encoded using any one of Flix's 21 presets ranging from 28K MX FLV Vid (8K Aud, 12K Vid) to 512K 3-5 Vector Vid (40K Aud, 452 Aud), or with Audio only, and Banner presets also. Customized encoding settings of an infinite variety may be configured and saved as presets. Each Flix Pro license includes $100 in video from the Wildform sVideo Library.

The Lite version lacks batch encoding, overlays, play controls, auto-preloader, Win and Mac projectors, file "stitching" and other automated swf controls.

The following SWF was encoded from a MOV file as a Flix Vector video. The vector output displays the possibilities for abstract work and animation.


Vector video from a 340KB MOV


Flix encodes the following formats:

  • Video: .avi, .dv, .mov, .qt, .mpeg
  • Audio: .aiff, .mp3, .wav
  • Still Image: jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp, .psd, .tif, .pic, .tga

Flix exports four types of Flash video:

  1. Wildform's new, high quality Flash MX video with both 1-pass and 2-pass VBR, which plays in the Flash 6 player, uses high quality video compression. It can be brought into the Flash authoring tool with Load Movie.
  2. Flash FLV files needed to import Wildform's MX video into the Macromedia Flash authoring tool (both 1-pass and 2-pass VBR). This type may only be used with further manipulation.
  3. Flash 3-5 video which plays in any Flash player versions 3-6. It can be brought into Flash with Load Movie, or imported by selecting "Create importable SWF" in the SWF tab.
  4. Flix's one-of-a-kind vector video which plays in any Flash player versions 3-6 and can be brought into Flash with Import and Load Movie.

The Flix download was 6.1 Mb. Installation was advertised as "Extremely Easy Wildform Flix 2.501 Pro Installer" but it took two emails to Flix support before Wildform updated the installer to handle OS X. The new installer finally did live up to its initial billing.

Once installed, it was a relatively easy process to encode a movie. Not being blessed with a digital input device, I resorted to a variety of "found" sources. The web provided a couple of AVIs which, once prompted for the minimal configuration settings (if a preset is not chosen or Vector is chosen as an export option), Flix began encoding. Depending upon the quality of the output (framerate, average image quality setting, VBR passes, output detail options and more), the size and quality of the input, encoding occurs in as liitle as 3 seconds for a 296 KB WAV file to 20 minutes for a 51.2 MB MOV file (a three-minute spot from a Nike's World Cup promtional disk. The sound file was reduced to 12 Kb and the movie to 2.6 MB.

The Flix Preferences menu item is grayed out but an "Options" dialog under the "View" menu offers the ability to set your preferences. One of the options is "Warm me if the SWF player will exceed 50 MB." I'd prefer to "warm" these GUI guys who don't pay attention to the HIG. The "Edit Presets" button insisted on invoking my expired copy of Macromedia Dreamweaver MX Preview Release rather than to open opening the presets file in a text editor as advertised. This would have allowed manual edit of the current presets. All options are selected by default. "Preset Folder", and "Output Folder" are two missing "preferences" that quickly come to mind.


Wildform Flix File Tab

Once selected, input files may be played in the Flix player. The output file names are generated and Flix appends a number to the output file name if an existing file is in danger of being overwritten. Presets range from bandwidths of 28K to 512K, for Flash 3-5, MX/FLV vector video as well as audio only. Alteration of any settings beyond the Vectorize tab will automatically shift the preset to "Customized". These settings may be saved as FLX (XML) files and recalled for future encodings. All of the original file names are saved within these custom presets. Wildform has recognized that this encoding technology has great application in the web advertising industry and has dedicated 4 of its 21 presets to banners. Choosing "Export HTML" during encoding creates an HTML page with the code to embed the SWF. A cut and paste of the contents to another page is easily accomplished. "Export Email" creates a text file with instructions for inserting in an Outlook Express message. The only real editing necessary is the alteration of the source URL to your absolute location of the newly encoded file. "Export 1st frame .jpg" while encoding creates a JPEG file of the initial frame at the encoding settings. The File tab export options for Mac Projector and Windows Projector allow the deployment of customized media players for out-of-the-browser viewing.

Flix encoded video and audio are limited only by the maximum allowed number of frames in the SWF format - 16,000 frames. For example, at an SWF framerate of 8 fps, your movie can be over 33 minutes long. SWF video output that exceeds 50-60 MB of Flash player RAM is not recommended. An option (prefernce) may be set to warn you when your encoding exceeds 50 MB. The recommended input should be quality AVIs with one of the well known compression codecs (Indeo, Cinepak, etc.) or MOV (Sorenson) files. One is warned to avoid using the Windows Media codecs, .wmv and .asf. A poor quality AVI downloaded from the web and expanded to twice its original size showed considerable pixellation. Best results will be achieved using high quality source files and encoding at an appropriate configuration and size.

Vector video output is reduced from the initial input file's size, the Flash file requires no special player (assuming, of course, that you are one of the 98% of the populace with a Flash player already downloaded to whatever device on which you might conceive of watching video), and video input with modest complexity can result in successful encodings. These vectors - lines and curves defined by mathematical equations - can scale to any size without distortion. Depending upon the audience's bandwidth, much detail may be maintained. The best source for vextorization are videos with clearly defined foregrounds and backgrounds and containing no great amount of detail.

The Vectorize tab allows the user to choose a number of encoding settings that will determine color options, outline, and amount and type of detail. Wildform notes that, especially in Vectorize, the preset default settings in the Vectorize Tab are only a starting point. Best results will require experimentation and careful adjustment of the settings. The characteristics of a specific source file will guide your settings and minor changes in any of these can have a profound effect on the output. Settings in other tabs may still hinder the success of a vectorization. You may preset the option to preview a frame from any point of a vectorize output prior to encoding.


Wildform Flix Vectorize Tab

Encoding statistics may be saved in a separate file or copied to the clipboard for pasting into a log for comparison while searching for an appropriate setting.

Batch Processing allows the user to convert a number of input files at the same time using common encoding settings. These need not be the same format. Output file names may be updated with new prefixes or suffixes at one time. Files may be dragged and dropped into the Input box.

Wildform's tutorials, downloads, examples and forums combined with the Flash community sites provide a welcome level of support. Under the heading "Maximizing Video Quality in Flix" are "How to Improve the quality of your Flix files" and "Creating the Best Quality Video for CD-ROMS and Desktops" basic tutorials. Advanced tutorials deal with pre-loaders (pieces of code that causes the Flash Player to load a specified percentage of your Flix encoded video prior to beginning playback ensuring smooth playback of larger videos for users with slower connections.) Smart Clips include the Wildform Flix Video Jukebox, Movie Locks and Wildform Load Banner Engine.

The on-line Flix User Guide contains a substantial section on quality and recommendations for video improvement using Flix and the Osprey video capture card which apparently does not have a Mac version. An example is shown below of the bitrate statistics for various connections.

List of Target Bitrates:

Flix Preset (kbps):

Maximum Bitrate (kbps):

28.8

20

56.6

40

128

110

256

240

384

360

512

490

Typos ("Warm..." in "Options", "Apple Smoothing" in the Video Tab, "Remove all file" in "Batch Processing") detract from a decent application.

The Help is browser-based once again. This time at least there is a local Help directory within the installation. The User Guide is on-line but at least it contains predominantly Macintosh (and OS X, at that) screen images unlike many cross-platform products. NOTE: The Flix Pro (Mac) Online Manuals web pages work fine in Internet Explorer 5.1 on my Mac but contains a pervasive javascript errors when viewing in 5.5 on the PC.

The error-handling is less than user-friendly: encoding errors while in the File tab point to settings in other tabs (e.g., SWF, Video) but user is left in the File tab. All of the missing configuration settings are not checked at a request to encode and thus a customized encoding may require a number of prompts for missing settings. Writeability of the output location is not verified before encoding commences.

Flix Pro occasionally hung while converting a 340 KB MOV file to Vector. Often the progress bar showed 0% after 10 minutes of processing.

The Wildform Flix -> About LAME Encoder... dialog box could not be dismissed and required a Force Quit.

Batch processing crashed the application on a couple of occasions. A -1012 and 0xA1 abend were encountered while encoding,

Summary
I would recommend Wildform Flix Pro to anyone with a web site and/or a wish to share video images. The FLV encoding option requires a copy of Flash to manipulate the results and produce a final product. Video authors, animators and even the occasional video- and image-manipulator will find this tool to be impressive. Despite Its occasional shortcomings, it runs adequately on a 350 mHz G3 and would no doubt sing on a dual-processor G4.

If you wish to try out Flix Pro, download from the Wildform Demos page.


Pros

  • Good value for an above-average application with no apparent competition
  • Audio and still image encoding
  • Output is highly customizable
  • Conversions are handled crisply
  • Good tutorials, downloads and examples

Cons

  • Vectorize encoding hangs on occasion
  • FLV encoding and Batch processing crashed on occasion
  • Interface issues in error-handling
  • User's Guide is limited

Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice

Ease of Use
Effectiveness
Functionality


General System Requirements

  • PowerMac
  • 64 MB RAM
  • 10 MB free disk space
  • Mac OS 8.6 thru 9.x or OS 10.x
  • Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher
  • Flash 6 Player and Quicktime Player 5+
  • To capture video, a video capture card and software