By Neil Bennett | on June 02, 2004
Pros: First commercial tool to support Real 10 platform. Live encoding possible.
Cons: Counterintuitive workflow, with no video playback. No live cropping. Multiple outputs a pain to create. No print manual. Free version almost as good.
It’s been a while since any of the main Web-streaming software tools have been updated, but like the proverbial bus, three have turned up at once. While long-term frontrunner Cleaner sits in development hell, the last month has seen the announcement of updates to Canopus’ ProCoder, Sorenson’s Squeeze Compression Suite, and RealNetworks RealProducer 10.
RealProducer 10 is the first to arrive. The software is available in two versions, Basic and Plus. Basic is free but limits you to encoding a single stream at a time. Plus adds support for batch processing with multiple outputs, live Webcasting tools, and more. This review covers the commercial release.
Compared to the previous version of RealProducer Plus, version 10’s main selling point is its output of the latest version of RealNetworks’ streaming format. Real 10 comprises of RealVideo 10 and RealAudio 10. RealVideo 10 offers the same quality as RealVideo 9 at 30 per cent lower bitrates, according to RealNetworks. The company says more encoding complexity control is offered by the new format. Files can be between 10 and 20 per cent smaller using RealProducer 10, compared to RealVideo 9 files encoded using Cleaner XL. It might be because of some extra processing involved, but RealProducer took almost twice as long to create Real 10 files as Cleaner XL took to create Real 9 files.
In the wrong job
RealAudio 10 drops the ATRAC codec for AAC (as seen in MPEG-4), which improves the compression ratio, and adds support for 5.1 surround sound and a lossless codec that halves file sizes. However, this isn’t really used in the UK.
As a standard encoding tool, RealProducer 10 is flawed. Its three-pane interface looks well laid out, but its workflow is disjointed and counterintuitive.
The jobs-based system is usual for encoding tools, but with most tools each job represents an input file that you can ascribe multiple output files of different resolutions, bitrates, and trims. In RealProducer, each job can only have a single type of output. This is annoying, and wastes time. Other tools let you load a single job file to turn a file into your standard outputs. RealProducer requires you to load multiple jobs.
You can’t playback files in the application, and you can’t see a video file while applying a crop filter, which makes the filter useless. The included templates don’t change video resolution, which means you’ll have to modify them all before use. There’s no printed manual either, which is pretty cheap.
As a basic live Webcasting tool, RealProducer is adequate. However, if you can afford the production costs of a live Webcast, you can afford a more reliable hardware solution or a more able system, such as Viewcast’s Niagara kits.
RealProducer a lot cheaper than competing products like ProCoder, Squeeze Compression Suite, and Cleaner – but it doesn’t come close to these products in terms of quality. And that’s ignoring the ability of those products to output Windows Media and QuickTime.
ProCoder 2.0 and Squeeze Compression Suite 3.5 should be out by the time you read this. Barring any serious bugs, these tools will probably serve you better than RealProducer.