Price: £470 plus VAT
Cleaner used to have the market for professional-level encoding software pretty much sewn up. However, the last couple of years have seen Cleaner being passed from one software house to another – and upgrades have been few and far between. The recent release of Canopus’ impressive ProCoder confirmed that Cleaner could no longer take its dominance for granted. However, the current owner, Discreet, has now released Cleaner 6, an upgrade that boasts both new features and improved performance. This version only runs on the Mac, though. The Windows version of Cleaner is still stuck at version 5.1, as the Windows upgrade hasn’t been finished yet. Mac users will be pleased to see that Cleaner 6 is up to date with the latest Apple technologies. The program can run under either OS 9 or OS X, and supports the recently released QuickTime 6, which in turn provides support for the new MPEG-4 and AAC file formats. That gives it one advantage over ProCoder straight away, as ProCoder still only handles MPEG-1 and -2. In the Palm of your hand Another new system supported in this version is Kinoma, a video format developed specifically for handheld devices that use the Palm OS. As well as altering compression settings for audio and video, Cleaner allows users to choose various ‘layout’ options that specify which part of the screen the video plays in, and to select a background image or colour. Kinoma isn’t a mass-market technology yet, but it’s nice to see that Cleaner is making the effort to keep up with new technologies, rather than just resting on its laurels. At first, Cleaner 6 doesn’t look much different from previous versions. Its interface remains rather plain and workmanlike, and even the candy-coloured bells and whistles of OS X have been kept to a minimum. There’s been quite a bit of fine-tuning, though. You can drag-&-drop files into the main Batch window as usual, but there’s also a new option called Watch Folders that automates the encoding process. You can specify a folder on your hard disk to be ‘watched’ by Cleaner, and any new files dropped into that folder will automatically be processed using settings that you specify when you create the Watch Folder. When encoding is complete, the encoded file will be sent to the ‘destination’ folder you specify, while the original source file is placed into a second folder labelled ‘Done’, which sits inside the Watch folder. The main Batch window has been modified slightly. It now lets users rearrange the size and order of its columns. It’s also possible to drag settings folders out of the Settings window and copy them onto the desktop, allowing you to easily share custom settings with other users. One fairly major change is that the Settings Wizard found in previous versions of the program has been removed. The Wizard was aimed at newcomers who weren’t entirely familiar with encoding work and provided a simple, step-by-step guide to the various formats and settings available within Cleaner. The loss of the Wizard won’t matter to existing Cleaner users who probably used the advanced menu options, but it might make things a little confusing for new users. Under the hood These changes are all cosmetic, though, and for the most part Cleaner looks and feels much the same as previous versions. The most important changes are under the bonnet, and address the issue of performance. Discreet says that Cleaner 6 has been optimized for the Mac’s G4 processor – about time too – and that it has introduced an entirely new MPEG encoder. As a result, the company is making some rather grand claims about Cleaner 6’s performance improvements. When we reviewed ProCoder recently, it was that program’s sheer speed that really threw down the gauntlet to Cleaner. However, we’re glad to see that this version of Cleaner offers some significant performance improvements. We installed it onto a 933MHz Power Mac G4 with 512MB of RAM, and installed ProCoder onto a 1GHz PC with the same amount of RAM. That was the closest match we could get, given the difference in processor speeds between Motorola and Intel chips. We then used each program to convert the same 50MB QuickTime file into MPEG-2 format for use on a DVD disc. Previous tests that we’d conducted indicated that ProCoder was almost twice as fast as Cleaner 5, but this time around, Cleaner 6 converted the file in 167 seconds, compared to 180 seconds for ProCoder. Cleaner 5 took 234 seconds to convert the same file. That’s a speed increase of some 70 per cent. Those tests, however, were conducted using Mac OS 9. Cleaner 6’s performance took something of a hit when running under OS X: it needed 192 seconds to complete the same task. Even so, that figure was better than we’d expected, given the reputation of OS X for being rather sluggish. Bear in mind also that Mac OS X allows you to use dual-processor machines that run a lot faster than our single-processor test machine. However, that isn’t an option for OS 9, as it limits you to a single-processor set-up. Windows woes Of course, we know that a test like this can’t be considered definitive. It’s always hard to compare Mac and PC hardware, and the results vary a lot depending on the file formats and compression settings you choose. We’ll be interested to compare results on the same machine when the Windows version of Cleaner 6 is released. Even so, we’re still pleased with the performance improvement in this upgrade. So, Discreet has put Cleaner back on the map once more. Cleaner 6 is faster, more versatile, and supports all the latest video technologies. It’s a must-have upgrade for existing users – on the Mac platform at least. Let’s just hope that Discreet gets the Windows version finished soon, too.