• Price When Reviewed: 299 . 79

  • Pros: Encoding quality is as high as any product out there, and encoding to multiple targets simultaneously is considerably faster than Cleaner XL. ProCoder boasts a more logical interface than Cleaner XL.

  • Cons: It’s a little slower than Cleaner XL on single-target encodes, and lack of backwards-compatibility will mean existing users have to redo all their custom presets.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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As with many of Canopus’ products, ProCoder has gradually emerged from obscurity to challenge the established names. ProCoder hasn’t disappointed in the past, but with version 2.0, Canopus hopes to make the software fit more seamlessly into a professional production environment.

Existing users will be half pleased and half disappointed when they first load ProCoder 2.0. The interface remains consistent with the previous version, so it maintains its simplicity. However, the project file format has completely changed, despite the extension name being the same. So you can’t load your old projects, and all your old custom presets will need to be recreated. ProCoder does come with a large collection of presets, for everything from streaming media to VCD and DVD.

ProCoder 2.0’s new watch folder system will make it sit more easily in the production studio. Once a file is dropped into one of the watch folders it can be output in any of ProCoder’s supported formats. For each watch folder entry, only one target folder and file type can be created. If you want a file to be encoded to many different formats, you must create different watch folder entries for each. A watch folder can be on a network, so you could turn a workstation into a dedicated encoding system.

In keeping with the current trends towards higher resolutions, support for high-definition video is prominent on the feature list. ProCoder can transcode freely between HD and SD. Any HD file format can be transcoded to any other, including MPEG, DivX, WMV HD and QuickTime. In particular, you can import or output MPEG2-TS (transport stream) as used by JVC’s GR-PD1 and JY-HD10, a PAL version of which is due later this year.

So, if you are hoping to jump on the HD bandwagon early, ProCoder could be an essential tool. MPEG-4 is another trend ProCoder 2.0 is trying to incorporate. Both QuickTime and DivX versions are supported, and a full copy of DivX Pro
is even included in the box.

To assist with DVD production, ProCoder can now combine separate audio and video files into a single file, which is useful if different soundtrack versions need to be put together. If a file was edited using Edius or Adobe Premiere, timeline markers can be picked up to create DVD chapter points when encoding video to MPEG-2.

Speed trials

To test ProCoder’s speed, we pitted it against Discreet’s Cleaner XL, one of ProCoder’s main production-house competitors. Both programs were tested using a dual 3.06GHz Intel Xeon workstation with 1GB of RAM. A 541MB DV AVI file was encoded to two different target formats. First, a 6Mbps MPEG-2 elementary stream file with 48KHz audio was created. Quality settings were set at maximum, with encoding performed in a single pass. ProCoder 2.0 managed to encode the file in 4 minutes 11 seconds, while Cleaner XL took 3 minutes 51 seconds.

For our second test, we encoded the same file to QuickTime 6 at 320-x-240 and 25fps at a data rate of 344Kbps. Again, ProCoder was slightly slower, taking 1 minute 39 seconds to Cleaner XL’s 1 minute 27 seconds. However, the tables were turned when both test encodes were set up in a batch in each application. Here, ProCoder completed the job in 5 minutes 8 seconds, while Cleaner took 5 minutes 36 seconds. During the encodes, ProCoder was using 75-80 per cent CPU time across the two Xeon processors in our workstation and their two HyperThreading units. For Cleaner XL, less than 60 per cent processor time was being used most of the time. ProCoder clearly comes into its own with a multiprocessor system when you encode to multiple targets.

There is no discernable difference in quality between ProCoder and Cleaner XL in terms of MPEG-2 output, nor is there a marked difference between the original DV and ProCoder’s output. ProCoder’s quality is adequate for professional DVD authoring. Its NTSC to PAL transcoding engines is one of the best too, so it’s a powerful DVD toolkit.

ProCoder has already won many users over from the traditional stalwarts of encoding, and this new version merely cements its status. The interface is much easier to use than Cleaner XL’s. Even though it’s slightly slower than Cleaner XL on single-target encodes, it’s not significantly so, and with multiple targets on a multiprocessor or Pentium 4 HT system it’s a different story. The Watch folder system and high-definition support make ProCoder a comprehensive professional tool – and it’s competitively priced, too.