Episode Pro V6, Excellent Encoder

I am sure someone has already called Episode Pro the Swiss Army Knife of compression; if not, you read it here first.
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I am sure someone has already called Episode Pro the Swiss Army Knife of compression; if not, you read it here first.

by Michael Hanish

Seriously, clichés don’t do justice to the design and functionality of this application. Episode Pro compresses, transcodes, scales and in general, does everything a modern media producer needs to do.

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Episode Pro Version 6’s user interface. Photo courtesy of Whichever Telestream Version 6 is the latest iteration of Telestream’s flagship desktop encoder, Episode Pro, which itself is part of the larger family of scaled Episode compression solutions. This ranges from Episode (for single user, simple encoding), through the Pro version we will look at here, to the Episode Engine, an industrial strength (and priced) solution for high volume and time critical encoding.

FEATURES

Episode Pro runs on Mac OSX (minimum 10.4, QuickTime 7, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB hard drive), Windows 7/Vista (minimum 1.5 GHz 32-bit (x86) processor, QuickTime 7.5.5, 2 GB RAM, 40 GB hard drive), or Windows XP (minimum Service Pack 3, 1 GHz 32-bit *x86) processor, QuickTime 7.5.5, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB hard drive). The streamlined interface consists of a main window in which the workflow gets set up, a side bar to set encoding parameters, a render queue and a preview window.

The main window allows the user to specify source files, encoding and processing specifics, and output/delivery destinations and methods. Tab-like buttons represent sources, encoding presets, and output settings; all can be multiples (batch inputs passing through several encoding methods, going to separate destinations) and all initial settings can be made by drag and drop, then customized, and saved as future presets. The application ships with a large collection of pre-defined workflows and encoder presets, for extreme ease of use, as well as good starting points. The application also ships with support for most every professional format a user may need. Further, specific proprietary codecs can be installed and will be recognized. Among the other formats, Episode Pro supports (right out of the box) include all flavors of QuickTime, MPEG 1, 2, and 4, WebM, 3GPP, WMV9, Flash 8 and 9, MXF, GXF, IMX, and MPEG 2/4 transport streams. Resolutions through high definition (HD) (1920 x 1080) are supported, as well as DVD and Blu-ray output formats.

Parameters for encoding and image and sound processing are set in a side bar, with changes reflected in a before/after preview window. Processing is done at 10-bit precision, in 4:2:2:4 color when possible, and alpha channels, if present, can be preserved. Processing filter, include HSV and gamma correction, black/white restoration, inverse telecine, noise removal, sharpening, aspect and frame rate conversion, de-interlace, and audio normalize, balance, equalize, speed, sample rate, fade, and channel mapping for up to 16 channels. Users can also choose to add a watermark, in the form of a still image, movie, or animation, or add a bumper and/or a trailer, as movie or animation files, to the content to be compressed. Passthrough of closed captioning information is supported, as is limited metadata editing and pass through.

Once the workflow is set up in the main window, through drag and drop of the source, encoder, and destination or just the workflow file (a saved preset combination of all three) and setting parameters, the user simply clicks the submit button to add it to the job queues, where progress can be monitored in detail. Batch size is unlimited. One feature advantage of Episode Pro over its lower priced non-pro sibling is that the Pro version can encode two jobs in parallel, for additional speed. Users who need it should consider the Pro Audio Option, which adds Dolby ACE, AAC-HE, AAC-LC, and AMR audio encoding.

IN USE

I used Episode Pro extensively on a series of short instructional programs that had to go to two separate websites in several formats and sizes each. Setting up the batch was quick and easy using drag and drop and setting parameters. It was a great help having a preview window, though at times it seemed quirky and unresponsive, like a bit of an uncertain work in progress. The preview function, however, is not a deal breaker (a few quick test encodes of small selections of the source easily showed what settings worked best), but can be a confidence builder. Setup and execution were easier and more straightforward than other similar applications I have used. The encodes were fast and the results excellent. I could have gone so far as to have the files automatically uploaded to the destination websites, but instead had them uploaded to my iDisk, from which my client grabbed them for approval.

Another project required separate sections to be encoded to multiple formats and destinations from a single source file. I could have done separate exports from my non-linear editing system (NLE), but instead of taking that time and storage space, episode Pro provided another way. I was simply able to use the preview window to set in and out points in my source file, and make each section a unique job in the batch.

Episode Pro’s manual not only gives a clear account of how the application works and how its parameters interact, but also features an excellent series of appendices that give concise yet detailed information about a large number of video and audio codecs.

SUMMARY

These days, there is such a huge range of source and destination formats for our work as media makers. Often, the same production may wind up as a digital file for classroom projection, as a DVD, on a website as Flash or MPEG-4, projected in HD on a large screen, and also seen on mobile devices too numerous and diverse to count. Episode Pro fits neatly into just about any production and delivery scheme, and will handily take care of all those complex transcoding and multi-purposing demands. For those with less intense demands, there is the slightly less featured and less expensive Episode; for those with more industrial strength needs, there is the high volume and enterprise-priced Episode Engine. Episode Pro, as tested, is a stable, well developed, and efficient encoding machine, and will be a benefit to any workflow.

Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted at michael@freelunchmedia.com.

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