Review: On2 Flix Pro 8 for Flash 8

Almost ten years ago, I had the honor of having Darren Giles, co-founder of Terran, on a panel I led on digital video formats. Terran had recently launched Cleaner—a program originally intended as an in-house solution for Giles’ video production company to convert various video files into a format that would allow post-production editing. Cleaner grew into a powerful program that converts or transcodes between many codecs and formats; an upcoming review of the newest version of Cleaner (now an Autodesk product) can be found in next month’s inaugural issue of Streaming Media magazine.

Beyond the all-in-one transcoding tools, however, sits a very specialized set of compression tools. These tools are often sold directly from the codec manufacturer—such as Sorenson Squeeze or early Real compression tools—and are optimized for eking the optimal video output from one particular codec.

Such is the case with Flix Pro 8 (and its sister product, Flix Exporter 8) for the VP6 video codec. Better known as Flash 8 video, but also being integrated into many other video communications tools such as Skype, the On2 VP6 codec and its emerging successor, the VP7 codec, are turning heads in the video industry for their ability to provide high-quality images at low bitrates. Given Flash Player’s significant user base, Flash 8 video has also rapidly caught the interest of Web developers intent on delivering video as part of the total interactive Web experience.

Flix Pro is a product of On2 Technologies, the creator of VP6 / Flash 8. As such, the company is best positioned to market a product that is designed to create optimal Flash8 video.

The interface is fairly simple and intuitive. A user starts on the "file" tab by browsing for a video file (such as AVI, QuickTime, or other format) and then selects a target location, renaming the target file if need be. The user then chooses from a series of video and audio export options, determining if the video file needs to be SWF (self-contained Flash file) or FLV (a Flash8 video file that will be later embedded into a separate SWF file). Users can also choose to export to Flash MX SWF or FLV files, or even legacy Flash 3 – 6 files. Should the user so desire, a link can be specified and integrated with the video file export, including target window designation (a very useful function for Web developers).

Beyond this basic file setup, Flix Pro also allows the user to set up audio and video parameters. Of particular help for the evaluation files I used for the review was the "constrain proportions" option on the video tab: my test files are all native HDV 1080i MPEG-2 Long GOP. This means they were shot and edited at a full HDTV resolution of 1920x1080. While this pixel size is great for HD-DVD or BluRay HDTV delivery, it is too large for standard Web delivery; so the "constrain proportions" option allowed me to resize the Flash8 video file at will, picking an optimum size for Web delivery while still retaining proper widescreen proportions.

When the encode button is pressed, Flix Pro launches a separate window that provides a progress bar and a robust set of monitoring tools, showing frame sizes (both minimum and maximum), average frame size, average SWF bitrate (critical for Web delivery), and an estimated RAM usage for Flash Player playback.

This last feature is helpful, but I wasn’t able to find the parameters that allowed variation on the amount of estimated RAM used. The one flaw—perhaps a safety feature that On2 implemented—is the fact that the encode will pause and wait for a user prompt if the estimated RAM usage rises above 50MB.

Output is surprisingly quick for a complex transcode, slightly faster than an equivalent Sorenson 3 output from Cleaner, but a bit longer than a traditional Windows Media encode session. Once the encode is finished, Flix Pro can be set to automatically play the finished output as well as alert the user to its completion.

For those users who would rather not create a master output file (which I did with my test HDV files) and would rather just output Flash 8 files directly from within a mainstream video editing tool, On2 sells Flix Exporter. This program works with any program that uses QuickTime plug-ins, which means that Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Cleaner, and several other programs can directly access the underlying On2 export settings to optimize output directly to Flash 8.

My test with Final Cut Pro showed that Flix Exporter was able to output a Flash 8 file in about 80% of the time it would take to output a master HDV file and then encode it with Flix Pro. Of greater benefit, though, would be the ability to accelerate the total workflow, rapidly outputting a QuickTime reference file from Final Cut Pro, launching Cleaner and using Flix Exporter within Cleaner to output versions of a single file in various Flash 8 bitrates and parameters.

All in all, Flix Pro and Flix Exporter appear to provide a better quality Flash 8 video output than do the integrated Flash 8 video exporters in Adobe Premiere 2.0 and Macromedia Flash by Adobe. While this is to be expected, since On2 is more adept at optimizing its own codec for a variety of source video file formats, the question that each user will need to ask is whether or not the superior output quality of Flix Pro outweighs the cost ($249) of purchasing this standalone Flash 8 transcoding tool.

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