Crunching Video Into Flash

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Software review : Flix by www.wildform.com

As the tropical fruits really start to rain down upon us, tis a fine time for brushing up on cocktail recipes, smoothies and exotic breakfast juices to kickstart the day. You’ll need a blender, you’ll need good squeezing muscles and you’ll need lots of juicy flesh. Here’s a little sample I prepared earlier.

Video Compression Online
It’s fairly easy to turn chunks of pineapple, watermelon and guava into dribbly juice. Try squeezing your latest video into a size suitable online viewing however, and you’ll soon find your machine or modem with severe digestion cramps. Until recently video online has meant either using QuickTime, Real Player, or Windows Media to play back the videos, and encoding or compressing your video to suit these formats. And while the DivX format has emerged to shrink full length movies into a size suitable for CDs, it still isn’t suited for easy access to smaller clips online.

The Flash .swf format is now capable of embedding compressed video though, and given most browsers have flash plugins now, this can make both video compression and viewing online very easy. Sorenson Squeeze and Wildform Flix are both programs dedicated to compressing video for Flash, with Flix just ahead in features and quality and size of compression.

The Bare Bones Of It
While Flash is pretty much about vectors and simple lines that maintain their sharpness no matter how large you scale them, Wildform Flix can take any video and turn it into a Flash-compatible file. Flix Lite is easy and straightforward to use and it allows you to create files that are compatible with versions of the Flash plug-in from 3 through 6, or with only version 6 (also known as Flash MX). Flix Pro adds more functionality, more capacity to tweak how your files are encoded, add pre-loaders, and a cool ‘vectorizing’ feature which transforms any videoclip into a vector-based flash animation.

Under the Bonnet
Running Flix Pro on a mac g3/333, I found Flix to be very slow in starting up and getting to move. Once processing files though, it is very easy to use with a useful range of presets that shrink files to suit whatever modem or bandwidth size you are aiming at. Simply select your video file to be compressed, select an output name and destination, choose from one of the many presets, and off you go. If you like, you can also adjust the number of frames per second, the dimensions of the final file, and overall visual quality using either a slider or by entering a maximum bitrate.

Generally I found Flix often compressed video files down to a tenth of their size. If you want to explore the software controls more, it also has 2-pass Variable Bit-Rate encoding, which analyzes the video first before encoding it, feeding an even higher quality video at a lower file size. Flix also has editing tools to crop your video and set start and end points – both big plusses if you want to trim edge “noise” or only encode a small portion of your video.

What You Need
Flix is a dual platform beastie, and if you were already able to compress video for online us, your machine will be fine with this. You’ll also need some moola – Flix Lite comes at $US29, and Flix Pro – $US 149, both prices much cheaper than other professional online encoders of video.

Verdict
Flix Pro delivers fantastic video quality for a tiny file size for Flash 6. It also generates compressed files for older versions of Flash but these are far less impressive. It’s very easy to use, although a little slow, and the ‘vectorization’ feature alone is a lot of fun. definitely recommended for anyone looking to put lots of video online.

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