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30 Days of CS5: Adobe Media Encoder

It’s great to have seemingly unfettered control of your digital video, but this freedom is all for naught if you’re not able to deliver your video to the people who want to view it. For many, video encoding is a black art, complete with esoteric terminology, a range of buttons, dials and pulldown menus that makes an airline’s cockpit look like a piece of cake. Lengthy processing times waiting for results can also add to the frustration.

Still, video encoding is an essential part of the process and any tools to help make the process easier and more foolproof are warmly welcomed . While the upgrade to Adobe Media Encoder doesn’t make the encoding process quite foolproof, it does blunt some of the sharp edges making high-quality video within reach of most everyone.

Workflow Improvements
One of the significant advantages of working with Adobe Media Encoder (AME) over other compression applications is its tight integration with Premiere Pro and After Effects. This makes it easy to quickly export a sequence from Premiere Pro for rendering in AME. This frees up Premiere Pro to allow you to continue editing. Built into AME CS5 is a memory management module allowing you to specify how you’d like RAM allocated among AME, Premiere Pro and After Effects when you’re working with all applications concurrently.

You can also open Premiere Pro sequences and After Effects compositions directly into AME, saving you the step of exporting these files from their native application. The interface makes it easy to unpack a project file and access the sequence you need directly. This also frees up additional memory for AME since you don’t need to have the second application open during the compression process.

Compression Quality
In side-by tests I’ve performed among Adobe Media Encoder, Apple’s Compressor and Sorenson Squeeze, I’ve been very pleased with AME’s results. The most significant limitation I’ve found with AME on the Mac is its reliance upon Apple’s QuickTime for compressing files into the QuickTime (.mov, mp4) formats. This makes AME susceptible to the gamma shift that occurs when using QuickTime to convert to the H.264 codec. This is well documented, occurring with QuickTime Pro, Apple Compressor and AME. The compression to H.264 changes the gamma of the video from the 2.2 displayed on screen to 1.8 used internally within QuickTime. As a result, your videos appear washed out, desaturated and lacking contrast. This is a real problem as much of the video being compressed for the Web and mobile devices uses the H.264 codec for compatibility with the iPhone and iPad.

Although there are workarounds within QuickTime, they are all less satisfactory than the quality one gets from Sorenson Squeeze, which produces beautiful H.264 video.

Adobe Media Encoder CS5 is faster, more efficient and more reliable than its predecessor. Its tight integration with After Effects and Premiere Pro ensure it has an important role in your video-editing workflow. Naturally, since it is an Adobe product, it excels at exporting flash video files and is more than capable of creating QuickTime movies in most intermediate or output codecs. However, if you find yourself encoding a lot of H.264 video, you’ll be better served with a specialized tool like Sorenson Squeeze which avoids the gamma shift common with this codec.


14 comments for “30 Days of CS5: Adobe Media Encoder”

  1. Yeah there’s one serious issue with this version though – they’ve completely removed the option to encode video using the Sorenson Spark Codec so it’s no longer possible to publish FLV videos for Flash Player 7… because of course nobody uses Flash Player 7 any more, right?

    Posted by Matt Leathes | October 28, 2010, 3:31 am
  2. Matt, Good point. That’s always a tricky balance for an app developer/manager to tread. Do you see a lot of traffic to your sites coming from Flash Player 7 and earlier? What is it about the Spark codec that is integral to your workflow?

    Posted by Jay | October 28, 2010, 12:27 pm
  3. How have they not fixed this gamma issue yet?! This problem has been around for YEARS, and this is expensive software.

    Posted by Arthur Dent | January 29, 2011, 7:40 pm
  4. Arthur, it seems to be a QuickTime issue, not an Adobe issue. The same thing happens in Compressor or exporting from QT pro. From additional tests, I’m not 100% sure it’s a gamma issue. I think it’s a color gamut or compression issue that crops up when going to a 4:2:0 compression scheme. Within Sorenson Squeeze and MPEG Streamclip, I’ve had good success building a set of filters to compensate for the difference. In AME, those filters would have to be applied in Premiere Pro or After Effects, which is a lot less convenient. With the new release of Sorenson Squeeze 7 and the direct export from Premiere Pro, that will probably be the best approach for good quality files.

    Posted by Jay | January 29, 2011, 8:43 pm
  5. AME outputs brilliant colors but it squeezes EVERYTHING i try to convert. What am i doing wrong? i have no problems with other compression software, but AME is frustrating. No matter how i configure my conversions/compressions, the damn software squeezes all my files, whether i’m trying to convert to FLV or MOV or MP4.

    Any advice?

    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 25, 2011, 1:39 pm
  6. David, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by squeezed. Is it changing the aspect ratio (width & height) from the native files? What are the specifications of your source material and project settings. It sounds like there is a mismatch in the aspect ratio of your encoding settings. My guess would be you’re capturing square pixels but outputting non-square pixels.

    Posted by Jay | August 25, 2011, 2:55 pm
  7. Jay, thanks for the response. By squeezed, i mean AME is stretching the image vertically. It will output my specified dimensions, but it will squeeze/stretch the image within those dimensions, giving me black bars on the right and left. I’ve tried square pixels and non-square (the original sequence is square pixels).

    I currently have the project on Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/28036113) as an MOV file, but i want to convert it to FLV for my website. AME gives me a beautiful conversion to FLV, with colors much more brilliant than the master MOV — but that doesn’t do me any good since it distorts the images.

    Project is 720×480.

    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 25, 2011, 3:03 pm
  8. David,

    Which AME preset are you using to create the Flash file?


    Posted by Jay | August 26, 2011, 4:02 pm
  9. Jay, I was using the FLV “same as source” setting, but i customized it. I’ve also tried the F4V setting. AME outputs my 720×480 project to 655×480 every time — even though it will often put these dimensions inside the 720×480 configuration. Black bars end up on the right and left, and the picture comes out stretched vertically.

    I haven’t tried AME with any other projects recently. I’m wondering if this problem stems from the fact that this project is comprised entirely of photographs. The photos are from a variety of different cameras. ???


    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 28, 2011, 4:42 pm
  10. David, what are your project settings set to? Also, given that you’re working with still images, I wonder why you selected 720×480 as your project size. Is DVD your primary output?

    There shouldn’t be a problem with using still images. Most of my projects are heavy on stills, if not exclusively stills and I haven’t found it to be an issue. -Jay

    Posted by Jay | August 29, 2011, 9:35 am
  11. Jay, what dimensions would you recommend for the project? Since the photos in the project have all been modified from their original RAW source files — and are all slightly different dimensions, I wasn’t sure what size to go with. The dimensions i chose work quite well in my NLE program (FCP 6). Thanks again, DRS

    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 29, 2011, 11:28 pm
  12. I overlooked your question: Most of my projects are for the Web and for DVD. This particular project currently is simply for the Web but will eventually end up on DVD as well. DRS

    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 29, 2011, 11:33 pm
  13. David,

    I suspect the issue has to do with your setup in FCP6. At the time that software was released, there wasn’t much progressive footage being shot so most, if not all, of their Quick Setup presets use non-square pixels. Hence, you’re going from square pixels (still photos), placing them into a non-square timeline, outputting to an intermediate (aspect ratio unknown), then trying to output as square pixels in Adobe Media Encoder. Given the number of transformations, it’s no wonder you might be having problems.

    For the future, try setting your document up at 1920×1080 or 1280×720 pixels and be sure to set the aspect ratio to Progressive or square pixels. The workflow should be much smoother from there.

    Posted by Jay | August 30, 2011, 12:50 pm
  14. Jay, thanks for the info. BTW, I didn’t use a Quick Setup preset in FCP. I customized to square pixels for my project. Also, I chose 720×480 since most of the photos in the project approximate a 3:2 aspect ratio.

    If i find the time, i may go back and work on the project in 16:9 and see what happens. Best regards, DRS

    Posted by David Ross Smith | August 30, 2011, 4:56 pm

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