The ability to play video inside a Flash SWF file was introduced with the release of Flash MX, which has opened up many new and exciting opportunities for Flash developers. Both Macromedia/Adobe and third-party developers have further upgraded Flash’s video capabilities with the introduction of powerful encoders and batch processing applications.
In this article, I review Sorenson Squeeze 4, one of the leading third-party Flash video-encoding applications. Sorenson was licensed by Macromedia to provide the video codec for the Flash MX04 (7) family of products. Although no longer providing the default codec for Flash 8 video, Sorenson Media’s Squeeze application is a powerful and versatile video application that can be upgraded with a plug-in to include this codec—VP6.
On2 licensed the VP6 codec to Macromedia for the Flash 8 family of products. This new codec provides superior video quality compared with Sorenson. Unfortunately, at $149, this Squeeze plug-in is a bit expensive. If you already own Sorenson Squeeze, purchasing the VP6 plug-in is still cheaper than purchasing the stand-alone On2 encoder, Flix Pro. However, if you are not upgrading, it is cheaper to purchase Flix Pro than to purchase both Sorenson Squeeze and the VP6 plug-in.
Sorenson Squeeze 4 for Flash is available for both Mac and Windows from their Web site for $249; the upgrade from version 3 is $199. The Macintosh and Windows versions are identical, and encoding results can be viewed on either platform. For other Sorenson products and upgrade paths, visit the Web site.
Key new features of the latest version (4.3) of Sorenson Squeeze include the following:
- On2 VP6 codec plug-in support
- Alpha channel support with On2 VP6 codec
- Embedded cue points for Flash
- Built-in FLV Player for convenient monitoring of encoding results
- Improved, easy-to-edit Flash Player Skins templates for both SWF and FLV files
- Linked or embedded FLV option for SWF files
- Global metadata entry on source files for Flash output
One of the best reasons to use Squeeze over the competition is its more full-featured interface and its rich set of encoding presets that make it easier to use (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Sorenson Squeeze 4.3, displaying some of the Flash video presets
These presets require only limited knowledge of codecs or compression settings. In fact, these presets turn video compression using Squeeze into a simple four-step process:
- Open uncompressed video file.
- Select an output format.
- Select a preset.
- Press SQUEEZE IT!
Compressing for Flash Video
Although I focus on Flash-based video encoding in this article, depending on the version of Squeeze you purchase, Squeeze also encodes video to the QuickTime, MPEG-4, RealMedia, MPEG-1 and 2 (including the VCD, SVCD, and DVD MPEG Specifications), and Windows Media formats.
Sorenson Squeeze can compress your input movies into either the FLV or SWF file Flash formats. FLV is the preferred file format for delivering video clips via Flash. It’s a specialized file format that has been supported from version 7. FLV files cannot be played back directly; they must be embedded in (or linked from) an SWF file. You create (or download) a "container" SWF file from which to play the FLV file. The most common approach is to use an SWF file that functions as a media player with screen and playback controls. However, Squeeze does provide a built-in FLV Player for convenient monitoring of encoding results.
Compressing a movie to the Macromedia Flash Video (.flv) format is a four-step process (see Figure 2):
- Import a file into Squeeze by dragging a file onto the interface box or by selecting Import File on the Main Squeeze interface.
- Locate and select your supported source file and press Open. You can also drag and drop your source file onto the Batch Tree area on the Main Squeeze interface.
- Your movie appears in the Batch Tree area under a job number.
- Select an output format by pressing the plus sign beside the Flash Movie (SWF) or Flash Video icon (FLV) in the FORMAT & COMPRESSION SETTINGS section of the interface and then click to select the desired FLV or SWF preset. Press Apply to add the job to the Batch Tree area.
Figure 2 Squeeze’s four-step compression process