Reports | Technology

Cleaner 5: The Ultimate Video Compression Tool

1 Apr , 2001  

Written by Peter Bohush | Posted by:

For serious compression of video, there’s no better utility on the market than Cleaner 5. You may want it to be simpler at times, but you’ll never find yourself wishing it did more -- because it does it all.

Let’s separate the hype from the reality. Cleaner 5 from Terran Interactive bills itself as "a complete camera-to-web solution that makes it easy to put video and audio on your site." That’s a hype-filled claim if I ever heard one. The only problem with that claim is that it probably doesn’t go far enough to state just how powerful and indispensable Cleaner 5 is as a tool for compressing multimedia files.

Now the part that says "…makes it easy to put video and audio on your site" could be challenged. Especially when you’re faced with the nearly limitless number of settings you can use to compress your video and audio into the Mini-Me size QuickTime, RealSystem and Windows Media files necessary for web streaming. Easy? Well yes, compared to moving a piano.

Of course, if you tried to take one of your VHS tapes and compress it yourself by jumping on it and scrubbing out duplicate data with a Brillo pad, you’d end up with what people in San Francisco call performance art and those in Worcester call garbage. But you probably wouldn’t call that easy to do and you definitely wouldn’t have good results when you loaded it up to your web site.

Why Compression?

For those of you new to posting video to the web, you need to understand that a full-screen video file with sound will be between 4 to 50 megabytes in size PER SECOND, depending on the quality of your source file. A 1.5-minute clip at 40 MB/sec., which is decent quality for digital video editing, will result in a 3.6 GB file. That’s way too big to post on most web sites, which often restrict your storage, and too big to download.

A standard 56k (kilobits/second) modem will take around seven minutes to download one megabyte (MB) of data, assuming it’s downloading at 50 percent throughput, which is fairly generous over the Internet. Even a T1 line running at 100 percent (1.5 megabits/second, which they never do), would take about six seconds per one megabyte of data, or about one-third of a second of video. The 3.6 GB file (1.5 minutes of video) would take about 5 hours to download over a T1 line, 12 hours over a cable modem, and 142 hours over a 56k modem (assuming 100 percent speed.)

Enter the Cleaner

Formerly known as Media Cleaner Pro, the new Cleaner 5 includes enhancements that allow you to capture video right from a camera or deck into Cleaner 5. You can then compress the video into a web format, CD-ROM, and other formats in single or batch jobs, encode your files with interactive links and navigation, and finally publish the files into one or several web site folders.

For the $600 price ($179 upgrade), you also get a whole gaggle of workflow settings and modifiers, useful for those who would be using Cleaner 5 at a heavy-streaming company.

Cleaner 5 offers a useful wizard process to help you determine good settings for your needs. There are also numerous presets that work quite well, and each can be tweaked in a multitude of ways and saved as your own favorite settings.

What does Cleaner 5 do?

Simply, it will take a video, audio, or image file and compress its file size to a manageable size for your needs, such as a web video. For example, I took a 1 min. 43 sec. file that was 370 MB in size at 640 X 480 pixels (full size.) That’s too big to post on the web, so I ran it through Cleaner 5 to give me a more manageable file. The result was a smaller (160 X 120 pixels) image and a file size reduced to just 1.8 MB. Awesome!

Timing is Everything

It will take time to compress your files. I tried several different file sizes and settings, and found Cleaner 5 takes anywhere from three to eight minutes to compress each minute of source footage. (Compressing is not actually changing your original files; Cleaner 5 is rendering and saving whole new files.)

A really nice feature of Cleaner 5 is the ability to set in and out points of your source footage, so you don’t have to render out the whole thing. I used this to run short tests of my compression settings so I didn’t have to wait for the whole thing to render in order to find out if my settings were good.

There are still a couple of quirks in Cleaner 5, some of which have carried over from previous versions. The windows often appear out of range of the computer screen, with no way to move or resize them. If your system goes to sleep while compressing a file, you’ll have to start all over.

Camera to Web

Terran Interactive is owned by Media 100, which also owns Digital Origin (formerly Radius), makers of EditDV and MotoDV, the editing and capturing applications. Cleaner 5 is now bundled with MotoDV to handle the capturing of video from your deck onto your hard drive. MotoDV is a solid capture program that’s largely intuitive and straightforward to use. Adding the hooks into Cleaner 5 to start MotoDV is a nice feature, if probably not a significant programming achievement.

Crash warning: Apple systems with Final Cut Pro cannot install MotoDV unless first disabling the Final Cut Pro extensions and creating a separate extensions profile for MotoDV. This means you’ll have to change your extensions profile and restart each time you want to switch between MotoDV and Final Cut Pro. There are also reported conflicts with Premiere and iMovie. Fortunately, Cleaner 5 doesn’t automatically install MotoDV, so you won’t create any conflicts out of the box if you’re a Final Cut Pro user.

Summary

The complexity of Cleaner 5’s myriad of settings meant trying several settings to get one that looked and sounded good for my test file while still coming in at under 2 MB. The built-in wizard settings didn’t give me exactly what I wanted for this project, but they are a good starting point, and have been suitable for me in the past. I found the RealSystem wizard settings to be particularly good, while the QuickTime settings took a lot of tweaking to get really good compression while maintaining image and sound quality.

And despite a manual that’s well written, there’s often not enough information to truly understand all of the settings and their relationships to each other. This is a program you cannot master with a one-day class, and certainly not by simply referring to the manual as you go through trials and errors. If you want to dedicate the time and effort to become really qualified and comfortable in Cleaner 5, it could be worth it as a profession.

For the casual user, Cleaner 5 might be overkill for your needs. Try the Cleaner 4 EZ, a QuickTime-only "lite" version that retails for $99 and is included free in products such as Final Cut Pro.