RealVideo Best Video Codec, Followed by Apple's H.264, Flash and Windows Media, Says New Report from StreamingMedia.com; Microsoft's Windows Media loses ground to Apple's H.264 and On2 Flash Codec
The reports provide an objective counterbalance to the hyperbole coming from both the Flash and H.264 camps. One of the key findings from the Proprietary report, for example, was that the quality of the best Flash and H.264 codecs still trailed RealVideo, often by a significant margin. "While the progress of H.264 and Flash codecs has been impressive," quipped report author Jan Ozer, "rumors of the demise of all other codecs have been greatly exaggerated."
“With Microsoft's recent success in standards bodies, we expected quality to be at or near the top”
To research the reports, Ozer produced a 6-minute test file composed of 38 scenes representing typical business, sports, and entertainment videos, along with several animations and still image pans and zooms. The reports analyzed video quality in up to five configurations--modem, 3GPP, 100 Kbps, 300 Kbps and 500 Kbps--and compared frame quality, temporal and color quality, and playback smoothness. Buyers can download all videos and still image files used in the analysis, along with a convenient interface for viewing the video files and still images.
Proprietary Codecs, 2006
Beyond the depth and scope of the analysis, the Proprietary report has several unique aspects. For example, the files used to compare the technologies were encoded by Apple, Microsoft, and RealNetworks to ensure optimal quality. The report also compared the quality of prominent encoding tools such as Autodesk Cleaner XL, Canopus ProCoder, and Sorenson Squeeze, finding a significant disparity between the tools.
In addition to Real's superior quality, the report found that Windows Media had started to fall behind. "With Microsoft's recent success in standards bodies, we expected quality to be at or near the top," commented Ozer, "but usually it was at or near the bottom. Companies using or considering Windows Media really need to evaluate other technologies."
Flash Codecs, 2006
The Flash report found that On2's VP6 codec was clearly superior to both Wildform and the Sorenson Spark codec, but that VP6 output quality varied widely between encoding tools. In the report, Ozer advises that producers can achieve optimal results with VP6 by customizing encoding parameters for video content and bit rate.
"With some videos, particularly slow-motion talking-head shots," Ozer explained, "the Macromedia Flash 8 Video Encoder, using single pass, CBR encoding, produced better quality than either Squeeze or Flix Pro using two pass, VBR encoding. Clearly, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for Flash producers."
While preparing the report, Ozer produced more than 1,000 Flash videos with four encoding tools, with assistance from all vendors. This revealed substantial qualitative differences between the Sorenson Squeeze and Flix Pro encoders and that all tested encoders had idiosyncrasies that could dramatically impact quality. These are identified in the report with detailed recommendations for getting the best from each tool.
As an example, the Macromedia Flash 8 Video Encoder was fast, simple, and free with Macromedia Flash 8, but scaling and de-interlacing quality is poor. To optimize quality, producers should scale and de-interlace their footage in their video editors, or with a third-party tool like Algolith from AlgoSuite. The report also contains a section on producing top-quality streaming video, describing how to light, shoot, and edit for optimal streaming quality.
"Our research shows that optimally produced Flash video can look great, but that the choice of codec, encoding tools, and parameters make a huge difference, as does how you shoot and edit," concluded Ozer.
The reports are the first in a series of three to be released in the first quarter of 2006. The final report, "H.264 Codecs, 2006," compares H.264 codecs from Apple, Sorenson, Main Concept, and Ateme.
To obtain a copy of either report, please visit www.streamingmedia.com/research.