H.264 Marathon Man – ‘is it safe?’

Now that the MPEGLA has confirmed that H.264 is going to be safe from legal gotchas for the foreseeable future, I guess we’re all back to improving our H.264 game after kicking the tyres of Google’s VP8. Loads of choice to encode to H.264, but which one has the speed? Which one has the quality?

The Elgato Turbo.264 is a great little USB dongle that accelerates your compression so a 5 minute video takes about 5 minutes to encode. That’s right. Try it! And quality is pretty good. Just open up your movie, Export the movie using the Elgato hardware, and – as Mr Jobs would say – ‘boom’.

But it’s not the best H.264 in the world. It’s not that smooth-as-butter expensive movie trailer feel. At some point, you have to trade speed for quality. And without that magic little dongle (which, quite frankly could deliver all the quality you need), things get very slow indeed.

Compressor, still my Go-To choice for DVD, has been left out in the cold as it doesn’t do H.264 that well for all the time it takes.

So there’s Telestream’s Episode. This will do a pretty reasonable job, and it will encode pretty much anything into anything else with enough control to get good results. Then there’s the exotica – both hardware and software from the likes of Digital Rapids and Ateme, designed for major encoding jobs. They carry suitably major price tags too.

And then there’s the Open Source crowd. Sometimes the nicest encoders come with a very attractive price tag. X264 is one of them. Very much a pro tool, but tamed from its command line interface with apps such as FFmpegX. However, x264 can be driven from most QT apps (including Compressor – for batch work and scaling – and even direct from the FCP timeline if you’re not using the computer for a day or two).

MyComet is a conduit framework from the QT interface to the x264 engine. Although it’s a bit geeky and intense, this is not virgin territory. A lot of pro compressionists are using it thanks to its great results. So rather than wax lyrical here, I will simply point you at some resources for you to dive in and check it out.

The x264 compressor
http://www.videolan.org/developers/x264.html

MyComet framework for use in QT apps
http://www003.upp.so-net.ne.jp/mycometg3/

A useful intro to its use in Compressor
http://realworldvideocompression.com/rwvc/2010/5/7/using-x264-plugin-in-compressor.html

But I’m NOT giving up my Elgato Turbo.264 yet!

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