If you downloaded any of the Phantom Menace trailers from the starwars.com site, you already know just what amazing quality Terran’s Media Cleaner Pro 4.0 can produce. Cleaner 4.0 is the only media-compression program offering such a high degree of configurability for compressing and re-purposing video, audio and still-images in a wide range of formats. As such, it’s both unique and indispensable. What other program lets you specify a high-quality first and last frame, set audio and video fades, crop and scale, normalize sound, check it using a dynamic preview on hundreds of files – and leave it to run overnight?
Although previous versions of Cleaner have supported the creation of Windows-playable media on the Mac, version 4.0 is the first to actually run on both platforms. As such, it supports not only QuickTime and RealG2 but also Windows Media, Microsoft’s bid to become the third player in the streaming media-arena. Terran has also made some serious attempts to bring Cleaner’s audio processing in line with its impressive video capabilities. Although the program has been known as Media Cleaner Pro since version 3.0, version 4.0 is the first to justify the change of name from Movie Cleaner, as the first two versions were known. The re-sampling features have been extended, with the addition of filters, such as adaptive noise-removal, dynamic range-compression, noise gate, high-pass and low-pass. Meanwhile, down-sampling capabilities have also been boosted, to produce a better sound quality at lower sample depths and bit-rates.
Cleaner 4.0 now also includes capabilities for still-image processing, although these are not as extensive as the video features, or even the sound-processing capabilities. There’s a basic crop and scale, dithering, and support for JPEG, GIF, BMP, QTIF and PICT formats – none of which comes close to matching the capabilities of, say, Equilibrium’s DeBabelizer, which offers sophisticated batch-processing facilities.
One of the most significant new features in version 4.0 is the support for new streaming formats. QuickTime 4.0 is supported, including poster frames and enhanced alternate support – which uses a "meta-movie" mechanism to determine which video to stream according to the speed of the receiving modem. The list of included codecs is impressive – QuickTime 4.0, RealG2, AVI, DV, MPEG 1 and Windows Media (ASF). Cleaner 4.0 also supports an upgrade to MPEG-2. Terran has thrown in the Fraunhofer MP3 codec free of charge. Cleaner 4.0 can also convert, without losing quality, between certain formats – say, AVI to QuickTime or ASF – without needing to recompress the file. And there’s also support for Variable Bit-rate Encoding, supported in latest-release codecs such as the developer version of the Sorenson codec. Usefully, Cleaner 4.0 also supports direct-to-tape DV output via FireWire.
Cleaner users edit using Premiere, After Effects, Media 100 or Avid set-ups, and use Cleaner to do their final compression. In light of this, Terran developers have been busy developing methods of allowing output directly from the editing software to Cleaner, making the final rendering and compression process effectively a single-step job. Version 4.0 comes with an export plug-in for Premiere and direct export capabilities from Avid and Media 100 – as you’d expect, because Terran is now owned by Media 100. We’re also promised an After Effects plug-in, in the near future.
Productivity is similarly enhanced by a new HelperApps menu, which opens files in related applications for last-minute pre-compression editing. And if you’re new to this compression lark, Cleaner also includes an excellent Settings Wizard that takes a series of basic attributes – streaming of an ‘action sequence’ to a 36.6Kbps modem, for instance – then shows you a similarly compressed example from its library for your approval. It then sets the appropriate parameters.
Cleaner’s batch-processing capabilities have always been one of its strengths, so it’s unfortunate that version 4.0 has done nothing to address the clunky interface that you encounter as you try to apply your settings to a batch of media; it involves a lot of unnecessary swapping between the settings list and the batch list. The Preferences in version 4.0 offer the ability to set the interface colourways, but a "make interface work better" button would be more use. This is a minor quibble though, especially when set against the power of being able to apply settings to as many as 2,000 separate files at a time.
Media Cleaner Pro 4.0’s claim to be an all-round media-compression facility rests mainly on its superb video capabilities.
There are other packages that handle sound and still-image processing better, although the batch-processing ability still recommends it for sound and still use. But if you edit or re-purpose video, there’s no better package.