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Microsoft Expression Encoder 4, Adobe Flash Live Media Encoder

Apr 1, 2011 4:24 PM, by Jan Ozer


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Figure 3. The Expression Encoder 4 interface.

Figure 3. The Expression Encoder 4 interface.

Microsoft Expression Encoder Pro

Microsoft offers a free version of Expression Encoder, but it doesn’t include H.264 encoding or support for live Smooth Streaming, so most users will shell out the $199 for Expression Encoder Pro, which doesn’t have these limitations. In addition to live encoding capabilities, Expression Encoder Pro includes multiple Silverlight templates, making it a convenient tool for creating the player for your on-demand or live Silverlight content. While you can’t drive Expression Encoder 4 from the command line (you could with previous versions of the program), there is a .NET-based SDK that you can use to integrate it with other programs.

Operationally, Expression Encoder Pro (EEP) is more complex than FMLE, but that’s because it does more and offers far more configuration options. For example, like Telestream Wirecast, EEP can mix input from multiple live cameras, as well as mix in file-based input and live screen-capture input, though there are no transitions or title creation capabilities. You can see this in the upper left of Figure 3, where there are two cameras set to cue in the window on the top left, and a file-based video on the lower left.

Figure 4. EEP offers very extensive H.264 encoding options.

Figure 4. EEP offers very extensive H.264 encoding options.

Like FMLE, Expression Encoder 4 can’t capture HDV video via Firewire, and Microsoft lists a range of known compatible input devices on their web site, including cards from Blackmagic, ViewCast, Winnov and WinTV. EEP worked fine with both the Blackmagic Decklink card and Firewire input that I used in my tests.

New in EEP SP1, which is the version that I tested, is support for GPU-based hardware encoding for systems with supporting NVIDIA graphics, which my HP Elitebook had. However, in my tests, the quality of the GPU output wasn’t as high as CPU-based encoding, so I disabled that option for my tests.

EEP offers 34 templates for 4:3 and 16:9 VC-1 and H.264 encoding. I really like how Microsoft presents the multiple file, adaptive templates, with each stream neatly tucked into its own tab. H.264 encoding options are very, very extensive—more than enough for even experienced compressionists, and hidden from sight so that novices don’t need to deal with them if they don’t want to.

After configuring your streams and encoding options, you can save them as a custom preset for later reuse. You can also save all of your input, encoding, and output parameters into a “job” to use again. Speaking of output, to distribute via Smooth Streaming, you transmit your live streams to a Microsoft Internet Information Services 7 server running the IIS Live Smooth Streaming feature, and you can test your connection via an eponymous button in the interface. If you’re trying to reach iOS devices with your H.264 streams, you have to configure the IIS server to re-wrap the files into the iOS compatible MPEG-2 transport stream, and create the .m2u8 manifest files required for Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming.

In my three stream SD tests, EEP proved slightly more efficient than FMLE, requiring about 44 percent of the EliteBook’s CPU. The situation reversed in the HD tests, where EEP required about 60 percent to produce and transmit the encoded HD stream. Like Adobe, Microsoft now uses the MainConcept H.264 codec, and like Adobe, video quality was quite good.

Two hundred dollars is not too much to pay to convert a powerful notebook into an on-location streaming device. The only real negative about EEP is that it can’t natively produce Flash-compatible streams, which is the predominant format for live events today.

Product Summary

  • Company: Microsoft
    www.microsoft.com
  • Product: Expression Encoder Pro
  • Pros: Can mix multiple cameras and other sources into a live event, can access iOS devices with Microsoft IIS, efficient SD operation
  • Cons: Can’t produce Flash compatible streams
  • Applications: On-location live streaming
  • Price: $199

Specifications

  • Microsoft Windows XP or higher
  • 1GHz or faster processor
  • 2GB of RAM or more
  • 2GB or more of available hard-disk space
  • .NET Framework 4.0
  • Silverlight 4.0
  • Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 graphics with Windows Vista Display Driver
    Model (WDDM) Driver, 128 MB of graphics RAM or more, Pixel Shader 3.0 in hardware, 32-bits per pixel
  • DVD compatible drive
  • 1024x768 or higher resolution monitor with 24-bit color
  • Internet access (additional fees may apply)
  • Actual requirements and product functionality may vary based on your system configuration and operating system.
  • Some product features require Firefox 3 or later, and Internet Explorer 8

In addition for live encoding to IIS smooth streaming we recommend:

  • PC with 2.6GHz or faster processor with 6 or more logical cores
  • 4GB of RAM of more





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