Microsoft Expression Encoder 2 review

£199100
Price when reviewed

There’s one media format that can make or break the computing experience – video. That’s why it’s so important to get the right balance between quality and file size and why both Adobe and Microsoft provide dedicated video encoders. Surprisingly, despite Adobe’s longstanding video experience, this is one area where Microsoft outscores its rival.

Microsoft Expression Encoder 2 review

To begin with, unlike the drab dialog-based Flash Video Encoder, Microsoft Expression Encoder 2 provides an exemplary interface – modern, attractive and efficient (it also shows how badly Expression Media 2 misses the WPF boat). It’s not just the working environment and approach, Expression Encoder 2 provides top-of-the-range video preparation power including the new ability to make tidy-up edits, to add live overlays and to preprocess files for example to de-interlace video and balance audio.

What really counts is Encoder’s output power. Here you can select from a range of customisable presets targeting bandwidth from basic Web Server 256k DSL right the way up to HD 720p and, crucially, compare results onscreen. Moreover, as Expression Encoder 2 includes the latest implementation of the VC-1 codecs, you get better video quality and faster turnaround especially thanks to the new support for multiple core and multiprocessor systems. If you are working with WMV input files, Encoder 2 even keeps track of edits and intelligently re-encodes just the modified sections of the file rather than the whole clip.

The fact that Encoder outputs to WMV is a big advantage compared to Adobe’s Flash Video FLV player-only format in that files stay live and re-usable. The big downside has always been that WMV playback required Windows Media Player – something you can’t assume on the cross-platform web. Now though Microsoft’s freely-available Silverlight 1.0 player provides Flash-style, cross-platform, cross-browser WMV playback. Even better, Encoder lets you choose from a range of high-quality Silverlight player templates in which you can wrap your video and you can now set playback parameters and customise your templates in Expression Blend.

It looks like it should be game, set and match to Microsoft on the web video front, but it’s not quite that simple – at least not yet. Soon after the official launch of Silverlight 1, Adobe released a new Flash player which closed the gap for high-end video handling. More importantly, the Flash player holds an unbeatable trump card: near-total browser penetration. Until and unless Microsoft can deliver a similar audience for Silverlight projects most designers will choose to stick with the comparatively awkward FLV solution for web playback despite Expression Encoder 2’s excellent power and ease of use.

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