Thursday, August 20, 2009

7/27/2009: Solving the Gargantuan SWF Problem, or, "I subject Eltima and Swishsoft to a fly-off and pick a winner"

I manage to record four more takes of video #2A (Using a Compass), making seven in all. The seventh is a good take, but the size is completely unacceptable: 93 megabytes for 1 minute and 40 seconds of “video” (I use the term loosely) running at about 2 frames per second. My original .MOV file, shot with my Kodak C653 camera, has 640 by 480 resolution, 10 frames per second, but apparently using Jing to record the QuickTime playback window results in drastic downsampling.

Yes, yes, I know that I would get better results by using a camera with its feed going directly to Jing. However, I am trying to find a solution that is (1) extremely inexpensive and (2) feasible for nearly all teachers and students at our school to emulate.

At any rate, uploading the .SWF file lasts about an hour and a half on my slow DSL upload link, and even though downloads are generally a lot faster, the resulting video cannot be viewed in real time (i.e., will not stream) without a much faster Internet connection. FIOS will swallow a megabyte per second, but I cannot.

Clearly, I need to find a way to post smaller files! Two shareware products I find online look promising: Flash Optimizer (occasionally referred to as SWF Optimizer) by Eltima Software of Bellevue, WA, and Swift Optimizer (note the confusingly similar title) by Swishsoft. After downloading trial versions of both, I put them through their paces, trying various options in an attempt to produce acceptable reduced-size versions. Unfortunately, the trial versions for both products operate only in black-and-white.

Product #1: Flash Optimizer (July 2009) by Eltima Software

Here is the Eltima result. After much trial and error. I deduce that I must explicitly tell the program to compress images (a setting not selected by default) in order to get any compression at all. (Apparently the program thinks, as I do, that 2 fps is much more like a slide show than a full-motion video.) Although many different output sizes are possible, I finally settle on 50% image compression in order to get the rather disappointing but still legible output file that is linked at the start of this paragraph.

Bottom line: 91% compression, mediocre quality.

Product #2: Swift Optimizer 3.0 (May 2009) by Swishsoft

Here is the Swishsoft result after trying approximately the same number of options as with Eltima. Swishsoft’s program is similar in design but is hard for me, a barely reformed proofreader, to use since it has grammatical and typographical errors sprinkled throughout. Eventually I realize that using the Better Movie Qulity [sic] option, which is one notch up from Standard Compression, produces very good results with no custom settings required. The text quality in the opening slide and end credits completely blows away the Eltima competition. The sound quality is slightly lower than with the Eltima product, but since bit rate and bit depth are user-selectable, I figure I can increase the sound quality and accept a somewhat larger output file size. Wrong! When I try that, the results are bizarre; the output file is actually somewhat smaller but with sound and video unacceptably out of sync. In fact, I find that the only way to consistently avoid the audio-video sync problem is to use one of the five Intelligent Optimization presets: Best Movie Qulity [sic], Better Movie Qulity [sic], Standard Compression, Better Movie Size, or Best Movie Size. An odd feature of Swishsoft’s product is that there are many occasions on which it pauses for long periods of time for no apparent reason, when it is loading a file or performing some prep work. Still another odd feature is that my final slide, the closing credits, has its upper half in color. Now, if only I could figure out how to get the entire program to run in color instead of in its demo-only mode!

Bottom line: 96% compression, good quality.

Purchase experience with Flash Optimizer (Eltima) and Swift Optimizer (Swishsoft)

The Eltima product appears to be more professionally developed, and the price for Eltima’s Flash Optimizer Lite Edition ($39.95, as opposed to $79 for the Swishsoft product) is what I assumed I would have to spend. Therefore, I decide to purchase the Eltima product. However, even though I downloaded the trial version from a site that advertised the price as $39.95, I find that the lowest price offered when I attempt to make a purchase is $99.95. This is upsetting, to say the least. I call Eltima (in Bellevue, WA, a non-toll-free number) to ask a seemingly simple question: Where can I purchase the Lite Edition of Flash Optimizer that I saw advertised in multiple locations on the Internet? I am told that someone will call me back.

After a few hours of hearing nothing, I change my mind and decide to go with Swishsoft even though their price, $79, is twice as much as I had hoped to spend. I rationalize that, hey, Swishsoft is $20 cheaper than the non-lite version of Flash Optimizer, plus Swishsoft produces higher-quality visual output with less fuss and better compression. I place my credit-card order through Digital River, a reseller affiliated with RegNow. Within minutes I have confirmation of the purchase and a license key. Hooray!

Well, not so fast. There are no instructions for how to use the license key in order to unlock the crippleware demo version. With Eltima’s product, that process is obvious: A startup dialog includes an option to enter a license key. However, Swishsoft’s help text is no help on this point (I read all of it), and there are no commands or extra files with the downloaded distribution that offer any clue. Well, no problem, I’ll just send an e-mail to Cross fingers!

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