Discreet Cleaner XL test and review

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Discreet Cleaner XL

A big divide in the media encoding potential of Mac and Windows PCs has forced Discreet to develop its Cleaner media encoding software separately for each platform. Version 6 for the Mac was a massive letdown. Can a completely rewritten Windows counterpart make amends?

Things haven't been easy for Cleaner. It was once the most popular media encoding tool available, but has changed hands and been remarketed too many times in recent years. Regular updates have been few and far between, delaying implementation of new streaming video Codecs, and responding poorly to the change in market demands - particularly the growing interest in DIY DVD authoring. Cleaner's MPEG encoding tools have traditionally been limited (unless you spend an extra £800 on the MPEG SuperCharger board), and the program has also been highly overpriced - especially for Windows, where many first-rate encoding tools are available for very little money. But the appeal of Cleaner is its ability to run batch encoding sessions unattended, spitting out video in numerous formats while you go to the pub, have dinner or catch some sleep.
Cleaner is available for Mac or Windows PCs, but a complete lack of support for current Windows Media and RealVideo Codecs on the Mac, coupled with the shortage of good, inexpensive Mac-based MPEG encoders has forced Discreet to develop the program separately for each platform. Cleaner 6 for Mac, released earlier this year, was a big disappointment (review, April 03, p66). Aside from the welcome addition of reasonable MPEG encoding tools, and support for the latest version of QuickTime, the program appeared to have taken a big step backwards. Things should be a lot rosier under Windows, however, and Cleaner XL is promised to support a wealth of formats, and also perform far faster than its predecessor, Cleaner 5.

A fresh broom
Cleaner XL has been completely rewritten, and does things a little differently to previous versions. For a start, it now bluntly refuses to install unless RealNetworks' RealOne player is already on the system. This is annoying, as a user may not actually want the program for its RealVideo support - or may monitor encoded footage on another computer. RealOne isn't provided on the installation disc either - we had to go online to get it. More importantly, there are now many people who flatly refuse to install any of RealNetworks' software on their machines - largely because of RealNetworks' reputation for adding 'spyware' to its programs, allowing surfing and buying habits to be monitored for more effective advertising via email (spam, in other words). The RealOne license agreement clearly states that the program will do this, but as the license is 7,367 words long, it's an easy detail to miss. And if you want to use Cleaner, you've got no choice but to accept RealNetworks' terms.

Cleaner's new interface and workflow will be a big surprise to many existing users. There's already much talk about it on the internet, with camps evenly split between users that strongly dislike the new approach, and those that are adapting well. Either way, organisation of jobs and batches isn't simple or intuitive, and we're certain that the clever people at Discreet could come up with a quicker and easier way of organising Cleaner's workflow if they put their minds to it. As always, the program's selection of filters is good - with some great improvements on the audio side - and previewing methods are also much better than with version 5.
Cleaner is no longer alone in the do-it-all encoding market, though, and pitched next to ProCoder, it falls down slightly in its MPEG encoding quality and its lack of PAL/NTSC conversion tools. And no review of Cleaner would be complete without a complaint about the price - at over £500, we feel it's still too expensive, and that Discreet could sell countless more copies if it cut the price in half. But this complaint applies equally well to its nearest rival, ProCoder, and to Sorenson Squeeze as well.

Peter Wells

Read the full feature in October 2003's Computer Video magazine.


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Reviewed in October's issue:

Final Cut Pro 4
VariZoom VZ-Rock & StealthZoom
Discreet Cleaner XL
DVD Burners Group Test

In October's news:

Canopus MPEG encoders cut hardware link
Set-top Panasonic DVD
JVC video competition
Philips sticks with +R/+RW
Apple OS 10.3
Edius gets a makeover
80GByte PocketDrive
SmartSound, smarter pricing
Casablanca Avio - Mark II
All-in-one Nero 6

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