Tsunami MPEG Encoder (TMPGEnc)

Version Tested: beta 12i
Type: Software encoder
MPEG Standards: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, VCD, SVCD, DVD, HDTV
Bit Rate Control Modes: CBR, CQ VBR, various other 1 and 2-pass VBR modes (see below)
Bit Rates: 0.001-100 Mbit/s
GOP Formats: I-frame, IP-frame, IPB-frame, unlimited number of frames per GOP
MPEG Audio Modes: Full MPEG-1 layer 1 and 2
Frame Sizes: Any
Multi-threaded Encoding? Yes
Scene Change Detection? Yes
Encoding Rate: 9.7 fps on a 1.2 GHz Athlon
Web Page: http://www.pegasys-inc.com/en/product/te3xp.html
Availability: Download
Price: $58


NOTE: The technical parts of this review were done back when TMPGEnc was transitioning from a free "beta" version to a for-pay Pro version. Since then, the package has evolved into TMPGEnc XPress, and the technology has been incorporated into other products from the same company. I have only used TMPGEnc rarely in the intervening time, so I do not know how accurate the MPEG encoding quality and time results are any more. I have updated the review to reflect usability improvements since the beta days.


There are several reasons to recommend TMPGEnc. It's tied for the cheapest standalone MPEG encoder still available. It's also the most tweakable encoder: all the commercial encoders are more limited in their encoding parameters, either because they have a more expensive "power user" product, or in order to simplify their interface. TMPGEnc is also notable because it includes many non-core features: a multiplex/demultiplex engine, several video filters for customizing the outputs, etc. Finally, once you know how to use it properly, it is capable of some of the best results of any encoder in this roundup.

This brings me to TMPGEnc's biggest fault: unless you use the "wizard" mode, it takes a lot of time to learn how all the many encoding parameters affect the results. TMPGEnc's problem is that the full-featured interface mode doesn't always make clear what will happen if you change a given setting – maybe it will change the encoding speed, or maybe it will change the output quality, or maybe it will have no noticeable effect at all. Learning how everything interacts to achieve a given result takes quite a bit of time. You might choose to go with one of the more expensive encoders simply to get a more straightforward user interface without giving up all the power, as you do by going with TMPGEnc's wizard mode.

A Plethora of Encoding Modes

The encoding time above is for its CQ mode. When used to best effect, the CQ mode unfortunately does not give a predictable bit rate. If you choose the best predictable mode, 2-pass VBR, the encode time roughly doubles. The other VBR modes are unpredictable because they lack an "average bitrate" parameter. CBR is predictable, but produces far worse video than 2-pass VBR.

You should be getting the idea by now that this encoder has a plethora of encoding modes. I won't describe them all here; you can read all about them in my MPEG Encoder Modes article. TMPGEnc supports CBR, 2-pass VBR (min/avg/max), Manual VBR (min/max), Automatic VBR which superficially appears to be a min/max/Q mode but doesn't operate that way, and a mode called CQ that isn't simple CQ but is in fact a proper min/max/Q mode. TMPGEnc also has a pair of "real time" encoding modes, but I think they're works in progress: they appear to have no practical improvements in speed or quality over their normal variants.

Encoding Speed and Quality

By changing the among the Motion Search Precision parameters, I got these encoding rates: 9.7 fps (very fast), 8.5 fps (fast), 6.9 fps (normal), 5.2 fps (slow), and 3.5 fps (very slow). There is also a "motion search estimate" setting, which worked in 7.8 fps on my test machine. For CQ mode at least, there were no significant differences in quality among these settings, so I'm using the 9.7 fps rate as the "official" encoding time for TMPGEnc.

Output

Frame 0, Frame 1, Bitrate and Quantization Data.

The frame grabs and the bitrate chart were made with the encoder in CQ mode at normal motion estimation speed. I tried the 2-pass VBR mode, and although the flaws I reported on in earlier versions of this review have been fixed by now, 2-pass VBR is still inferior in image quality to CQ mode. This behavior is consistent with that of other encoders, so I can only conclude that the CQ algorithm is inherently superior.

If you use a more accurate motion estimation mode, it does remove the last of the artifacts you see in the frame grabs, but this is small potatoes. Going from "normal" motion estimation speed to "very slow" will double your encoding time, which probably isn't worth it, for most applications.

Bottom Line

If you don't have an encoder already, this is an excellent bargain. You may, however, choose a more expensive encoder to get faster encode times and predictable high quality output. Even if you use another package, it may still be worth buying TMPGEnc to get the extra tools it offers. The excellent muxer and demuxer alone are worth it, for me. I have yet to find another muxer/demuxer package that works as well.

This encoder gets a big usability ding because there are many ways to produce bad video with this encoder, and the only way to find these ways is by trial and error.

Usability: 5
Functionality: 10
Quality: 10
Core Value: 10
Bundle value: 8

Overall: 7.4

(By "bundle" in the ratings above, I'm considering the TMPGEnc functionality that isn't strictly encoding-related like the MPEG Tools menu item, the video filter feature, etc.)


Updated Mon Sep 22 2008 12:15 MDT Go back to MPEG Encoder Reviews Go to my home page