Telestream has upgraded Episode, their transcoding application, to version 6.5. The upgrade includes support for formats such as HEVC, XAVC, VP9 and MXF AS-11, caption insertion with encoding and pass-through of formats such as MCC, SCC and CEA-608/708, multi-bitrate streaming support, support for multi-track audio, and image sequence support directly from the GUI. Some jobs using the new codecs turned out to be too memory intensive and crashed.
Episode 6.5 has the same interface as its predecessor. That was a relief, certainly in a time when software vendors feel compelled to blend in with Yosemite in every possible way. Episode blends in, but not at the cost of its own clean flowchart-alike unified window. There is one thing, though, that I might have applauded: a preview that would show an image sequence before you start encoding. Unless my beta had a bug in that domain, the preview window doesn’t show you what an image sequence will look like after encoding.
However, the big news in this upgrade is of course added support for HEVC (“x265”) and XAVC, as well as multi-bitrate streaming formats. The latter is especially important if you’re going to encode packages for Apple HLS (HTTP Live Streaming), which a large number of people do. Episode’s support for these new formats is no different from the other formats it transcodes into, i.e. you set up your workflow and change the parameters in the Inspector and you’re done.
I tried transcoding to HEVC and it only worked with clips of 1920x1080px maximum. Anything above crashed the job. I asked Telestream about it and their assessment is that it’s probably because Episode runs out of memory when trying to encode a 4K clip, as it still is a 32-bit app. Luckily, the x264 encoder — H264 still being a mainstream format — worked well with frame sizes of up to 4K.
I also tried out the closed caption support. I first created a SCC file using MacCaption and then encoded the file with Episode 6.5. It worked, but it took me a bit of time to work out which parameters I had to change as caption support happens in two places. The first thing you do is set the location where your captions file resides on your system, while the actual captions are processed after setting the associated Video Filter.
Another new feature that I welcome is the new version’s support for multi-track audio. It allows you to map audio channels the way you want, re-arrange tracks, change speaker assessments, audio formats and even sample rates. This new feature makes it a lot easier to work with multiple mics, especially when using dSLRs to record video and external audio recorders for good sound quality.
Image sequencing enables you to encode a bunch of — time lapse or 3D animation based — frames into a movie. The feature has been available in Episode’s command line interface for some time, so the improvement is that you can now do this from the GUI interface. I don’t have a 3D animation app anymore, so I tried it with a time lapse created with a GoPro. Episode seemed to know what I wanted but the job would crash after a few seconds. I suspect this was again due to the frame size, which I didn’t first set up to fit in 1920x1080px.
Episode 6.5 adds features that many professional users will applaud. I’m thinking of closed caption and multi-track audio, as well as VP9 and MXF AS-11. The HEVC feature is due to become important, but I don’t believe it’s mainstream yet. The image sequencing is very nice to have. However, with those last two formats, I believe it will be essential that Episode first becomes a 64-bit application to stop 4K-jobs from crashing your job.