My company has asked me to put together a wish list of products for this year. I would really like a new mpeg-2 encoder because I'm not that happy with Compressor. I don't have a lot of expecience, but I have heard that hardware endoders result in better images. I would love to get some advice on whether or not this is true and the best products out there, hardware and software.
I was always happy with Compressor 1.x, but 2.x has some serious issues with mpeg2 encoding.
Most of the software encoders on the Mac side have free demo versions. Download them & run a 5 or 10 minute test movie through them. Make sure that you have lots of dissolves, fast motion, still scenes, heavy texture, etc to give them a real workout. The most expensive software encoder for Mac is maybe $500-600. FWIW, I've settled on MegaPegHD from Digigami.
For hardware encoders you may have to visit a vendor who can build you a turnkey system (or have them pay a sales call?). Digital Rapids, Sonic & Media Press (Wired Inc.) jump off the top of my head, but you might want to do a quick search on Google to see who I've left out.
BTW, I've heard that Procoder & Cinema Craft are both very good on the PC side. But I don't actually own a PC, so I've never tried either.