My, how time flies! Can it really be six months since CS5 was released? Shortly prior to the official release, I was offered the opportunity to briefly test-drive a beta version of the Master Collection CS5 suite (see that article here). It sure looked tantalizing. But being a beta and available to me for only a limited time, it left many questions. Having by now done many HD projects in CS5 and closely followed the lively discussions on our CS5 users on our Adobe Creative Suite forum, it’s high time for an update.
We see a lot of posts here on DV Info Net wondering whether moving to CS5 is “worth it.” Even though YOU have to be the one to answer that question based on your own circumstances, there’s ample information now to allow you to make that decision. I’ll update some of my pre-release observations and go another step beyond by adding into the mix a summation of many DV Info Net members’ experiences with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.
Going 64 bit
Although not all applications in the CS5 suite are yet 64 bit software, PPro/Encore, After Effects, and Adobe Media encoder most definitely are. That means they love RAM; the more you have, the better will be your experience. Here are Adobe’s official system requirements.
Still, folks have reported that PPro CS5 on dual core laptops with 2 to 4 GB of RAM gets them adequate, even if not fluid, functionality while processing such highly compressed files as AVCHD that they could not reasonably edit on CS4. The consensus is that general editing and rendering performance, even without GPU acceleration, is improved somewhere in the 10-15% range over CS4 on a given system.
Does anybody out there think their computer is just too fast? Wish you’d have bought a slower one? Doubt it! There’s no such thing as a computer that’s too fast. The better configured your system is, the more capability you’ll gain from PPro for your multi-stream HD editing. I think realistically you’ll really want an i7 and all the DDR3 RAM you can cram in your system, as well as the right video card (more on that later). While naturally Adobe isn’t going to reveal their secret recipes, it appears that PPro holds as many frames in RAM as it can – which is a lot more with 64 bit addressing – using only as a last resort the much slower temp/preview files and the swap file on the hard drive. The PPBM5 benchmark by Bill Gerhke and Harm Millaard shows that renders using 24GB of RAM do significantly outperform even an otherwise generous installation of 12GB.
The much-discussed Mercury Playback Engine is more than GPU acceleration using an nVidia-based CUDA video card. All users benefit from the software portion of Mercury. This module is 64 bit, multi-thread optimized code that processes as many frames as possible at once for both timeline playback and rendering. I’d conjecture that this is a large part of the reason CS5 performs a bit better than CS4 even without GPU acceleration of effects.
But as for that GPU accleration – and I’ll make no apology for gushing a bit here – it rocks. If Adobe had made no other changes from CS4 to CS5 than this, yeah, we’d all gripe about that but in my opinion it would still be worth the upgrade. GPU acceleration does not apply globally, however. The CPU still decodes source frames and performs all other housekeeping tasks of the interface; Mercury’s GPU acceleration works on effects that are specifically coded to make use of it.
PPro effects are divided into two general types: Fixed and Standard. The Fixed Effects can be thought of as properties of the clip because they are always present and ready for use, e.g. “fixed” in the Effects Control Panel. These Fixed Effects, Motion (including x-y positions, scale, and rotation), Opacity (including the blend modes), and Time remapping are GPU accelerated. The fourth Fixed Effect, Volume, being related to audio is not GPU accelerated. The Standard Effects can be found in the Effects Panel. Once dragged to a clip on the timeline, they appear in the Effects Control Panel below the Fixed Effects. Currently, 36 of the commonly used Standard Effects are GPU accelerated, while the remaining effects are not. If you add a CPU-intensive, non-accelerated effect like Auto Color while GPU acceleration is enabled, you’ll notice the difference on the time line right away. A red render bar will appear at the top of the timeline and you’ll undoubtedly see a performance decrease as you play the clip with that effect. To run the clip smoothly, either render preview files or temporarily disable the non-accelerated effect in the Effects Controls Panel…just don’t forget to re-enable it at export time!
GPU acceleration means more than speed, though. It means image quality. In a recent Adobe blog about scaling, this was explained in a bit more detail. But in brief, because of the massively parallel processing done on the GPU, more robust algorithms can be, and are, used by default. With CPU-only processing, playback of timelines that have GPU-enabled effects won’t only be less snappy than with acceleration active, they won’t look as good unless you check the “Maximum Render Quality” box (people often abbreviate this to “MRQ” when posting about it) in the Sequence Properties dialog. That, however, would further slow your timeline playback.
Similarly, without GPU acceleration it is necessary to check the “Maximum Render Quality” checkbox in the encoding dialog in order to approximate the output quality you’d see by default with GPU acceleration enabled. Personal experience: I recently worked with an AVCHD clip that was shot about 1 degree out of level. I figured I’d either have to not use the clip or live unhappily with a crooked shot in my program, but decided to just give fixing it a try. I rotated it to level and scaled to 103%. It all worked in real time and even though there must be some mathematical loss of detail, I was unable to detect any degradation at full resolution. Score one for Team Adobe.
I simply cannot overstate how satisfying it is to throw four different types of HD files on a timeline, multi-cam them, color correct, rotate, scale, add transitions, and still see a yellow bar (meaning no preview file rendering is needed) and enjoy fluid performance on the timeline. In fact, I just recently did that with Canon AVCHD, 5DmII MOV, HDV, GoPro mp4 and 24 bit audio wav files all working together in the same multi-cam and target sequences.
Ok, I’m done gushing. I do consistently notice, regardless of the complexity of the timeline, that there is about a one second pause whenever clicking the play button in the program or multi-cam monitors. Perhaps it takes that moment for the software to cache enough frames from the compressed source to play forward smoothly; I don’t really know why. On the other hand, scrubbing the timeline is instantaneous. I saw this behavior at the demo booth at NAB so I know it isn’t just my system. That pause isn’t a big deal, but of course I’d still rather it wasn’t there.
Another minor oddity is that PPro often notifies me that my screen configuration has changed (which it hasn’t) when I open a PPro project. When this happens, my second monitor is not listed on the drop down menu of external devices so I can’t use it for full screen viewing. The workaround is to close PPro and re-open. The second monitor will then be listed in the drop down and all is well. I don’t recall anyone else reporting this so maybe it is system specific. Small potatoes, so I shrug it off.
By the way, not just any nVidia card will do. Officially, it must be on a list of certified cards (see the Adobe System Requirements page for updated info). Unofficially, folks have found ways to use some not-yet-officially-certified cards with sufficient VRAM. I haven’t heard of anyone bricking their system while doing this but of course if you decide to go maverick, you’re proceeding at your own risk.
There were many who expressed worry a year or so ago that the extensive rewrite of the code to go 64 bit would render the software uselessly unstable. Well, while it is a fact of life that no major software package is ever bug-free – and CS5 wasn’t a magical exception – those fears were quickly allayed. Yes, those who have experienced a recurring crash or other bug, or their favorite feature wasn’t fully implemented in the initial release rightfully aired their displeasure about those problems. Within just a few months of CS5’s launch, Adobe released two significant updates months that have squashed most of those bugs and introduced some features that weren’t ready for prime time at the end of April. So, most of those voices largely faded away. The overwhelming consensus on the forum has been that Adobe really got this one right.
With PPro now at version 5.02, posts on our Adobe forum are now mostly “How do I…” and “is it worth upgrading” questions; the forum is nearly devoid of anything that smacks of a serious bug and as often as not complaints end up actually being due to a hardware problem, third party software issues, or a keyboard actuator anomaly (a nice way to say “operator error”). If you do believe you’ve found a bug or really want to see a feature added we are very happy to talk about it on DVinfo.net, but that won’t get it implemented. Please definitely do report these issues to Adobe HERE.
What’s my own personal experience? I’m using a home-built i7 980X with 12GB of RAM, Quadro FX4800, SSD for the OS and a 4 HDD RAID0 for Preview files. I routinely edit 20 – 90 minute timelines using 3-4 HD cameras in a variety of HD formats, typically using “Render and Replace” to sweeten audio in Soundbooth, and include some dynamic links to short After Effects comps. I did have a couple of seemingly random but non-repeatable crashes fairly early on. Thinking back over the past couple months since going to version 5.02 I honestly don’t recall any crashes at all.
CS5 Suite Integration
As I just alluded to, I’m actually using Dynamic Link. Up until this year, DL was a nice concept that was beyond my reach. Perhaps those with a Xeon workstation could use it before, but when I’d give it a try things would just bog way down for all but the simplest composition. Now, though, with an i7 system generously appointed with RAM, and with the efficiencies in the 64 bit CS5 architecture, the dream is finally realized. It is great to think of a cool little change I’d like to make to that fancy intro at the beginning of a sequence, just double click to open it in AE, make the edit, and then see all instances of the AE composition within my PPro project immediately updated with that cool change.
For those shooting HDV, I can confirm that scene detect does work in CS5. For whatever reason, though, as with previous versions the capture window still does not display the image. You have to view it on your camcorder’s screen. Personally, while I don’t understand why this is still the case, it doesn’t affect my workflow so another shoulder shrug and I press on.
I haven’t actually used, nor have I really seen much written in the forums, on Adobe Story and OnLocation so I don’t have further comments on the first portion of Adobe’s end-to-end workflow. The other end of the workflow, however, I can unequivocally say I like. Adobe Media Encoder has a larger collection of presets than previously, including exports for popular sites like Vimeo. Most of the time you won’t have a need to tweak all those mysterious encoder settings, yet if you do wish to twiddle the dials yourself, you do have full control.
I like the next capability even better. Using a single simple dialog box, both Encore and Flash markers along with their respective properties (e.g. chapter marker / Flash Cue Point) can quickly and easily be placed into a PPro sequence as you edit. Once you send the sequence to Encore and create your menus and navigation there, you can burn the Encore project to DVD, BluRay, or a Flash program ready for upload. It is complete with all files, folders, and navigation tools needed to play the Flash. It is as simple as choosing the output type from a drop down box and clicking the burn button.
Short and sweet: Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 has proved itself to be the PPro we’ve been waiting for. It is stable, fast, and capable. If I seem biased, well, yes I am because I’m finding it a joy to edit on PPro as well as the whole suite of tightly integrated CS5 applications.
About the Author
Although life took his professional pursuits in other directions, Pete never lost that passion. Since his retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a flight surgeon, his civilian practice of Aerospace Medicine in the Houston area has afforded him greater time and opportunities to re-ignite that old flame.
Starting as a DV Info Net lurker in 2002, Pete quickly became a daily presence on the forum and has been one of the site’s stable of Wranglers and a DVi Contributing Editor since early 2004.