Today, Adobe launched – meaning “officially announced” – the much anticipated CS5 version of their Creative Suite. At their NAB booth, they indicated that it will actually be available in about a month. So what’s new? And is it worth opening your wallet to upgrade? Ultimately, of course, you’ll have to answer the second question based on the first. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you what I glimpsed during a fairly brief test drive of a prerelease Windows version of Premiere Pro CS5 that should give you a head start toward that big decision.
The prerelease version, not unexpectedly, had some features that weren’t functional yet and had bugs the development team still needed to squash – hopefully before the software went gold. Regrettably, two of the three formats I often use and had available did not import properly; Canon AVCHD gave video only and Canon HDV gave audio only. (Not to worry, though, because informal discussions with Adobe representatives at NAB today confirmed that this was due to the beta status of the software and that current builds handle a wide variety of files and formats, including the various Canon flavors, without difficulty). Among the missing features was an export for MPEG2-DVD so I was unable to use PPBM4 by Bill Gehrke (http://ppbm4.com), which requires it, to do a planned performance comparison using my old system, a QX6700 and my new system, a 980X, both without and then with Mercury GPU acceleration. MPEG-DVD is documented in the prerelease Help File and Adobe showed it to me at their NAB booth today, so it’ll be there in the release version. Fortunately, Canon 5DmII files did import and play properly.
Once I have retail software, I’ll be putting together a series of DVinfo.net exclusive videos about the Adobe Master Collection CS5 so if you’re going to wait for a while to decide about upgrading, be on the lookout for those videos beginning a few weeks after the software actually hits the shelves. In addition, you can count on plenty of on-topic, factual discussions by early adopters within DVinfo’s Adobe Creative Suite forum. Lastly, Adobe normally posts trial versions of its software online, but that doesn’t always happen immediately after release.
Going 64 bit
Arguably the biggest news, which was previously announced by Adobe, is that CS5 is 64 bit. There’s a lot to be excited about with this rewrite but if you’re still running XP32, no dice. You must have a 64 bit operating system if you want to upgrade to CS5.
Nevertheless, just for grins I started to run the installer on my wimpy XP work laptop and was promptly reminded that it does not meet the minimum requirements. System requirements are now posted at the Adobe site: http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/production/systemreqs/. Adobe have clearly worked hard to make the move to 64 bit a substantive change. The core applications in the suite, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Adobe Media Encoder, and Encore, all share a user-configurable memory pool that defaults to 75% of available RAM. The applications register themselves with a memory balancer so they can dynamically re-allocate memory amongst themselves to minimize swaps to disk and thus optimize performance for active processes. Want a longer RAM preview in After Effects (AE)? Just close PPro and all of its memory gets re-allocated to AE and the preview. It is evident that even more so than with past versions, RAM will be your friend. Everyone wants lots of friends, right? Well, if you don’t have enough friends, better go out and buy ‘em!
I am one of the many people who, after hoping for honest-to-goodness real time editing performance with each new version and being disappointed, have been taking a cautious wait-and-see attitude about Mercury. Sure, it looks great in the Adobe demo video many of us have watched online over the past few months. Naturally that was a carefully choreographed promotional clip; how sweet will it really be in everyday use? I took an all too brief look at a prerelease version of Premiere Pro and its new Mercury Playback engine with GPU acceleration.
As I mentioned in the intro, I had hoped to use PPBM4. Even though it is based on standard definition, it is a publically available tool that we can use as a common reference point. Alas, one of the formats needed wasn’t in the Adobe Media Encoder list. Thwarted for now, I created a CS5 project with 6 tracks of Canon 5DmII files, each with at least one effect, including Spherize, Ultra Keyer, Color Key, Horizontal Flip, etc. I then simply hit the play button to see how it played on the timeline, first using my old nVidia 8800GTX, and then reconfiguring to a Quadro FX4800 with Mercury.
Thanks to the 12GB of RAM and 980X processor, with the 8800GTX, three layers played smoothly after only momentary renders, though it really choked by the time all six clips had effects added. In that case, I had the requisite wait (that would vary by system, especially disk setup) for preview files to render.
Then I learned a lesson about READING THE MANUAL. With Mercury, I optimistically went for it with all six layers and their effects enabled: Choke. With a red render bar, it played one or two jerky frames a second . I gradually backed off by disabling clips, and still wasn’t finding performance all that impressive. When I got a yellow bar instead of the red render bar it played back smoothly, but sometimes not entirely so. I added three more clips further along on the same tracks and edited them similarly.
At first, I couldn’t understand why performance seemed to vary so much – then READING THE MANUAL – it clicked. There is a fairly long list of GPU accelerated effects, about 40 of the most commonly used ones, but NOT all of them are accelerated. I’d mixed those that do with those that don’t. When I ran tracks that had effects with only GPU acceleration, they were fluid. It appears that if one includes non-accelerated effects on a busy sequence, that likely will slow it down. There are also little buttons in the Effects Panel that allow you to filter for GPU accelerated, 32 bit float, and YUV effects. By choosing to view only GPU accelerated effects, it is very easy to make sure you don’t accidentally throw the brakes on your timeline performance. Fair enough! Mercury GPU acceleration isn’t limitless, but makes a big difference.
I’m greatly looking forward to getting my hands on the release version and giving Mercury a much more thorough and objective evaluation.
Additions and enhancements
Ever faster computers and the much faster editing performance while using Mercury have encouraged the addition of other features we will all like, if not love: Ultra Keyer, a GPU accelerated effect that got me better quick keys in PPro than I could usually do in AE (but then I’m not that good at keying…); a Gaussian blur effect; and blending modes (not previously GPU accelerated). At first, the blend modes kind of slid by me, but the more I think about having this capability fluidly working in PPro, the more I realize how powerful the will be.
In this iteration, Dynamic Link works amongst Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Encore, although the latter requires the “Edit Original” command for changes going in or coming out. Since PPro and AE are fully interactive, you’ll have to be mindful not to nest dynamic links in a sequence or composition that goes back to the original location. You’ll also be able to copy and paste between AE and PPro, export AE projects into PPro and vice versa, and use the Capture Command from PPro in AE.
Something long missing from PPro and finally promised for this release is automatic scene detection during HDV capture. I didn’t try this because time was at a premium and there was no point in lamenting any more than I already have about missing features in the prerelease. I’m sure I won’t be the only one giving this capability a close look after the release version becomes available. A couple of convenience commands added to this version include “Make Rolling Edit at CTI” (which requires you to set up a custom keyboard command) and “Find Gaps in Sequences and Tracks.”
For those in a collaborative environment, Adobe now promised round-trip editing compatibility with both Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer.
Although this article is focused on Premiere Pro, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few highlights from elsewhere in the suite. One example is persistent metadata. The progression toward an end-to-end workflow appears to be nearing fulfillment. Metadata can persist all the way from the new online script-writing tool, Adobe Story, through scene organization and shooting in OnLocation, through PPro, to Encore or Adobe Media Encoder, and all tied together with a yet-again improved version of Bridge.
In PhotoShop CS5 has a greatly expanded feature called Content Aware. The way this works now is so cool that some people wouldn’t believe it is a real feature and posted derisive blog comments and even YouTube videos parodying the official demo. Content Aware is an enhanced algorithm that fairly effectively reproduces the content around the tool to stitch a seamless fill into the image, rather than copying a selection (alt-click) and pasting the result into the desired location by clicking or dragging. Content aware is a simple checkbox. Is it magic? No, every tool has its limitations and a learning curve but it does work well and will save you a ton of effort in many situations you’d otherwise be tediously patching in little bites. This is only in PhotoShop, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this sort of capability extends to AE in the future, much as blend modes spread from PS to PPro.
One disappointing surprise: When I opened a Canon raw file in 16 bit mode in PhotoShop, it appeared that the same filters that did not support 16 bit in CS4 also were grayed out in CS5. Granted, the most critical ones do support higher bit depth, but by now I’d expected all the filters would. I hope this was only another prerelease issue but the versions they are showing at NAB also have the same gray entries.
Despite the extensive recoding needed to create this version of Creative Suite, one thing that hasn’t changed is the overall look and feel. As I dabbled in several of the suite applications, their interfaces were all entirely familiar. As a longtime Adobe software user, the suite felt very comfortable to me. The prerelease did have a few issues (no surprise – it’s a beta), but other than a couple of installation oddities it really seemed quite stable. That’s hardly definitive, but at least bodes well for the release version.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 has some fantastic new features while retaining the familiar interface of its predecessor. However, you are only in the market for this upgrade if you are running a 64 bit OS… which you should be unless you’re in that fairly small segment of editors who are perfectly happy with their setups. (C’mon who doesn’t want the latest and greatest, and more speed, aside from the money?) While it may be premature to make too many judgments about the software until we can put the retail version through its paces on end users’ computers, the more I played, the more I liked. I usually upgrade a while after Adobe products come out; I’ll grab the retail version of CS5 Master Collection the day I can get my hands on it. I’ve just arrived at NAB and if I learn more while here, you’ll see it in the DVinfo.net forums, along with the experiences of many other early adopters. If I don’t see you at NAB, see you online!