A Spring Surprise from Adobe: CS5.5

Adobe has surprised those of us who have long been accustomed to a major release roughly every 18 months. Just a year after launching the CS5 titan, they announced not only a new version of the Creative Suites, but a new release schedule and a subscription option for their suites. The just-released CS 5.5 is an incremental version that provides improvements in 5.0’s first-generation 64 bit features, several cool new tools, and one of the most asked-for changes to the suite’s software line up: the return of Adobe Audition.

The New Schedule
The release schedule calls for a new version about every 12 months. As things would appear to march out, odd years will get a “dot release” (CS 5.5 this spring) and a major release should be offered in even years (expect CS 6.0 in the spring of 2012). We will continue to see free maintenance patches and updates as needed in between, but each release is a full version of the software requiring purchase, installation, and activation.

As Adobe folks explained it at NAB, they want to shorten their response time to the frequent but unpredictable technology and market changes we experience these days, while at the same time recognizing that not all components of a suite need a major rewrite every 12 months. So the dot releases will tend to be more focused on specific features that keep the suite on the cutting edge rather than being deeper re-writes of the entire suite that we anticipate in the major releases appearing in even years.

As inevitably happens with practically any announcement, there has been a lot of online nay saying about the new schedule and its pricing structure. Well, since nobody knows what CS6 will cost next year, it may be fair to say that cost over time is an open question. But if, for now, we make the assumption that prices for dot releases and major releases will be about the same, overall cost over time will be similar or even a bit less. Rounding list prices up by a dollar to make the math clearer, here’s the breakdown over a three year period for an existing user who upgrades:

Production Premium Upgrades

  • Old 18 month cycle (two upgrades): 2 x $600 = $1200 ($400 yearly)
  • New 12 month cycle (three upgrades): 3 x $400 = $1200 ($400 yearly)

Master Collection Upgrades

  • Old 18 month cycle (two upgrades): 2 x $900 = $1800 ($600 yearly)
  • New 12 month cycle (three upgrades): 3 x $550 = $1650 ($550 yearly)

At first glance, I thought that the every-other version, or “skip cycle” upgrade prices might be steeper than in the past. However, I ran the numbers and the yearly cost to do skip cycle upgrading is about the same as it has been in the past:

Production Premium skip cycle Upgrade Costs

  • CS2/3 to CS5: $800 / 3.0 years = $266 yearly
  • CS4 to CS5.5: $650 / 2.5 years = $260 yearly

Master Collection skip cycle Upgrade Costs

  • CS2/3 to CS5: $1300 / 3.0 years = $433 yearly
  • CS4 to CS5.5: $ 950 / 2.5 years = $380 yearly

So at current prices, you save less than $12 a month to purchase in skip cycles rather than upgrade each time and get all the new features and efficiencies of the latest version. Those features should save someone who regularly edits professionally many times that amount in terms of his or her time and effort. That makes upgrading an easy decision for all but the most cash-strapped editor.

Adobe is also rolling out a subscription service that can be paid month-to-month or yearly. Since these short-term licenses are more expensive over time, they don’t seem to be the right choice for a regular, long term user of the software. On the other hand, this would be an attractive option for those who need additional seats only for specific projects.

Suite — Very Suite
With the core applications all being rewritten from the ground up as 64-bit code, the delight of real time effects with GPU acceleration in the Mercury Playback Engine, and a bagful of really jaw dropping new capabilities like AE’s RotoBrush, Adobe’s CS5 suite releases of a year ago were extremely deep and complex.

So it would indeed be a tall order for them to produce a new version in just 12 months that matched the massive scope of CS5. I don’t think it is at all a slight to Adobe, then, to say that the CS5.5 release presents a few less new bells and whistle than CS5 while, in my opinion, still being an immediate-buy upgrade for serious users of the Production Premium and Master Collection Suites. It is a “dot release” and on a shorter cycle than we’ve been accustomed to, yet it does bring a couple wows of its own, enough so that an introductory article like this can’t cover them all.

As was CS5, this is a multi-gigabyte download of several files so if you’re acquiring the software by download, you should have both a fast connection and a wee bit of patience. By the way, the installation does not include the local Help files by default. Instead, they are a very quick automatic download when you go to File>Help in any of the applications after you’ve installed your suite. I recommend doing this first thing after installation so you don’t forget. I say this because my first attempt to access Help was while sitting in seat 8F on a Boeing 737 and therefore sans internet connection.

Similarly, assets such as templates, audio loopology, and sound beds that populate the Resource Central tab of the core applications are not locally installed but linked to the Adobe servers. This is perfectly fine as long as your editing machine has a live internet connection. As users of previous versions know, this arrangement does have the advantage of allowing keyword searches to make it super easy to find just the asset you’re looking for. But I’m old fashioned enough to wish we could have a single download to easily have a local copy of all the assets. Those who keep their editing box off the grid may not prefer the Resource Central paradigm.

I recall being a tad uncertain last year as I proceeded through the multiple setup routines in the download version of CS5, including the separate Acrobat 9 setup. The instructions weren’t so entirely clear that I was sure that I’d installed everything, and in the correct order, until setup was done and I could browse through the new applications. I’m happy to say that once downloaded, installing CS5.5 was entirely simple and fast. One setup routine got everything except Help and Resource Central content, including Acrobat X, ready to rock. I already had CS5.0.3 on my test computer and I even gave the CS5.5 setup a tiny challenge by installing the software on the D drive. No problem… both versions work fine.

After taking flak over the past few years about the trial software not supporting MPEG-2 due to licensing restrictions against distributing the codec for free, Adobe has apparently done whatever was needed to jump that hurdle. Software trials are now fully functional limited-time versions, with only a couple of caveats:

  • Some third party After Effects plug-ins won’t be available until you purchase (Mocha, Keylight, CycoreFX, Color Finesse LE, ProEXR, and Digieffects FreeFrom).
  • Encore will be installed but not functional in the trial.

Before you download a fully functional trial copy to do your own test drive, let’s just hit the high points of Premiere Pro, Adobe Media Encoder, and the re-integration of Audition into the suite.

Premiere Pro CS5.5
Adobe have said that they have done under-the-hood tweaking on the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE) to further speed it up, especially in regard to accelerating dissimilar clip types and frame rates within the same sequence. Although I haven’t as yet had the opportunity to do test runs on some of my existing projects, some anecdotal reports are starting to appear that confirm the timeline is even smoother and export significantly faster. Check the Adobe Creative Suite forum on DV Info Net for more info as it gets posted. The conversion process from CS5 projects into CS5.5 projects appears the same to the end user as it did in previous versions.

Adobe did a pretty good job picking the transitions and effects that got GPU acceleration in CS5 and they’ve brought acceleration to four more existing transitions in CS5.5:

  • Directional Blur Effect
  • Fast Blur Effect
  • Invert Effect
  • Additive Dissolve Transition

They’ve also added a new transition which has GPU acceleration: Film Dissolve. Adobe says this is a more natural looking transition because the linear color space it uses prevents some anomalies that creep into the older cross dissolve effect, such as artifacting along intersecting edges. Otherwise I can find little information on it as yet. So far I’ve given it only a quick try and my first impression is that it does seem to be a more pleasing cross dissolve. Of course, eventually we end users will hope to see GPU acceleration applied to all processes and effects that could benefit, but for now we have a pretty good selection of those most of us commonly use.

Next: CUDA cards, Adobe Media Encoder, Adobe Audition and more…

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About The Author

As he grew up along the Great Snowy Northern border of Minnesota, Pete Bauer’s innate passion for filmmaking and photography was evident very early. 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.

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