Premiere CS3 Professional Review
Double act relationships are a great source of salacious speculation for any writer. Who can resist the on-again, off-again, the tug-of-war, the will they, won’t they that has existed between duos as varied as David and Victoria, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Brangelina, and of course, Apple and its software vendors. Quark, Microsoft and Adobe have all been the subject to Mac futurology. After all, when Adobe nixed professional versions of Premiere back at version 6.5 in 2002, it seemed the thin edge of a seriously chunky wedge. With Premiere Pro CS3 becoming Adobe’s re-entry into the pro-end Mac NLE (non-linear editing) world since then, the what-ifs are all off.
So what has San José’s finest served up for us? For Premiere fans forced to the ‘dark side’ to use the product on Windows, the interface will be familiar. You’re presented with your Projects panel, monitors, effects control panel and timeline as expected, all feeling particularly Mac-interface-like.
Adobe is targeting as broad a range of audiences as possible with its new Mac NLE. It’s quite easy to work through simple projects using intuitive drag-and-drop. However, for the more experienced, there are a range of keyboard shortcuts with which to become acquainted. Furthermore, if you’re an Avid Xpress DV 3.5 or Final Cut Pro 4.0 user, you can set your preferences to match those packages’ keyboard shortcuts.
In terms of new features, there’s much to choose from. Dramatically, there is the Time Warp borrowed from After Effects. You can use it as Time Remapping, which enables you to alter the playback speed of a clip – slow motion or speed up – with a slider. A key-framable feature, Adobe’s engineers have made the feature clever enough to look subtle and smooth, avoiding a sharp, jarring effect, as if your video has suddenly turned into an old Charlie Chaplin film, for example. You can also set a Bezier curve on the Time Remapping rubber band to adjust the smoothness of your time transition, but on the test build, this feature was buggy. In addition, it kept the clip’s associated audio one length while altering the duration of the video, sending the project out of kilter.
In addition, you can apply an actual Time Warp effect, which enables more control over how you alter your video’s time-based playback, including such intricacies as the use of pixel motion vs frame mix or whole frame, for example.
One big addition is the incorporation of DVD authoring software package Adobe Encore right into Premiere. In terms of workflow, it makes sense: why fire up yet another application when you can generate DVD chapters straight from the timeline? And that’s exactly what you do. Markers are set as easily as key frames using a button cleverly called Set Encore Chapter Marker. You can double click on each to give it a name to be used for your final DVD project. These can even be exported to After Effects, to appear in a Timeline markers layer. They can also be exported to Flash, where they will appear as cue points; essentially, you can mock up your DVD in Flash, navigating as you would your final DVD. In Flash you can additionally associate extra data to your links and assets. For the purpose of this review, however, the Encore authoring feature was not available, but suffice to say it is theoretically as easy as selecting ‘Export to Encore’ in the File menu. It should be noted that Encore will be capable of burning Blu-ray discs.
It’s a similar story with Soundbooth integration. You can select the ‘Edit in Soundbooth’ option to work directly on audio-only clip source files, or do a render and replace, which enables you to work up audio associated with video, which will then slot straight back into the Premiere timeline. This option will not affect the master file. Again, pre-release gremlins mean that this feature is untried in this particular review.
One new feature that was certainly in full-effect was the new Find feature built into the Projects panel. It’s like having Spotlight built right into the programme, in that you can search a number of parameters including name, frame rate, duration, description, comments and more. Given the deluge of assets that a project can generate, it is definitely a useful addition.
The final build will also include OnLocation, which, as the name suggests, enables you to shoot footage on location straight into your computer. This is, however, a Windows –only application, although, of course, you can use it with Boot Camp.
Overall, however, there are some tidy features that give the package a comfortably professional air. In terms of transitions, the bad ones are just about usable in the right places, and the good ones are excellent. Dissolves and fades are slick and smooth, preview quickly, and well programmed: they’re not there simply to raise the eyebrows of impressionable students. Furthermore, there is plenty of control over transitions as well as video effects, with plenty of scope for key framed procedures. On the test version, the audio looked great in theory, but tended to act as the iceberg did to the Titanic, but there is no reason to doubt that the final build will fail to deliver on the sound front.
There is also an adequate titling feature set, which allows you reasonable control over a range of style presented, including kerning, scaling and leading, not to mention fills, strokes, shadows and paths. It is not a bad tool at all, although given the product’s refined integration with After Effects and Photoshop, serious users will no doubt wish to get a bit of help from the rest of the suite in this regard.
Adobe is also touting Premiere’s capability to author once and output to any platform, whether it is a DVD via Encore or the latest mobile phone. To this end, Premiere Pro CS3 maintains the Media Encoder. This option enables you to choose to export your work as Flash video or QuickTime for streaming or downloading in a number of options – HD 1080p 24fps to 56k modem. Through the Media Encoder, which is also used by Soundbooth and After Effects in the suite, you can use Adobe’s mobile screen emulator, Device Central, no doubt already familiar to Adobe stalwarts.
Similarly, Premiere is fully compatible with Adobe’s Clip Notes feature, an enabler of the client approval process via PDF. You can export your project within an embedded or streaming QuickTime window. Clients can then add attributed comments as the video plays, and return them to you via email. You can then import the Clip Notes file, complete with notation, straight into the timeline.
What is less handy is incompatibility between versions. If your PC buddies are using CS2 and you wish to share a project, you will be out of luck. So even for the simplest project sharing exercises, where the new features may not be employed, there’s no going between the two. Also, if you’re hell-bent on exporting to file formats other than QuickTime or Flash Video for the Web, you will have to look elsewhere. There is no Windows Media export option.
Premiere’s case was not helped by the instability of the test suite, although looking beyond this we can see it will make a fine product when it finally hits the streets. But it does feel like the weak link of the suite. It’s not a bad product in itself, and you would be no fool to buy it, but consider at against the other tools in the suite: After Effects is iron clad, and Soundbooth is a brilliant, intuitive audio package. Somehow, certainly on the Mac, Premiere doesn’t feel like a must-have application. Having said that, if you’re a large organisation with an extended workflow and are required to output to a number of platforms, then there’s logic to investing in the suite, Premiere and all. The BBC has just signed substantial deal with Adobe and it’s easy to understand why. Premiere, we would imagine, won’t make any of their editors howl for joy, but it certainly won’t let them down.
To get the most of the video production CS3 suite, you really need all the component software pieces, including Adobe Premiere. Its integration with the company’s products, from Photoshop to After Effects is a workflow boon. It is decent as a standalone Mac application, but there’s no need to rush out and buy.