Adobe CS5 Production Premium Overview Review

As video editors, we have patiently waited (and waited and waited) for tools that are as quick as our clicks and keystrokes. But performance gains in past versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite have been mostly incremental. After testing one of the very latest pre-release versions, we can say that CS5 is nothing less than revolutionary. Our wait is over.

Since there is so much to cover, for now, we’ll give you a taste of what’s new and improved in the suite as a whole giving more attention to Premiere Pro. In our next review, we’ll provide a more detailed analysis of the programs we know you use the most, like Premiere Pro, After Effects and Sound Booth.
For the flagship programs in the Production Premium suite, this is Adobe’s definitive move to the 64-bit operating system platform. While the other programs in the CS5 suite remain 32-bit, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop Extended and Media Encoder are native 64-bit only. Adobe does include 32-bit CS4 versions of Premiere Pro and After Effects for those of you that can’t wait to harness some of the other benefits of the new suite.

This upgrade may be the excuse you’ve been looking for to buy new hardware, so be sure to check the Tech Specs. Even if you have enough CPU horsepower, there is a good chance your system will need (or can now fully address) more RAM. Most significantly, you’ll need one of just a handful of currently compatible nVidia graphics cards to unleash all of the newfound productivity of CS5. Our test machine, an 8-core 2.33GHz Xeon with 32GB of RAM, included an nVidia Quadro CX card (performance details in our next review).

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With the introduction of some new products and more tightly integrated applications, CS5’s workflow mirrors modern real world production more closely than ever. For example, one production workflow that uses all the Production Premium applications could start with a script in Story (optional) that is handed off to OnLocation in the form of metadata that gets broken into scenes that you capture directly to disc. These scenes, along with other media that you create in Sound Booth, Photoshop or Illustrator are arranged on a timeline in Premiere Pro. Dynamic link makes a no-render hand-off to After Effects that tosses it back to Premiere Pro then out to Encore for output to a physical or online DVD or to Media Encoder for encoding to a large selection of output formats. Bridge remains a touchstone for asset management while Flash Professional, Device Central or the new Flash Catalyst can further transform your final production into an engaging mobile device or online presentation. Given this emphasis on workflow, we’ll approach this review in the order you might use the applications in a production pipeline.

Story and CS Live

Adobe takes an important step backward in the production process with the release of their new collaborative script writing solution, Story. It is part of the larger web-based collaboration center, CS Live, which includes Review (not yet fully functional), Acrobat.com, Browser Lab, Site Catalyst and Net Averages. These hosted services allow you to share your work with co-producers and clients for writing, editing, reviewing, testing, and analyzing your production throughout the various stages of its development and distribution. While you do get 12 months of free access by registering your copy of CS5, Story and other CS Live tools are an optional paid subscription service. Adobe did not have a listed price at the time of publication.

As a video producer-editor, you may at first find Story and Review most useful, but don’t overlook the potential for the other offerings to help you refine and gain a wider audience for your productions. In this release, it appears Adobe zapped most of the bugs we noted in our earlier review although some key features, like A/V script formatting, are still not fully functional. Story appears nearly ready and continues to look like a promising new addition most attractive to producers already familiar with a formal production workflow. Only time will tell if the idea of an integrated subscription service will prove popular.

OnLocation

Metadata is quickly becoming as important as picture and sound and OnLocation takes it from second-cousin status to newlywed. The script comes in from Story as the base metadata set that is broken out into scene/shot information in OnLocation. You can use this as the basis for capturing your video direct to disc or, with a little bit of finessing, incorporate footage acquired by tapeless cameras into the shot breakout (more on this in our next review). When you are finished capturing and logging, your picture, sound and metadata then flow along the production pipeline into Premiere Pro.

The OnLocation interface remains similar but the key improvements are just a click away. Within the metadata panel, you now have OnLocation Project and Script information. OnLocation now incorporates the same media browser as Premiere Pro and the new Comment Markers and Turbo Comments, lets you immediately add notes about individual shots.


Premiere Pro

For most of us, the most exciting news is Premiere Pro’s significant performance increase. At the heart of this speed improvement is the new 64-bit architecture, memory addressing, CPU optimization and the new Adobe Mercury Playback Engine that leverages the power of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) of a compatible nVidia graphics card. This means that for processor intensive operations, such as using highly encoded video formats, you’ll get real-time performance even after stacking on layer after layer, each with effects and color correction.

For a quick speed test, we compared the frame rates of an identical project on the same computer in CS5 with GPU acceleration enabled and in CS4. We stacked six layers of various HD video formats that included two HDV, a DLSR and graphics MOV, AVI and, just for fun, an F4V. Each had at least three different effects, and four had additional motion and scaling. After hesitating for 10 seconds before starting, the playback in CS4 slowly climbed to 2.5 FPS. After a two second delay, the playback in CS5 was real-time without any dropped frames. Be sure to look for our next review where we’ll have more benchmarking results.

Beyond performance gains there are also plenty of new feature and capabilities. Premiere Pro now has improved support for AVC-Intra and it natively handles AVCCAM, XDCAM HD 50 and DPX along with those from popular DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D and even monster 4k Red R3D files. Some of these format capabilities were not yet included in the pre-release version we reviewed. You can now import and export Final Cut Pro and Avid projects using XMP and AAF data respectively. Along with the other programs in the suite, there are plenty of new metadata configuring and exporting options. And, at last, auto scene detection for HDV files is here.

With CS5, metadata becomes a much stronger thread used to weave together the functions and workflow of the suite. You now can bring shots from Story through OnLocation into the Premiere Pro library with all script information embedded in the clips. While Speech Transcript was a promising tool introduced in CS4, if you have a script to begin with, this is a far more accurate way to handle your narrative throughout the production pipeline. The new Analyze Content feature lets you sync your script with what was actually spoken making a transcript far more accurate than analyzing from scratch with Speech Transcript alone. You can then search or set in and out points based on the script, which become edit points in the timeline. When you’re ready to output, you can bring as much or as little of the metadata into your final program as physical or online media where it can be used to create interactive and searchable productions.
There are a number of small workflow enhancements, like dragging a clip in Premiere Pro onto the New Item icon now automatically creates a timeline with the correct settings for that asset. You can also render your timeline to your final output format without leaving Premiere Pro, although you still have the option to open the Media Encoder render queue. Dynamic link remains a solid render-free conduit between Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Encore. Adobe says this version of Dynamic link is faster but our tests revealed only minor differences exporting, importing and updating.

Effects get a real upgrade as well. Premiere Pro now has a much-improved keyer called, Ultra. It is powerful, simple to use and the quality is very comparable to the sophisticated Keylight keyer within After Effects. It is also GPU accelerated so you don’t have to worry about the performance hit normally associated with keying. You’ll now find folders at the top of the effects panel grouping effects into Accelerated, 32-bit color and YUV camps.

It may be sign of a maturing program that Premiere Pro’s layout is only slightly reconfigured. You’ll now find the tools docked horizontally along the upper left corner. Of course, panel arrangement remains completely customizable.

Sound Booth

The improvements in Sound Booth are welcomed, but not as earth shaking as some of its suite siblings. You can now work more flexibly in multi-track view with the new track expand and zoom capabilities. We found we could comfortably navigate 10 tracks with visible waveforms, instead of just the four or five tracks in the static CS4 timeline. Of course, by minimizing each track and scrolling, your track counts can surpass the ridiculous in either version. You now have an easy way to pan and zoom in and out of your project using a slider at the top of the main window. You also can download and drag and drop files right into the timeline rather than having to import into your file system first.

CS5 does give you a hefty amount of new audio assets; 130 scores and more than 6,000 new sound effects (totaling 10,000). These are valued at approximately $700 if purchased separately.

After Effects

Like Premiere Pro, the big news for After Effects is the improved playback and rendering performance. 64-bit memory addressing allows you to work with much larger files and create longer previews if you have the RAM. For instance, our test machine has 32GB so instead of 5.5-seconds of full resolution HD video with 4GB, we were able to produce a 111-second RAM preview. Although this did take several minutes to render, it is at least possible to preview your timeline within After Effects.

The new Roto Brush is similar to the quick select brush in PS. There’s a refine matte function that automatically reduces chatter and attempts to account for motion blur by adding a softer edge for that area. It also attempts to clean up the interior of the matte using Decontamination. In our tests, Roto Brush worked well extracting our subject that had sufficient contrast from the background. It was a bit more finicky when we tried pulling our subject from a background that was similar in tone and brightness. But this is to be expected. CS5 comes with a new version of the Mocha Shape plug-in that gives you improved tracking and more rotoscoping options.

A few other key improvements include now being able to work in HDR (higher color bit-depth like 32) along with incorporating advanced color management look-up tables (LUTs). After Effects is now natively compatible with AVC-Intra 50 and 100 formats and, like Premiere Pro, has expanded support for RED files. Dozens of other improvements and enhancements tools and processes suggest that Adobe has been both innovating and listening to us, the end-user. To ensure continued compatibility and stability, some changes include removing the ability to do things past versions could, such as opening/importing FLV files encoded with Sorenson Spark codec or projects from After Effects 5.5 projects or earlier.


Media Encoder and Encore

Media Encoder gets some welcomed improvements. The most obvious are the addition of a small window that lets you monitor the encoding process and more options in the Preferences dialogue. Of note, you can optionally have your queue start automatically when your system has been idle for a user-defined time. You also now have more metadata embedding options and control of your shared memory allocation for After Effects, Premiere Pro, Encore and Media Encoder from within the Preferences dialogue.

Because all video and effects must still be rendered before final output, the Mercury Playback Engine and CUDA acceleration also speed along the encoding process even though the GPU is not doing the actual encoding. In our encoding speed test, we found that a five-minute project with two layers of HDV video and three layers of motion graphics, each crammed with effects, encoded to an MPEG2 Blu-ray file in five minutes and four seconds with CS5. The same project took 16 minutes and 22 seconds to encode on the same computer using CS4. This was largely due to the CPU optimization. The CS5 encode used an average of 96 percent of the CPU cycles while the CS4 encode only used 38 percent.

There are no big changes for Encore. It does, however, have more options for incorporating metadata when creating media for the web, making it more discoverable, searchable and potentially far more interactive.

Supporting Cast

The Production Premium suite also includes Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, Flash Professional, Bridge, Device Central and a new program, Flash Catalyst, that helps you design interactive content. We will look at each of these in our next review. For now, we can tell you that Photoshop, while previously 64-bit, realizes some substantial performance gains. Photoshop also has some cool new 2D and 3D paint and extrusion tools along with the very innovative Content Aware Fill that automates much of the removal of unwanted objects, filling the space with relevant background imagery.

Decision Time

If you are a professional or just an impatient amateur, the improvements in speed alone may well be worth the upgrade. Unless you already have one of the recommended nVidia video cards, you will need to get one to take full advantage of the Mercury playback engine and GPU acceleration. Thankfully, the CS5 Production Premium suite is the same price as CS4.

CS5 is faster, more stable, integrated, packed with new and improved features and makes metadata, collaboration and distribution a robust part of Production Premium. The bottom line: if you don’t already have an earlier version of the suite, take a serious look. If you do, prepare to upgrade.

Tech Specs

Windows Processor: 64-bit Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 (Intel Core-2 Duo or AMD Phenom® II recommended); Intel Core-2 Duo or AMD Phenom® II required for Adobe Premiere Pro
64-bit operating system required: Microsoft® Windows Vista® Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 1 (Service Pack 2 recommended) or Windows® 7.

  • 2GB of RAM (4GB or more recommended)
  • 1280×900 display (1280×1024 recommended) with qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card, 16-bit color, and 256MB of VRAM
  • Adobe-certified GPU card for GPU-accelerated performance in Adobe Premiere Pro; visit www.adobe.com/go/ premiere_systemreqs for the latest list of supported cards
  • 7200 RPM hard drive for editing compressed video formats; RAID 0 for uncompressed
  • Adobe-certified card for capture and export to tape for SD/HD workflows
  • OHCI-compatible IEEE 1394 port for DV and HDV capture, export to tape, and transmit to DV device
  • Sound card compatible with ASIO protocol or Microsoft Windows Driver Model

Mac OS: Multicore Intel® processor with 64-bit support

  • Mac OS X v10.5.7 or v10.6.3; Mac OS X v10.6.3 required for GPU-accelerated performance in Adobe Premiere Pro
  • 2GB of RAM (4GB or more recommended)
  • 1280×900 display (1280×1024 recommended) with qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card, 16-bit color, and 256MB of VRAM
  • Adobe-certified GPU card for GPU-accelerated performance in Adobe Premiere Pro; visit www.adobe.com/go/premiere_systemreqs for the latest list of supported cards
  • 7200 RPM hard drive for editing compressed video formats; RAID 0 for uncompressed
  • Core Audio-compatible sound card

Strengths

  • Speed, speed, speed. Improved
    stability, workflow and collaboration.

Weaknesses

  • Hardware purchase(s) may be required to realize full performance gains.

SUMMARY

CS5 is among Adobe’s most significant upgrades to the Production Premium bundle ever.

Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer, and lecturer.

Adobe Systems, Inc.

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www.adobe.com

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