Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 is more stable, offers better work flow

When Premiere Pro debuted on the Mac as part of Adobe CS3, it was as though Adobe took the license plate off that old moped in the garage and put it on a hot new motorcycle.

With Premiere Pro CS4 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ), Adobe continued to retool the program and retrofitted the Mac version to more closely match the Windows package. The latest version of Adobe’s professional video editing program doesn’t look much different at first glance. But taking it for a spin reveals that most of the work went into the engine.

Premiere Pro CS5 sports the Mercury Playback Engine, a software mechanism that improves the program’s performance–especially when paired with a qualified GPU. And like some other programs in CS5, Premiere Pro has become a native 64-bit application, shattering the RAM limitation imposed by 32-bit programs.

Other features include expanded tapeless format support, scalable playback resolution, the Ultra chromakey effect, better still frame export, and the ability to export directly from Premiere Pro. But apart from enhanced performance and stability, the most notable new feature is how Premiere Pro CS5 fits into a workflow that integrates new software and services.

Adobe Story

CS4 expanded the Premiere Pro package to include OnLocation and Adobe Media Encoder–programs dedicated to the beginning and the end of the video creation process. CS5 extends its reach into the pre-production phase with a script creation and collaboration program called Adobe Story, which is still in beta.

As an Adobe Air-enabled online service, Story allows multiple writers to edit or comment on the same document. Visible tags identify who makes a change and when. You can also work in offline mode, locking the online version of the script to prevent collaborators from making changes before you upload your updates. Collaborating and saving scripts online is free. But after a year of complimentary service, Adobe plans to charge for its various online services. The fee–and whether users will be willing to pay it–remains to be seen.

Story’s interface is spare but intuitive. After selecting a template for, say, a screenplay or two-column A/V script, you can use a context menu to select formatting options: a scene header, dialog, and so on. Story checks spelling and prompts you to save unfamiliar words into a custom dictionary.

Clearly, Story wasn’t designed to compete with a full-featured program, such as the venerable and expensive Final Draft ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). Instead, it’s aimed at writers who want a simple scriptwriting program that permits remote collaboration. And Story succeeds, especially for an initial release. But even if you write scripts with another program, you can import them into Story to take advantage of its real selling point: its role in a metadata-enhanced workflow.

Script-to-screen workflow

Starting with Story, metadata is passed from one program to the next, automating tasks at each step. When imported into OnLocation, the Story script generates a shot list consisting of placeholders, a process comparable to a traditional script breakdown. Once you execute the shot list, OnLocation can link the media to the corresponding placeholders–uniting their metadata, as well.

By utilizing the original script as a guide, Adobe Media Encoder can transcribe the speech in each clip far more accurately than it could in CS4. In Premiere Pro, the ability to search clips according to their metadata transcripts expedites the editing process. The metadata is even retained in a Web DVD exported from Encore, so that the viewer can search the online video according to keywords.

The workflow these features promote favors script-driven projects that use tapeless media. And the preproduction tasks they automate aren’t replicated in every detail. For example, whereas a traditional script breakdown would generate a shot list that includes all of a scene’s coverage–cover shot, close-ups, reaction shots–OnLocation only lists a shot for each scene heading in the script. So an assistant cameraperson will still have to modify the shot list manually. And because speech-to-text relies on a reference script for accuracy, ad-libbing is discouraged. Transcripts are accurate enough to be truly useful, but are still as difficult to edit as they were in CS4.

That said, implementing this workflow could save time and present new possibilities. Other workflows could benefit, as well. An interview-driven documentary doesn’t have a script, but a manually generated transcription would enable the speech-to-text feature to produce metadata accurate enough to help an editor sift and edit hours of footage.


Premiere Pro CS5‘s most significant improvements are under the hood. As a native 64-bit application, Premiere Pro CS5 can address more RAM, enabling it to handle large projects better.

New code also went into the creation of Adobe’s touted Mercury Playback Engine. Equipped with this new playback and rendering mechanism, CS5 outperforms CS4 hands down. The performance gains are even more striking when you pair the Mercury Playback Engine with a qualifying GPU–specifically, an Nvidia graphics card with CUDA technology. While the software handles standard playback, the GPU accelerates the most common effects.

Unfortunately, there are currently only two qualified GPUs available for the Mac, and both are non-standard upgrades to Mac Pros only. (Two other compatible cards were announced recently, but are not available yet.) It’s a worthwhile investment, especially for editors working with Hi Def content. But editors with laptops or shallower pockets will have to settle for the performance boost available through software only, without accelerated effects.

A new option in the Source and Program monitors permits you to set their paused and playback resolution, settings comparable to the comp resolution setting found in After Effects. This way, you can trade image quality for smoother playback. Unfortunately, Premiere Pro CS5 didn’t also adopt After Effects’ ability to display the actual playback frame rate.

On a Mac Pro with a speedy RAID, CS5 played back R3D 3K anamorphic footage smoothly when the resolution was reduced to 1/4–hardly noticeable in the relatively small editing monitors. The same setting achieved smooth playback with three layers of video containing effects. With hardware acceleration enabled, a few more GPU accelerated effects could be added without hindering playback. In CS4, you could set the playback (but not the paused) resolution by installing a separate R3D plug-in. With it, CS4 could get similar performance from the same footage–but only at 1/8 resolution.

Less demanding footage–say, video from a Canon 5D MarkII–played smoothly in CS5 at full resolution, even when there were multiple layers with effects. CS4, in contrast, could play back only a single layer smoothly without rendering a preview. It’s a safe bet that editors will value CS5’s superior performance over any other new feature Adobe could offer.

New features

But although performance and reliability were the priorities, this release does include some welcome new features.

In CS5, the Capture panel permits you to monitor audio levels, and its scene detection feature now works with HDV. However, it retains CS4’s inability to display an HDV image.

Consistent with other programs in the suite, a new Options panel accommodates editing tools along the top of the interface and includes a convenient pulldown menu for selecting a workspace. A CS Live button serves as the gateway to Adobe’s new online services.

Borrowing another trick from After Effects, Premiere Pro lets you drag a clip to the New Item icon to create a sequence based on the clip’s attributes–taking the guesswork out of choosing sequence settings. The ability to remove a gap in a sequence by simply selecting it and pressing the Delete key is another small but enormously useful tweak. A useful Extend Edit feature lets you quickly shift a clip’s edit point to the Current Time Indicator. But to use it, you have to map a keyboard shortcut yourself.
Premiere Pro CS5 includes the Ultra keying effect, previously unavailable on a Mac. Ultra pulls a very good key with little effort, and with the right GPU, it’s hardware-accelerated. So although Ultra doesn’t have the parameters of After Effects’ Keylight effect, switching or dynamically linking to After Effects won’t necessarily be worth the trip.

With CS4, users gained batch export via the Adobe Media Encoder, but lost the means to export from Premiere Pro directly. It also became a hassle to export still frames. CS5 restores a direct export command and, thankfully, adds a button to the Source and Program monitors that makes it easy to export the current frame.

Premiere Pro CS5 can import XDCAM HD50 and R3D files (CS4 required a R3D plug-in). It can also import and export DPX and Panasonic AVC-Intra 50 and 100 formats. In fact, Premiere Pro’s capacity to natively play back more formats than any other editing application is a key selling point. And Adobe’s zealous support for DSLR formats is exceptional. A Final Cut XML export option facilitates project sharing with Apple’s popular editing program.

A few of CS4’s features that required attention–the titler, 3-point editing procedures, Trim panel responsiveness–remain neglected. And CS5 drops one feature: Clip Notes, the PDF-based export option that assisted in a collaborative review process. It’s slated to be replaced by Adobe Review, the CS Live online service that will soon integrate with Premiere Pro. As with Story, it’s unknown how much it will cost to subscribe to Adobe Review after the complimentary service period expires.

Premiere Pro continues to ship with OnLocation, Encore, and Adobe Media Encoder. OnLocation’s enhanced logging features enable you to create and modify a shot list (including those generated from a Story script) more easily. Productions working with tapeless formats can use OnLocation’s measurement tools to spot check clips for problems, while those using tape-based media will appreciate its ability to display DV, HDV, and DVCPro natively. In addition to new export options and an improved clip analysis feature (which includes both speech-to-text and face detection capabilities) the Adobe Media Encoder includes several small improvements that make choosing export settings easier.

And as alluded to earlier, an Encore DVD or Blu-ray project can generate a Web DVD that retains not only navigational interactivity, but also metadata the viewer can use to search the online video. Encore can also delegate transcoding tasks to Adobe Media Encoder while you author–a feature even more significant when you consider that Media Encoder received a 64-bit makeover whereas Encore did not.

Buying advice

Although Story is a welcome addition to the Creative Suite and a logical extension of Adobe’s vision to promote a metadata-enhanced workflow, for most users, it doesn’t merit an upgrade to CS5. However, the productivity increase attained from Premiere Pro CS5’s 64-bit construction and Mercury Playback Engine does. Editors using Hi-Def content from tapeless formats shouldn’t hesitate to upgrade to CS5, especially if they can make a corresponding upgrade to their RAM and GPU. But even without a souped-up Mac Pro, the benefits of upgrading are worth the cost.

[Antony Bolante hosts’s Premiere Pro CS4 Essential Training and the documentary he’s co-producing, on the nOse, has completed principal photography.]

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