Premiere Pro CS3

If you remember Adobe Premiere 6.5 (   ), the first thing that will strike you about Premiere Pro CS3 is that it’s an entirely different animal. Although Premiere had been around since the advent of QuickTime, the video-editing program was due for a major overhaul by 2002. To produce Premiere’s successor, Adobe abandoned its cross-platform strategy and focused on developing only for Intel chips. The result was Premiere Pro—vastly improved but Windows-only. Now that Macs run on Intel processors, Adobe is eager to reintroduce its flagship video-editing software to the Mac operating system.

Premiere Pro CS3 has none of Premiere 6.5’s fundamental flaws. It has an efficient interface, employs a more elegant paradigm for transitions, supports multiple and nested sequences, and takes a unified approach to effects. Notable new features include multiple-camera editing, audio mixing with surround-sound support, and the ability to encode for Blu-ray discs.

Premiere Pro CS3 has all the core features required for professional video editing; at the same time, little sets it apart from its competitors. Until it finds a way to more clearly distinguish itself, Premiere Pro’s appeal will lie primarily in its relationship to the other programs in the CS3 Production Premium suite.

Family ties

Generally speaking, video editors don’t wed a workflow to an individual editing program; they choose a family of software products. Apple devotees, for example, don’t have a choice: the company’s video-editing software is available only as part of Final Cut Studio 2. The cross-platform video editor Avid Xpress Pro (   ) offers a clear upgrade path to the rest of Avid’s product line, which has long dominated high-end postproduction. And it’s compatible with Digidesign’s popular Pro Tools audio editor (not surprisingly, since Digidesign is an Avid subsidiary). But it’s much more expensive than Adobe’s video suite. CS3 Production Premium is a bit pricier than Apple’s Final Cut Studio ($1,299)—but along with Mac newcomers Premiere Pro, Encore, and Soundbooth (   ), it includes the venerable Illustrator (   ), Photoshop Extended (   ), After Effects Professional (   ), Flash (   ). (Only the Windows version of the CS3 suite includes Ultra, Adobe’s new keying software.)

The stand-alone Premiere Pro ships with Encore, for DVD authoring, and OnLocation, software that turns your laptop computer into a field monitor and direct-to-disc capture device. Unfortunately, OnLocation isn’t Mac-compatible; it runs only via Boot Camp. This isn’t very surprising; Adobe only recently acquired the company Serious Magic and its Windows-only application DV Rack, on which OnLocation is based. And, only the Windows version of the CS3 suite includes Ultra, Adobe’s new keying software, also from Serious Magic. Until Adobe makes the Mac and Windows packages equal, Mac users may rightly feel neglected.

Otherwise, compatibility with the rest of the CS3 family is one of Premiere Pro’s strong suits. Like the Adobe CS3 design and Web applications, it utilizes Bridge as the command center for browsing and managing assets and communicating between applications. Premiere Pro has commands for launching Photoshop and for exporting to Encore and Soundbooth. One of the most dramatic examples of the benefits of integration is the Dynamic Link feature, which is used to tie Premiere Pro to After Effects. For instance, a comp of a motion graphic you’ve created in After Effects can appear as a dynamically linked clip in Premiere Pro. If you modify the graphic in After Effects, the changes appear in Premiere Pro. Without Dynamic Link, you’d have to export the motion graphic and then import it into Premiere Pro every time you made a change.

Interface

Although you may recognize a few editing tools from Premiere 6.5, Premiere Pro CS3’s interface bears little resemblance to that of its ancestor. Like other CS3 programs, Premiere Pro has dispensed with traditional windows and palettes in favor of tabbed panels docked in a system of interdependent panes that use screen space much more efficiently.

But in some instances, Premiere Pro departs from tabbed panels. For example, Premiere Pro’s floating Capture panel is not integrated into a workspace. And although the Capture panel’s Logging and Settings tabs look similar to the tabs in other panels, their positions are fixed; you can’t manipulate them as you can the rest of the tabbed interface. Because floating panels perform specialized tasks—such as video capture, title creation, and trimming—appearing as separate items doesn’t hinder the workflow. And if you want, you can dock a floating panel manually and then save the new arrangement as a workspace. However, these inconsistencies—which seem almost like vestiges of the program’s past incarnations—make the new version feel a little less fluid than I would like.

Capture

In Premiere Pro CS3, capturing video from tape is a straightforward and intuitive process. Premiere Pro CS3 can usually detect camera cuts—the points at which recording stopped and started—so you can cue to those points or even capture each shot as a separate subclip automatically. But when you’re capturing from HDV, scene detection is disabled. Moreover, on the Mac, you can’t monitor HDV in the Capture panel’s image area; you’ll have to use the device’s video display or an attached monitor. Premiere Pro lacks full native support for some popular HD formats—for example, AVCHD, and DVCPro HD. And so far, importing directly from Sony’s XDCAM or Panasonic’s P2 camcorders is limited to the Windows version. But Adobe is already working with other vendors (such as AJA, Blackmagic, and Matrox) to address the needs of high-end editors and facilities, and now that Adobe offers Premiere Pro on the Mac, its partners will likely follow suit. For example, CineForm is developing a Mac-compatible version of its intermediate HD codec (a trial version of the beta software is available).

Bins

The video assets you capture or import are listed in Premiere Pro’s Project panel. You can sort the items by numerous categories, and organize them into bins (which, despite the folder-like appearance of the icons, are named for their old film-editing counterparts). You can open bins in separate panels and specify whether they are floating or docked. This is particularly useful for projects that have many clips and for editors who like to lay out all their clips at once. The Project panel’s well-integrated search features help you locate specific clips.

Editing

The previous Mac versions of Premiere had fundamental limitations that precluded truly professional projects. Premiere 6.5 clung to an inelegant and outmoded interface that displayed the primary video track split into an A track and a B track, with a transitions track in the middle. Worse, Premiere 6.5 permitted only one sequence per project, making it impossible to create multiple versions of a sequence or to divide your work into sections without starting another project.

The current version deserves its Pro appellation. Following a more elegant, industry-standard model, Premiere Pro’s timeline depicts clips and transitions in a single track, and allows any track to contain transitions. Instead of cluttering the timeline, you can get an A/B roll view of a transition in the Effect Controls panel.

Premiere Pro supports not only multiple sequences but also nested sequences. In this regard, Premiere Pro sequences are similar to After Effects compositions, except that instead of tracks, After Effects uses layers. In fact, aspects of the two programs have become consistent enough that the programs can exchange project information readily, even dynamically.

You can use nested sequences to synchronize footage for editing into multiple-camera sequences, which are easy to assemble and adjust. All the standard editing functions are accounted for: 3- and 4-point editing, ganging monitors, and finding match frames, for example. Drag-and-drop and timeline-editing features are intuitive and efficient. And while you make editing adjustments, Premiere Pro provides ample visual feedback.

The Trim panel works well for fine-tuning a cut, but it could be more seamlessly integrated into the main interface, rather than opening separately. And it’d be great if the Trim panel responded to adjustments more interactively, so that the last adjustment would play without interruption the next time the cut looped.

Media management

Avid’s (and, to a lesser degree, Apple’s) editing packages establish a trailhead that puts users on a relatively clear path to their high-end software and hardware packages. These are aimed at postproduction environments with vast collections of assets shared among multiple users and projects. With Premiere Pro, the path to the high end isn’t quite as obvious—Adobe partners with other companies to address the needs of this market.

Premiere Pro editors working in simpler settings probably won’t encounter problems with media or feel that the program’s media-management features are seriously lacking. For example, the program alerts you when a media file is unaccounted for, and provides ways to locate or recapture it. Commands let you link clips with media or, conversely, unlink a clip from its corresponding source file (and then either retain or delete the file). The Project Manager feature allows you to create a version of a project that trims away references to extraneous footage. Or it can help you move files associated with the project to a new location for archiving. Bridge provides a central location for viewing and managing assets from any CS3 program, and it lays the groundwork for even more integrated media-management features in the future.

Audio

Premiere Pro CS3 supports clip-based audio mixing in the timeline, and track-based audio mixing via the full-featured Audio Mixer panel. As with other aspects of postproduction, the complexity of the audio mix depends partly on your hardware configuration. For example, with the proper sound card and speakers, you can mix for 5.1 surround sound. Premiere Pro interacts smoothly with Adobe’s Soundbooth audio editor, but because it can’t export OMF (Open Media Framework) files, transferring audio for finishing on the industry-standard Pro Tools is difficult.

Titling

Premiere Pro’s titling feature provides all the typesetting tools you’ll typically require, along with the various shape tools and the Pen tool. In addition to static titles, the titler can produce rolls and crawls. You can also animate a title as you would any clip, by keyframing its motion properties. For complex or character-based animations, you’ll have to use After Effects’ impressive text-animation features.

Transitions and effects

Whereas older incarnations of Premiere had separate modules and procedures for transitions, motion effects, and filters, Premiere Pro CS3 takes a unified approach. All effects can be animated via many of the same keyframing procedures found in After Effects. Premiere Pro has inherited other useful features from After Effects (such as time remapping, which enables you to change a clip’s playback speed over time), though you won’t find every feature you may hope for (such as transfer modes). I look forward to even more consistency between the two programs in the future.

Export and DVD authoring

Premiere Pro includes the standard options for exporting to tape or to numerous movie, still image, and audio file types. A specialized export dialog box allows you to use Adobe Media Encoder, which is designed for exporting to formats with more complex settings, such as MPEG2, H.264, Flash, HD, and streaming media formats. In addition, you can test movies encoded for playback on mobile devices—and even test for a particular device—using Adobe’s Device Central. But despite Premiere Pro’s multiplicity of export options, it doesn’t have batch rendering, which could be a real time-saver.

Premiere Pro CS3 ships with Adobe’s professional authoring program, Encore CS3 (which was offered separately when Premiere Pro was Windows-only). Encore, an extremely powerful disc creation tool, may be the most advanced application currently available on the Mac for authoring and burning DVDs.

Adobe’s emphasis on product integration is evident within the programs and Encore’s interface is consistent with Premiere Pro and the other members of the CS3 family. Premiere Pro’s Export to Encore command encodes the selected sequence and opens it in Encore automatically. From there, you can either burn a no-frills DVD or use Encore’s advanced authoring capabilities to create a more complete professional product. Chapter and compression markers you set in Premiere Pro translate to Encore’s timeline. And like its brethren, Encore utilizes Bridge for browsing and importing assets. Encore includes a convenient button for editing menus in Photoshop and Dynamic Linking so you can more easily animate those titles directly in After Effects. Encore’s integrated tools and helpful preset elements make it easy to add interactivity. When you’re done, you can then export to DVD, to Blu-ray, or as a Flash file, so that your DVD content can be streamed from a Web site with all of the DVD’s links and media available exactly as you created it.

Clip Notes

Clip Notes, a tool designed to facilitate collaboration and review cycles among team members, is perhaps one of Premiere Pro CS3’s most distinctive features. Clip Notes lets you embed a draft-quality version of a work-in-progress in a PDF (or link to it from a PDF) that can be sent to colleagues or clients for review. Using nothing more than Acrobat Reader, reviewers can enter time-code-specific comments, which an editor can later import into the project as sequence markers. Clip Notes makes it easy for multiple remote reviewers to make detailed notes—and because those notes are attached to specific points in the sequence, it’s easy for editors to make changes accordingly.

Macworld’s buying advice

Premiere Pro CS3 is a capable, feature-rich video-editing application. Mac users will be pleased that Premiere Pro CS3 is related to Premiere 6.5 in name only, and possesses all the professional features its predecessor lacked. This version has all the functionality of its Windows counterpart, but it falls short of full parity, due to the omission of comparable HDV support, Adobe Ultra, and a Mac-compatible version of OnLocation.

Premiere Pro CS3 is a good value, especially compared with the more expensive Avid Xpress. But although its capabilities and price are similar to Final Cut Pro 6’s, its features alone won’t convert Final Cut Studio’s adherents. Until it gains a stronger reputation on the Mac, Premiere Pro CS3 may depend on the popularity of the more prominent members of CS3 Production Premium suite.

[ Antony Bolante is the author of the forthcoming Premiere Pro CS3 Visual QuickPro Guide and After Effects CS3 Visual QuickPro Guide (Peachpit Press). He is coproducing on the nOse ., a documentary about theatrical clowns. ]

Premiere Pro CS3 employs an efficient tabbed-panel interface, but if you want, you can open bins in separate floating windows.With Clip Notes, reviewers can enter comments into a PDF that contains (or links to) a draft version of a work-in-progress. Imported comments appear as markers in the sequence’s timeline.

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