From its $549 price to its video-editing capabilities, Adobe Premiere stakes out the middle ground between Apple’s free iMovie and $999 Final Cut Pro. Premiere has long been an ideal choice for moviemakers who have outgrown iMovie but can’t afford Final Cut Pro, or who are daunted by Final Cut Pro’s more difficult learning curve.
While Premiere 6’s feature additions and modifications ran the gamut (mmmm; Reviews, May 2001), Premiere 6.5’s are more modest. Still, the new version brings many significant improvements to the table, including support for OS X, an enhanced preview mode, a new titling feature, and new effects filters. But minor bugs and performance problems dampened our enthusiasm for the new version.
Strong Family Resemblance
Premiere 6.5’s interface looks identical to its predecessor’s. The Monitor window lets you view your clips and edited project, the Project window holds your project’s video clips and other assets, and the Timeline window lets you sequence those assets and create transitions and effects. And like previous versions, Premiere 6.5 can work with other Adobe programs: you can move Premiere projects into After Effects, for example, and open Photoshop and Illustrator files in Premiere.
Premiere’s interface is straightforward for beginners but provides keyboard shortcuts that veteran editors (and their wrists) will appreciate. However, we’d like to be able to give Premiere’s windows a muted gray appearance similar to the default display of other professional video-editing programs. Many video pros prefer a muted look because it’s less visually fatiguing during long editing sessions.
As with all previous Premiere versions, a project can contain only one timeline sequence. Most important, this means that you can’t divide a lengthy project into separate segments and then assemble them when you’re done, as you can in Final Cut Pro. While Premiere supports projects as long as three hours, navigating such a lengthy timeline is cumbersome; therefore, Premiere remains best suited to projects no longer than about an hour.
Premiere 6.5 can capture video directly from a FireWire-equipped DV camcorder or through any of several analog capture cards, such as Matrox’s RTMac or Aurora’s Igniter RT. We used a Canon Elura DV camcorder and a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X 10.1.5 to test Premiere 6.5’s capture features.
Unfortunately, the sailing was less than smooth. The video that Premiere 6.5’s Capture window displayed was extremely jerky, making it difficult to log in-points and out-points with precision. (Adobe says that this problem will be fixed in a free update, which should be available on the company’s Web site by the time you read this.)
Moreover, we found a bug: Premiere 6.5 didn’t stash captured movies where it was supposed to. Although the program’s default setting is to store captures in the same folder as the Premiere application, our captures were stored at the top level of our Mac’s internal hard drive. When we reset the capture location to a folder of our own choosing, Premiere 6.5 behaved properly. (Adobe has found that most Premiere users specify folders for captured movies instead of relying on the default setting. Adobe’s tech support reports that this has not been a significant concern.) Also, Premiere 6.5 doesn’t provide a feature for automatically dividing DV footage into separate clips based on scene changes, something even the low-end iMovie can do.
Effects Get Real
One of our favorite new features in Premiere 6.5 is the program’s ability to preview effects, transitions, and filters without having to render them to the hard drive first, which is time-consuming. When Premiere 6.5’s Real-Time Preview option is active, you can simply press the return key to preview an effect.
Premiere 6.5 takes a clever approach to real-time previews. If your Mac is too slow to display an effect in real time, Premiere displays only some frames, giving you an approximation of the effect. This often yields an unsteady preview, but we think that’s a fair price to pay for immediate gratification.
This approach also enables Premiere 6.5 to provide real-time previews on G3 Macs, something Final Cut Pro doesn’t permit. In our testing (in OS X 10.1.5) on a 500MHz PowerBook G3, previews of common transitions, such as cross dissolves, were jerky, and on a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4, dissolves and many other transitions previewed smoothly.
Titles Worth Waiting For
Also making its screen debut in Premiere 6.5 is Adobe Title Designer, a greatly enhanced titling feature you can use to create everything from static graphics to rolling credits. The Title Designer window provides a well-stocked tool palette for creating text, geometric shapes, and even Illustrator-like Bezier paths. Six text tools give you the ability to create text on a curved path, paragraph text (with or without tab stops), and vertically oriented text. Premiere 6.5 also includes 90 Adobe fonts to aid you in your titling endeavors.
We were especially impressed by the array of object-modification options Title Designer provides–you can stretch, squeeze, distort, slant, and kern text; you can fill any object (including text) with a solid color, a texture, or any of several types of gradients; you can add sheen to an object to create a chromelike appearance; and you can rotate objects and change their opacity. What’s more, Title Designer updates its preview display in real time.
As for animation, you can create rolling titles and crawls (titles whose text marches from left to right, usually along the bottom of the screen). You can’t, however, animate individual text elements–for example, you can’t have a piece of text fly in from the left side of the screen.
Title Designer includes dozens of title templates organized into several categories. There are categories for specific types of videos, such as weddings and sports, and for specific types of graphics, such as lower thirds, which appear near the bottom of the frame. You can use the templates as they are, modify them, or create new ones from scratch.
Title Designer is powerful but slow. The first time we opened the window after launching Premiere, it took more than ten seconds to completely appear. Subsequently, it opened much faster, but it still updated slowly when we dragged objects or made other changes. Adobe needs to improve the performance of this otherwise excel-lent new feature.
New Effects and MPEG-2
Premiere 6.5 also includes five new effects from Adobe’s After Effects compositing and motion-graphics program. The new effects include Lightning, which creates beautiful bolts out of the blue; Channel Blur, which lets you blur a clip’s red, green, and blue color channels independently; Blend, which blends two clips together in any of several ways; Ramp, which creates color gradients and blends them with an image; and Twirl, which creates whirlpool effects.
Finally, if you own Apple’s DVD Studio Pro 1.5, you can use Premiere 6.5 to export your video into MPEG-2 format for subsequent DVD authoring. Premiere 6.5 even supports the chapter and compression marker features in Apple’s MPEG encoder. By setting markers in Premiere’s timeline, you can specify where new DVD chapters begin. Making our way to the MPEG-export dialog box required a few more mouse clicks than we would have liked, but once we got there, Premiere 6.5 worked well with Apple’s MPEG-2 encoder.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With real-time preview capabilities, support for Apple’s MPEG-2 encoder, and OS X compatibility, Premiere 6.5 satisfies some critical needs, particularly for people who produce DVDs or edit video in OS X; and Adobe Title Designer is appealing enough to turn Final Cut Pro users green with envy. While Premiere has its limitations–most notably that it supports only one timeline per project–it’s quite capable of handling straightforward, shorter projects, and it’s a good choice if you don’t plan to edit video all day, every day.