Adobe has released version 5.5 of its Creative Suite of design and art applications across print, digital and motion media -- and it should be available next month. Users of Photoshop and Illustrator will be disappointed with a lack of new tools as these have been barely upgraded – they’re still called version 5, not 5.5 -- but there’s a lot to like on the interactive and video side.

The primary focus of the 5.5 upgrade, says Adobe, is to build in support for technological developments in the wider world -- such as tablet-based digital magazines, HTML5 on the web, and stereoscopic video production. The company is moving from a 18-month release cycle to releasing ‘.0’ upgrades every two years or so -- with interim releases allowing them to more quickly respond to new technologies, it says.

The only addition to Photoshop CS5 is that now it can communicate with other devices over a network. This offers some intriguing possibilities, and Adobe has showed us a series of iPad apps that take advantage of this. They're different from the ones shown by Adobe at Photoshop World. That was a creative tool similar in some ways to Photoshop on an iPad, while these are less complex and require access to a full version of Photoshop on Mac or Windows to function properly.

Easel is a simple painting app similar to the Brushes app, but from which you can send ‘sketches’ directly to Photoshop. Color Lava is a colour palette creation tool similar in principle – if not in interface – to Adobe’s Kuler system. It can send schemes over a network to Photoshop. Nav allows you to use the iPad as a control surface for Photoshop, enabling you to quickly jump between tools. However, all of the apps shown are prototypes – and Adobe hasn’t said when they will be available.

InDesign CS5.5 (above) sees the formal introduction of what are now called the Folio Producer tools, which are used for creating interactive publications for the desktop and tablets. Previously available in beta, it has already been used for digital editions of magazines such as Wired. With InDesign CS5.5 the Interactive Overlay Creator application has become a panel within InDesign – making creating and adding elements such as controllable video, slideshows, panoramas and web content much easier.

Adobe has also attempted to make creating ePub-format ebooks easier. A new Articles panel (right) allows you to place elements from a layout in the order you want them to appear when exported as a single-threaded ePub file. There’s support for dynamic image resizing so one ebook will work across devices with different resolutions.

After Effects (below) sees the greatest number of new creative tools of any of the updated products. The Warp Stabilizer filter offers image stabilisation without having to manually select tracking points. For areas that are missing at the end of frames, the filter can either zoom in to crop these out, or recreate the areas based on other frames. The Warp Stabilizer can also remove motion artefacts.

 

AE CS5 shipped with Imagineer Systems’ standalone Mocha for AE for motion tracking, which is still bundled with CS5.5 and features an updated interface. Adobe says that the Warp Stabilizer is based on its own technology.

Depth-of-field effects such as bokeh can be created using the new Camera Lens blur filter. Cameras can be turned into stereoscopic 3D rigs – which creates nested compositions of left and right eyes (so you can output left and right videos separately) with controls over stereo depth and distance. You can also view stereoscopic content using the 3D Glasses effect, which allows you to preview how your comps will look using active or passive stereoscopic glasses, such as Nvidia’s 3D Vision system (though this is Windows-only) – or blue/red anaglyphic glasses.

AE 5.5 also gains better controls for lighting falloff; support for time codes, more video formats including native footage from Red cameras, and more LUTs. Adobe has also announced that a future update to AE will allow you to save out projects usable in older versions of AE, with newer effects replaced by placeholders as with projects featuring missing third-party plug-ins.

 

Premiere Pro 5.5 (above) gains support for keyboard shortcuts from other editing tools such as Final Cut Pro and Media Composter to make moving from those applications easier, and the Merge Clips command for quickly matching video to audio recorded on separate devices. The Media Encoder has been give a 64-bit makeover for better performance, can act as a central renderer for video including rendering AE comps, and can run on a server using watch folders.

Soundbooth CS5 has been discontinued by Adobe in favour of adding many of its key features to the more full-featured audio editor Audition (below) – which rejoins the Creative Suite after not being part of CS5. A Mac version of Audition is now available, and both platforms gain a new playback engine, multichannel support and more. This could be seen as an odd choice, as one of the reasons Adobe gave for removing Audition from CS5 was that the simpler Soundbooth was more focussed on the relatively simple tasks, such as audio clean-up, that video editors and motion graphics artists want to do.

On the web side, the focus is on HTML 5 and designing for multiple devices. Flash Pro 5.5 includes better content scaling for when a project is output at resolutions for the iPhone and iPad, for example. You can quickly rasterise Symbols for better performance on mobile devices. Other new features include copy-and-pasting layers, and better handling of code snippets.

Dreamweaver CS5.5 (above) gains the Multiscreen Preview panel, where you can see how your site looks on devices from smartphones to tablets to desktops. Support for HTML 5 includes CSS3 code hinting and support for it in the CSS panel and Live View.

Support for the open source PhoneGap platform in Dreamweaver CS5.5 (above) allows native Android and iOS apps to be created in the web design tool, while new JQuery integration makes JavaScript creation easier.

The application design tool Flash Catalyst includes more control over how interfaces resize on different screen types, a Common Library panel for elements shared with developers using Flash Builder 4, custom-skinnable components and improved interactions.

Upgrades from CS5 cost £317 for Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium, £238 for CS5.5 Design Standard, £278 for CS5.5 Web Premium, and £476 for the CS5.5 Master Collection. Upgrades from CS5 for single products are £143 for After Effects CS5.5, £96 for Dreamweaver CS5.5, £95 for Flash Pro CS5.5, and £143 for Premiere Pro CS5.5. All of these prices exclude VAT.

Adobe has also announced a subscription option for Creative Suite 5.5 and some of its single products. Not available to licensing customers, it’s designed to make it easier for smaller companies to manage costs – or quickly add an extra copy when you’ve got a freelancer in for a big project.

Creative Suite 5.5 Design Standard costs £52 per month if subscribed to for a year, or £79 on a per-month basis. CS5.5 Design Premium costs £72/£108. CS5.5 Web Premium costs £72/£108. CS5.5 Production Premium costs £76/£111. CS5.5 Master Collection costs £116/£174. After Effects CS5.5 costs £39/£63. Dreamweaver CS5.5 costs £16/£24. Flash Professional CS5.5 costs £28/£39. Illustrator CS5.5 costs £24/£39. InDesign CS5.5 costs £31/£47. Photoshop CS5.5 costs £28/£39. Photoshop Extended CS5.5 costs £39/£60. Premiere Pro CS5.5 costs £31/£47.