Price When Reviewed: £459 plus VAT
Premiere 6.5 is a mixed bag. It has some important new features that, on their own, justify the cost of the upgrade. However, there are other aspects of this version that suggest some major tidying up is due when version 7.0 comes along. There are also a number of differences between the Mac and Windows versions of the program – to the point where we’re almost tempted to give the two versions different ratings. Fortunately – and to save us having to write two separate reviews – the most important new features are the same on both platforms. For professional video-editors, the most important change in Premiere 6.5 is the addition of software-based real-time previewing. Admittedly, Adobe is playing catch-up here – Apple’s Final Cut Pro has offered real-time software preview for several months – but Premiere’s real-time previewing works well. Users can preview all of Premiere’s effects and transitions in real-time, whereas Final Cut Pro is limited to a specific set of transitions and effects. Premiere can also combine multiple effects and transitions, which is quite impressive, and you can preview work either on the computer screen or on an external monitor. The problem with software-based previewing, of course, is that it relies on your computer’s main processor to do all the rendering work. This means that the speed of the machine becomes an important factor. A PC running at about 1.5GHz, or one of Apple’s dual-processor Power Macs should be able to handle real-time previewing pretty well. On slower machines, the real-time preview will, in Adobe’s words, “degrade gracefully”. This means that the frame rate and image quality will drop and, in practice, you probably can’t get away with using this feature on any machine that runs at less than 500MHz. If you’ve an older machine that’s a bit on the slow side, there’s still a case to be made for buying a system (such as the Matrox RT.X100) that includes additional video processing hardware to speed up rendering. Buying one of these is less expensive than buying a brand new Mac or PC, but if you’ve a machine running at 1GHz or more, you may well feel that you simply don’t need additional hardware. Title Designer The second major improvement in Premiere 6.5 is the program’s new titling module, which is rather grandly referred to as the Adobe Title Designer. Like the old titling module, the Title Designer runs in its own self-contained window. It’s rather like having a miniature version of Illustrator running inside Premiere. On the left of this window is a toolbar that contains text and drawing tools similar to those in Illustrator. Users can create horizontal or vertical text, or flow text along a path. Over on the right-hand side of the window are additional tools for modifying properties such as the font size, tracking, leading, and kerning. Stroke and fill properties can be altered too, adding options such as gradient fills, sheens, and even imported bitmap textures. To help you get started, there are a number of predefined text styles displayed on-screen, and almost 200 layout templates that can be imported at the click of a button. You can select roll, crawl, or still titles from a simple pull-down menu or create more complex animations by using the keyframe animation options in the main Timeline window. There’s also a handy Show Video option, which can display specific video frames in the background so you can match colours or check the positioning of text and graphics. It may be long overdue, but the Title Designer is a big improvement over previous versions of Premiere. It’s powerful and easy to use, and in many instances will eliminate the need for additional titling software. DVD differences Another overdue improvement is the inclusion of some sort of DVD-authoring capability in Premiere. But this is where things start to get a bit messy. There’s a good MPEG-2 encoder in Premiere 6.5. Or, to be more specific, there’s a good MPEG-2 encoder in the Windows version. It’s actually licensed from a German company called Main Concept. And to provide authoring features, Adobe has bundled a cut-down version of Sonic Solutions’ DVDit! software. This is a basic program, more suited to the hobbyist market than Premiere’s professional user base. The fact that Adobe has had to go out and license all this DVD technology makes it seem as though Adobe has been caught completely on the hop by the emergence of DVD technology. Mac support The Macintosh side of things is even worse. The MPEG Encoder and DVDit! are available only with the Windows version of Premiere. If your Mac came with a SuperDrive DVD burner, you can use Apple’s free iDVD program to convert work into MPEG-2 format and burn DVDs. But iDVD only works with built-in SuperDrives, so Mac users that have third-party DVD burners could be in trouble if their drive didn’t come bundled with its own encoding software. In that case, you’ve little choice but to stump up cash for DVD software such as Apple’s £800 DVD Studio Pro. Premiere’s new audio tools also vary in the Mac and Windows versions. The basic audio mixer built into Premiere is the same for both platforms, but the Windows version also includes three DirectX plug-ins that provide reverb, EQ, and gain controls. Mac users get an entirely separate audio editor – SparkLE. There’s nothing wrong with any of these tools, but the inconsistency between the Mac and Windows versions of Premiere could cause a problem for people who work in a cross-platform environment. The inconsistencies and the poorly integrated DVD features mar an otherwise strong upgrade. Adobe has acknowledged that this veteran program is in need of a major overhaul, which is likely to appear with version 7.0. Even so, it would be wrong to dismiss version 6.5 as a mere stopgap. The real-time preview and Title Designer aren’t revolutionary, but they’re powerful improvements that will quickly earn their keep and justify the cost of the upgrade.