By Neil Bennett | on October 16, 2003
Price When Reviewed: 525 . 169
Premiere is back from the brink. Just when it looked like the video-editing product should be put out of its misery, it has been given an injection of vitality. Actually, a Steve Austin-style rebuilding would be nearer to the truth, and finally we can take Premiere seriously again. Once, Premiere was revolutionary. However, it’s easy to forget that the big factor in the software was that a basic knowledge of Office, DTP tools, or Photoshop was enough to get you started, making it an ideal first NLE. With cheap tools such as iMovie filling this niche now, Premiere’s interface has grown up. Premiere Pro feels a lot more like a professional editing tool now. Its stark Office outlines have been softened and made to look more like Final Cut Pro or an Avid program. Of course, this doesn’t really affect how you work. It’s about making you feel like you’re using the same tools as a Hollywood editor, even if you’re putting together a corporate video for Wernham Hogg, with David Brent backseat-editing with you. Fortunately, it’s not just about look-&-feel. Premiere has always been much more mouse-driven than the shortcut-based workflow of Avid systems, and the Pro version builds on this. More tools can be pulled and pushed with the mouse, rather than requiring values to be typed in. It’s not quite up to the drag everything approach of Edition, but it’s getting there. Premiere Pro’s interface is more flexible than before. This extends from the addition of History and Effect Control palettes and the overhauled Project window, to more minor features such as the oft-requested ability to have different heights on different tracks. The History palette is a direct steal from Photoshop. It serves exactly the same purpose, providing a list of each user action that the editor can then restructure, copy, paste and delete from in a more open way than the traditional linear undo/redo process. It works well, but we’re not sure just how useful it will actually be. Its main flaw is that you can easily end up with a confusing list of the same editing commands (such as Add Transition), without knowing how it refers to which part of your work. The Effects Control usually sits as a tab on the same pane as the Source monitor, though you can pull it out separately if you have a dual-screen setup. It’s like having a basic version of After Effects within Premiere. Down the left column are rows listing the effects applied to the selected clip from the timeline, while the right column contains a short timeline showing the duration of the clip. Keyframes are added to this timeline, as in After Effects. Each clip has Motion and Opacity effects. The Motion effect should herald the end of the fiddly picture-in-picture method of overlaying scaled video on another clip. Here you just scale or rotate the overlaid clip and keyframe it as you wish, with sub-pixel accuracy providing smooth motion. The ability to manipulate overlaid clips by dragging them in the Program monitor to create motion paths is great. You can drag their bounding boxes to change their size. The Effects Control palette and the associated Motion effect are already available in tools such as Xpress DV/Pro and Edition (soon to be Liquid Edition), but it’s a welcome addition to Premiere. However, Premiere Pro’s implementation lacks the bézier curve-drive controls over acceleration/deceleration found in those other packages, and the editor is confined to using the more restrictive Ease In/Ease Out, Convex or Concave keyframe types. The palette can also be used to edit transitions. This is less useful overall but effective with complex transitions with multiple parameters. Project streamlining The Project window looks rather different than before, and it’s not just cosmetic. The Storyboard view has been combined with the old Icon view to create a grid-driven storyboard – but it’s unlikely to be much use. The List and Thumbnail views have been combined to create a list with thumbnails, which makes sense. More importantly, editors have access to extra information such as scene, shot/take and client – and can choose which columns you see. A great feature is the ability to add your own columns, which can be text or checkboxes. There are many minor enhancements, such as live timecode display, colour labels, and details in the preview window of how many times a clip has been used in a project. The Effects window has been integrated into the Project window, though you can pull it back out again if you wish. Again, this pulls Premiere Pro into line with Final Cut Pro, Xpress Pro, and Edition. The greatest overhaul in Premiere Pro has been given to the Timeline. Multiple tabbed and nested timelines and the move away from two-track editing are the main changes. However, there are a large number of minor additions. Tabbed timelines improve efficiency, and nested timelines move away from Premiere’s difficult Virtual Clip system. This facility turns Premiere into a decent long-form editor, making tasks like combining media from multiple editors and applying effects or boilerplates to entire sequences easy. Each nested sequence is accessible with a double-click. Premiere Pro sees the demise of the A/B method of editing associated with older versions. Premiere gained the option of more efficient, pro NLE-style single-track transition editing in version 6.0. Dropping A/B editing has enabled Adobe to open every track up to transitions. Now, adding transitions to composited media such as keyed scenes is much easier. As well as the flexibility of being able to adjust individual track heights, editors can change thumbnail, keyframe, and opacity marker visibility on a clip-by-clip basis. Through well-implemented Ctrl-click and Alt-click commands, it’s now possible to overwrite clips with a single click, copy-&-paste non-contiguous clips, and trim multiple edit points at once. We liked the automatic creation of a new track if you drag a clip into the dark-grey empty area in the timeline. As well as the A/B editing style, the timeline has lost most of its tool buttons. They haven’t been canned, but placed in a separate floating palette that’s always above the windows. Again, this makes moving the windows around to suit how you’re working easier. Changes have been made to the Monitor window, and a separate Trim window has been added. Both the Source and Record monitors now support multiple tabs, and the Source monitor can display titles and audio files as waveforms – great for precise trimming. In the mix Premiere’s audio mixer has been given a spruce up, with the ability to control voiceover capture to the timeline. It adds abilities such as the application of effects to entire audio tracks, track submixing, real-time pan-balance, and 17 more VST audio plug-ins. Overall, Premiere has gained support for 24-bit, 96KHz audio files, sub-frame audio editing (up to 1/9,600 of a second) and multi-channel audio. This requires a sound card with support for ASIO (Audio Stream In/Out), such as Creative’s Audigy 2. Unlike previous versions, Premiere now has a colour toolset to rival Final Cut Pro and Xpress DV/Pro. It comprises of two effects, Colour Corrector and Colour Match, plus an extensive series of monitors. These include vectorscope, waveform, YcbCr parade, and RGB parade. These tools are available at all times, unlike in some packages that only let them out during capture. The Colour Corrector effect offers three-point colour correction. The list of criteria you can manipulate is thorough. The adjustable tonal ranges are impressive, so you can set the levels of shadows, midtones, and highlights. The Colour Match effect is similar to Avid’s Match Colour tool. It matches the overall colour cast of a clip to a reference clip. However, it’s not as impressive as Avid’s tool, and can’t correct more than one clip at once. As well as the front end, Adobe has been working on Premiere’s core engine. The real-time engine has been given an overhaul and the colour engine has been altered to provide native support of YUV video. Adobe claims that this keeps colour consistency better than conversion to their RGB engine and back, and improves performance. There has definitely been a noticeable leap in real-time performance over version 6.5. However, it’s still behind Xpress Pro and, most of all, Edition in the real-time power race. The addition of native YUV does have one detrimental effect, as Premiere Pro now uses Adobe’s own new DV codec, and this makes it less forgiving of dodgy video files – something for which Premiere was well known. Premiere Pro gains greater integration with other Adobe tools, including After Effects 6.0 and Encore (to be reviewed in Digit 68). Moving projects to AE works well, but only the beta of Encore was available as Digit went to press, and this crashed Premiere Pro. Photoshop integration has been simplified to make it easier to bring in layer documents flattened or as stacked layers on the timeline. Adobe has improved import and export controls. The capture window can now specify target bins and provide disk space information. Premiere Pro can import and export projects in AAF format, which allows them to be shared with supporting systems up to million-pound Quantel systems. As well as the MPEG encoder for output to DVD authoring tools, Premiere can also output direct to DVD, including burning the disc. The most obvious omission from Premiere Pro is the Mac version. However, when it comes to performance, Adobe needs to work with Intel, AMD, and Microsoft more closely if it wants to match Apple’s close integration of hardware and software. Premiere Pro is a huge leap forward for the application. It won’t tempt back users of more expensive packages such as Final Cut Pro or Xpress Pro, but if you’re a current Premiere user thinking of jumping ship, Premiere Pro should keep you hanging on. It’s a great tool for anyone taking their first steps into video editing from another creative profession – though Edition is just as good, if not better, for the novice editor.