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DV Native
Web Aware
Photoshop 6
After Effects 5
Premiere pros and cons
Photoshop pros and cons

Adobe Premiere 6.0, Photoshop 6.0 and After Effects 5.0 reviewed

by David Fox

Adobe Premiere is the world's most popular nonlinear editing package. Adobe claims it has 65% of the editing market in terms of units shipped and is second only to Avid in terms of revenue. This is hardly surprising as its software is often bundled with video hardware by Pinnacle, Matrox and others (that is how 53% of its users get it).

However, Premiere 5 has been around for a couple of years and was crying out for an upgrade. Especially on the Mac, where Apple's own Final Cut Pro had set new standards in the low-cost professional league. It had also been left behind by the DV revolution and the need for many content creators to be able to output video easily to the Web. Adobe believes that more than half of existing Premiere users already use DV (it was 46% when it conducted a survey last year), and that some 70% want to publish video on the Web (59% when the survey was done), so its new mantra is "DV in, Web out."

With these improvements, version 6 has brought Premiere back into contention again. It's not perfect and doesn't compete on all fronts with FCP (which has just had a speedy new update of its own). However, considering its lower cost, and cross-platform ability, it will undoubtedly hold its place as the most popular NLE.

For people getting into video editing, whether on a PC or who have outgrown Apple's iMovie, Premiere is now a much better prospect. I've never been a fan of earlier versions, which compared poorly on features or ease of use with Avid, Media 100, FCP or, more recently, Fast purple. For people in the business, this was what it had to compete with, and not just on price.

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Native Cunning

Anyone shooting on a DV camcorder with a FireWire (IEEE1394 or Sony iLink) output will be delighted to discover that Premiere has not only gone DV-native, but it makes video capture quick and easy. There is a list of 60-plus camcorder models to pick from, giving optimised device control without any setting up. Previously Premiere could only control DV cards using custom software, but OHCI (the Open Host Controller Interface standard introduced by Microsoft in Windows 2000) has simplified this.

You can then set up a batch capture (also simplified), spooling through the tape, setting in and out points, telling it whether it is anamorphic, 16:9 or 4:3, Pal or NTSC. The batch capture list (a tiny text file) also means that if you return to a project later having wiped the images from the hard drive, it can automatically re-assemble the clips. Then you can build a storyboard, something Premiere lacked, and transfer it to the timeline with the clips in their correct order.

This Automate to Timeline command forms part of Premiere's most delightful feature. If you are editing to music, place the audio on the timeline. Listen to it while clicking the mouse button each time you hear a beat you want to edit to. Then drag your assembly of clips from the storyboard onto the timeline and the edits will appear on the beat. Within minutes of capturing your clips, you have done what could take hours on another system. Of course, you'll probably have to tweak each clip, slipping it backwards or forward within the set times to get the right edit, but that is relatively quick and simple. Anyone who regularly edits sequences to music will love this.

There is also a more logical project bin, which can work as a text or icon viewer, allowing you set keyframes for each clip. It has drag and drop bin management and can also do database management (e.g. sorting by timecode). Markers can be used more efficiently now. You can put a comment in each marker and, when you place the cursor over it, it displays what is in it.

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Added Simplicity

The interface in general has been significantly improved. Some widely used features used take five clicks. To unsynchronise audio and video required a journey through the dialogue boxes. Like many other features, it is now a single click. You can also customise the workspace to how you like to work, and when you move from capturing to editing to mixing your audio, you won't have to keep resizing windows each time to see everything properly as, mercifully, you can save each type of screen layout you require and switch between them.

You can now choose between Premiere's traditional A/B editing or a single-track timeline, which may be more familiar to users of some other NLEs - although it hasn't added the multiple-timeline capability of FCP.

However, Adobe's survey revealed that 68% of Premiere users never used video before. Many of these had a graphic arts background where they would have used Photoshop. They should appreciate the changes made to Premiere's interface, which make it simpler and more familiar to users of Adobe's other products. It now has a History palette, like Photoshop, significantly improving its ability to undo and redo edits and effects (up to 99 layers from 32 previously), an Effect Controls palette like After Effects, and a Transitions palette, which makes it simple to apply and organise transition effects.

If you import files from Photoshop, After Effects or Illustrator, you can call up each application from within Premiere to edit the original - which you'll need to as Premiere doesn't allow you edit individual Photoshop layers, for example.

Premiere now supports After Effects filters, and includes 25 of them, like Drop Shadow and Directional Blur, although it doesn't support custom AE effects, such as those using colour wheels. It doesn't have a dedicated effects track. Adobe wanted to include one, but ran out of time. However, there is a new keyframe track in the Timeline where you can set keyframes to apply effects more precisely.

With real-time hardware costing less, users won't have to wait around to do effects like dissolves, overlays and titles. The titler remains the same as on 5.1, but two additional titlers, Inscriber CG and Pinnacle TitleDeko are now included for additional effects. To speed up rendering (by up to 80%), Premiere 6.0 can take advantage of dual-processor equipped G4 Macs, with decompression and compression done alternately on the second processor in QuickTime.

Premiere now has its own audio mixer for the basics (pan, gain, mute/solo, levels). You can do a mix as you play the music using the on-screen faders, or adjust levels within the timeline - which now shows more usable audio information. There are 99 audio tracks, eight mixable in real time. It also supports split-cut edits, where you can give video and audio tracks different in and out points.

The package also includes Sonic Desktop's SmartSound software, which can fit a 30 second music clip into 22 seconds (automatically creating a reasonable sounding edit from library music). An hour's worth of royalty-free SmartSound-encoded library music is included on a separate CD.

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Web Aware

Previously, Premiere users couldn't finish a job for the Web without rendering the video and exporting the footage to software like Sound Forge for audio or Media Cleaner Pro for the Web. Now Save To Web launches Media Cleaner EZ to encode material to multiple streaming rates without having to save intermediate files. It also has advanced Web output using plug-ins developed for it by Microsoft and RealNetworks, so that users who know what they are doing can optimise the encoding and set up a template so this can be done in future using a single click. It also has the standard QuickTime controls added in Premiere 5.1.

You can also select events on the timeline to automatically launch HTML links during Web streaming, a capability that can be enhanced in Adobe's GoLive (or in Cleaner 5).

It also supports all the main streaming media applications, Real, Windows Media and QuickTime, as well as MPEG and MP3 Audio.

In terms of DV capture (and export back to tape if your camcorder has DV in), storyboard editing, audio, Web output and editing to music, Premiere is probably the best low-cost NLE on the PC and offers a real alternative on the Mac. If you have Premiere 5, upgrade now. If you never liked Premiere before, it might be worth another look.

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Photoshop 6.0

Photoshop is the leading image editing tools. Although primarily aimed at still images, many video projects use it (and even film thanks to its high resolution). It is especially useful for animation, and you can do colour correction, add all sorts of effects and do keying on multiple frames using batch processing.

Now it too has been upgraded to work better with the Internet, making it simpler to output directly to the Web without having to use other conversion tools.

The interface has been simplified and it has added powerful new vector drawing tools, a much needed new type-engine (which can be used directly on the image rather than having to enter text in a dialogue box - text is then separately distortable), new image slicing tools, new image warping and distortion effects, a new context sensitive option bar (which cuts down on screen clutter), the ability to turn on and off sets of layers, and rollover styles (in the upgraded Web utility, ImageReady 3.0). You can also save Layer Styles, making it simple to add the same complex effects to other images.

It is an extremely powerful compositing tool (up to 8,000 layers - which can be colour coded and grouped to help you make some sense of it). There are a whole raft of usable effects, including the new Liquify tool which allows you do selective warping which can run the gamut from very subtle to alarming and, thanks to a Reconstruction brush, all the way back again.

If you already use Photoshop, you will want to upgrade (although you'll have to relearn several things, especially in the Layers menu, where some commands have new names). If you are working principally with moving images, then Pinnacle's excellent Commotion or the updated After Effects may be more suitable for some applications. You'll probably want them all....

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After Effects 5.0 (Beta preview)

With Premiere's added effects, improved effects control and its keyframe ability, some may think After Effects isn't as necessary as it used to be. But, the software Adobe claims is used in some 75% of installed compositing units, has been upgraded too.

It has been given improved multi-layer control, a greater range of 2D and 3D effects, enhanced Web support and can manipulate higher quality images for HDTV and film use. The Standard version, contains the core 2D and 3D compositing and effects tools. The Production Bundle adds high-end features, such as 16-bit per channel colour support for HDTV.

Users can now do 3D compositing, mix 2D and 3D layers in a single composition, create and animate lights and cameras, and define shadow characteristics. Individual layers can be animated using parenting rules where the child layer inherits transformations applied to the parent.

Expressions allows users define relationships (automatically or using Java Script) between parameters to create procedural animations without keyframes, linking how one property works to almost any other on any layer.

New effects include shatter, radio waves (for ripples), Vegas (for neon outlining or flashes), and Colorama (for pulsating colour). Masks can now be created as you work, drawn directly in the Comp window (making it easy to adjust them relative to other layers), motion blur can be added, and feathering easily adjusted. When changes are made, intelligent caching means only frames changed are re-rendered, for faster previews. Layers can be manipulated interactively, and it drops resolution if necessary, so you can see changes as they are made. Editing has also been streamlined.

Media management has also been improved, making it simpler to adjust the stacking order of layers, find source material, and make best use of memory and storage. It is also easier to output to different Web formats, such as Macromedia Flash animations, AVI, QuickTime and Microsoft DirectShow, and you can embed URLs in Web output, including specific layers. Compressed audio output (MP3 and QuickTime) is also supported.

The Production Bundle adds vector paint tools to reveal an image over time, an Onion Skin mode for painting animations from frame to frame, and wiggle controls to help create a hand-animated look. New PB effects include: Inner/Outer Key (to more easily extract an object from its background), Fractal Noise (to simulate organic backgrounds or create fractal textures or mattes), and an Optics Compensation effect, to add or remove lens distortion.

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Premiere 6.0 pros and cons

- adds native DV capture and makes it easy
- wonderful new ability to automate editing to music, combined with new audio mixer and bundled SmartSound software
- improved ease of use and better integration with Photoshop/After Effects
- lots of new Web features

- not perfect, but for the price it is such an improvement that there is little to quibble with

Price (plus VAT): £396 (upgrade £105)

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Photoshop 6.0 pros and cons

- much improved text handling
- new effects, better layers control
- improved ease of use and less screen clutter
- better Web provision

- there is too much clicking to be done to change between tools (a single toggle to switch between any two tools would be nice)
- zoom unavailable when using Liquify

Price (plus VAT): £399 (upgrade £125)

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After Effects 5.0

Price (plus VAT): Standard version £450 (upgrade £130); Production Bundle £999 (upgrade £189)

DEC 2000 © 2000 - 2010

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David Fox