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For years now, Adobe’s Premiere has been the chosen non-linear editing (NLE) application of choice for video professionals and enthusiasts alike. However, it has recently been showing signs of age. The question is, has the launch of Premiere 6.5 addressed the shortfalls of version 6? Or will we still be waiting for the elusive version 7 to be released?
A first glance reveals no changes to the user interface, which is good news for those who are already familiar with Premiere -- but perhaps not so good for the newcomer, as it’s a rather daunting front end for the novice. The workspace is still made up of the key windows (project, timeline and preview), with additional panes for effects, transitions, controls and timeline navigation. All of these can be resized, repositioned and even spread across multiple displays if you’ve got a multi-monitor setup, which is a key advantage over most NLEs.
The improvements in version 6.5 are operational rather than visual, and the most important development here is the addition of real-time video preview to Premiere’s feature set. Once an effect or adjustment has been applied to the timeline, the end result can now be seen immediately thanks to Premiere’s new software-based preview engine. It’s a scalable system, which ramps down frame rate and preview resolution depending on the power of your host system and the number and type of effects applied, but is still a massive improvement over its predecessor and will significantly reduce project completion time on a software-only system.
Second on the list is Premiere’s new Title Designer, which replaces the exceptionally basic titler of previous versions with a sleeker and more powerful plug-in. On top of the standard tools like font selection, drop shadowing and outline/underline is a collection of new controls for kerning, tracking and line spacing, rotation, fills, stroking and transparency. And about time, too, given Adobe’s experience of desktop publishing and typography. The speed of rolling and crawling titles is automatically matched to the length of the underlying clip, but you can add keyframes for more specific control over the movement of your titles on screen. As well as advanced control over the appearance of type, Title Designer also provides basic drawing tools as well as an impressive line up of 170 quality templates for those times when being original is just too much like hard work.
If, like the rest of us, you’ve been waiting for an all-in-one capture, editing and DVD authoring package that’s rather more comprehensive than Ulead’s worthy consumer-based products, then Premiere 6.5 is, sadly, not quite there yet. But it’s certainly a large step in the right direction. Adobe’s recent licensing deal with Sonic Solutions has yet to bear fruit in the form of an Adobe-made DVD authoring application, so what you get instead is a copy of Sonic’s DVDit! and Adobe’s new MPEG Encoder plug-in. The former is far too basic to be seriously positioned alongside an NLE of Premiere’s stature, giving the impression that Adobe is treading water until it has something better to offer (perhaps in version 7?), but the MPEG Encoder more than makes up for this.
Eliminating the need for expensive plug-ins like Ligos’s LSX-MPEG, Adobe’s MPEG Encoder lets you produce DVD- or VCD/SVCD-compliant MPEG video files directly from Premiere’s timeline. Novices will be relieved to find DVD, VCD and SVCD presets in the first panel of this new tool, while more experienced encoders will be rubbing their hands over the bit rate, GOP structure, rate control, motion estimation, sequence header and audio encoding options provided. That said, it would have been nice to find manual index frame insertion and AC3 audio export in there as well.
Further changes to Premiere’s feature set are perhaps less dramatic than the three that we’ve already covered, but are still useful, nonetheless. Anyone involved in the creation of Web-based video will welcome the new import function for Windows Media files, which allows you to edit ASF, WMV and WMA files on the timeline and is likely to be another nail in the coffin for RealMedia files -- although you can still export to both formats.
Audio controls have been enhanced with three plug-ins from TC Works, and these allow more advanced control over the dynamics, equalisation and reverb effects of your sound, as well as a slightly glossier graphic front end. There’s not much in the way of new video effects, but you’ll probably want to play with the new lightning tool for a bit, as it’s quite cool despite being of limited use. Also included are the less quirky, but probably more practical Channel Blur, Blend, Directional Blur and Ramp.
It’s immediately clear that Premiere 6.5 is a massive improvement over version 6. But it’s when you start looking at prices that things get a little complicated. Existing Premiere users should immediately spend the £115 (ex. VAT) it’ll cost them for the upgrade, but if you’re stepping onto the advanced NLE ladder for the first time, you may well blanch at the £459 (ex. VAT) price tag attached to the full boxed product. And rightly so, because you can buy a hardware-accelerated video editing card like Matrox’s RT.X10 and get a full copy of Premiere 6.5 (or at least a voucher for it) in the box for £399 (ex. VAT). So which would you buy?
We really like Premiere 6.5, and see it as a welcome update to a product that was starting to fade. However, that’s not to say there’s no room for improvement, and we’re extremely keen to see what Adobe has in store when version 7 is finally released.