Adobe Premiere Pro CS5

Adobe is shipping its much-anticipated Creative Suite 5. The video applications are available either as single products or bundled in the Master Collection or Production Premium suite. Most video editors will be interested in the latter, because it includes Premiere Pro, OnLocation, Encore, After Effects, Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, Adobe Media Encoder, Soundbooth, Flash Catalyst and Flash Professional.

The big story is native 64-bit operation for all of the applications, which requires a 64-bit OS (Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Mac OS X “Snow Leopard”) running on a processor that supports 64-bit operation. The upside of this is much better performance, but the downside is that you’ll have to upgrade all of your plug-ins to 64-bit versions.

Concentration on performance

Adobe really honed in on performance. I’m running a late-2009 8-core (2.26GHz) Apple Mac Pro with 12GB RAM. The change from CS4 to CS5 provided noticeably faster launch times and in general, more responsiveness in all of the Adobe applications, but in particular, Premiere Pro.

There have been quite a few “under-the-hood” workflow improvements, but the general editing features have not significantly changed. If you liked Premiere Pro before, then you’ll really love CS5. If you weren’t a fan, then improved performance and the easy integration of RED and HDLSR footage might sway you. I’ve never had any real stability issues with Premiere Pro, but one complaint you often hear is that it doesn’t scale well to large, complex projects. I haven’t tackled a large job with CS5 yet, so I can’t say, but over all, the application “feels” much more solid to me than previous releases.

Accelerated effects

The highlights are the Mercury Playback Engine, more native file and camera support and accelerated effects. According to Karl Soule (Adobe Technical Evangelist, Dynamic Media), “The Mercury Playback Engine is made up of a number of different technologies that use the latest hardware in computers. The three main technologies are 64-bit native code, multicore optimization and GPU acceleration. 64-bit code means that Premiere can access more RAM than before and can process larger numbers much faster. Multicore optimization means that Premiere Pro will take full advantage of all cores in multicore CPUs, splitting processor threads so that the load is balanced and distributed evenly. GPU acceleration uses both OpenGL technology for display playback and [NVIDIA’s] CUDA-accelerated effects and filters for color correction, chromakeying and more.”

Sean Kilbride (NVIDIA Technical Marketing Manager) continues, “By moving core visual processing tasks in the Mercury Playback Engine to CUDA, the [Adobe] team was able to create highly efficient GPU accelerated functions with performance gains of up to 70 times.” Adobe has certified several CUDA-enabled NVIDIA graphics cards, including the Quadro FX 5800/4800/3800 series and the GeForce GTX 285.

Since the Mercury Playback Engine is more than just GPU-based hardware acceleration, you’ll see the benefits of increased performance even with other cards. Karl Soule points out that, “On my 17-inch MacBook Pro laptop, I can edit clips from my Canon DSLR camera natively, without any need to transcode the footage ahead of time. I can also play back somewhere between five to seven layers of formats like AVC-Intra with no problem.”

The Mercury Playback Engine is designed to accelerate certain effects (like color correction, the Ultra keyer or picture-in-picture layers) and formats (like RED or HDV) and in general, delivers more composited layers in real-time. As part of this redesign, the available Premiere Pro effects are marked with icons to let you know which offer hardware acceleration, 32-bit and/or YUV processing. I was able to test CS5 using both my stock GeForce 120 card, as well as a Quadro FX 4800 loaned by NVIDIA for this review. Clearly the FX 4800 offers superior performance, but it wasn’t shabby with the GeForce, either. For example, if most of your work consisted of “cuts-and-dissolves” projects shot on P2, then you’ll be very happy with a standard card.

Real-time

Premiere Pro CS5 now hosts many new, native formats, so you may typically see a yellow or red line over a timeline, but rendering isn’t a “given”.  A red render bar indicates a section that probably must be rendered to play back in real time at full frame rate. A yellow render bar indicates that it may not need to be rendered. If you are exporting to tape, you will need to render these sections, however, in most cases these sections will play smoothly enough to not interrupt your creative flow during editing.

Premiere Pro launches a version of Adobe Media Encoder when you choose to export the sequence to a deliverable file. It’s a full-featured encoder capable of compressing to a variety of formats for masters, web, BD/DVD and more. Mercury Playback kicks in here as well, because all rendering and encoding from Premiere Pro takes advantage of GPU-acceleration whenever possible. Depending on the format and the effects used, rendering with a CUDA-enabled card will be faster than one without this architecture. In order to maintain maximum quality, Premiere Pro CS5 encodes exported files by accessing the original source media. You have the option to use render files as part of the export, but generally these are considered temporary preview files.

A potpourri of formats

Some of the native formats handled by Premiere Pro CS5 include AVC-Intra, H.264, Apple ProRes and REDCODE camera raw. These formats all play smoothly under the right system requirements and Premiere Pro includes a number of corresponding project presets. (Some of these won’t be accessible in a trial mode.) Premiere Pro’s newfound performance doesn’t negate the need for a fast drive array, especially with native RED files.

I tested all of these formats with both the FX 4800 and the GeForce card. All played at least one stream in real-time on either card, but quality varied with the type of media. Premiere Pro throttles performance through its display resolution settings – typically full, half, quarter, etc. The FX 4800 clearly excelled with native RED 4K, playing more smoothly and at a higher resolution setting than the GeForce.

RED is a special case, of course, because thanks to the RED SDK, CS5 adds native control over the RAW colorimetry settings. You can actually edit a 4K sequence in Premiere Pro CS5! In fact, it’s less taxing to work in native 4K than to place the 4K media on an HD timeline, since less scaling is involved this way. Although you can work with native RED raw – and Premiere Pro handles it well – I wouldn’t really want to edit a project this way. For instance, going through the SDK doesn’t give you access to the curves control, as you do in RED’s own software. Second, it’s still a bit touchy. I had problems playing this media with either card in a full screen mode. Lastly, you can change the raw setting by opening and adjusting the source settings for the file, but then it is very slow to update the look within the Premiere Pro project. For RED, I’d still opt for an offline-online editing workflow.

Adobe has been working closely with the BBC to tightly integrate Premiere Pro with P2 media and metadata. AVC-Intra performance was especially impressive. This is a computationally-intensive codec, but even though I was playing from a striped pair (RAID-0) of FireWire 800 drives, 1080p/23.98 files (100Mbps AVC-I) played and scrubbed as if they were DV. Hybrid DSLRs like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II are hot, which Adobe has taken that into account with CS5. H.264 files from a Canon 5D or 7D play quite smoothly in Premiere Pro CS5, so even Final Cut Pro fans may find themselves using Premiere Pro as the first choice when working with these projects.

Premiere Pro’s Media Browser is a handy feature, that lets you find and review native-format camera files on your drives. Navigate to P2, XDCAM or RED media folders on your hard drive. It uses the format-specific folder/file hierarchy to hide the extraneous metadata and proxy folders that are associated with that specific format.

Pushing the Mercury

I put the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 through its paces. I was easily able to build up eight layers of native RED media on an HD timeline, complete with accelerated color correction effects and 2D picture-in-picture layering. The timeline stayed yellow as long as I was in the GPU-hardware-accelerated render setting. Remember, these are native 4K RED camera raw files, so there’s a ton of scaling happening! Since I was only playing the media from my FireWire 800 stripe, clearly the drives couldn’t keep up for long playback, but it did work and would have been better with a beefy drive array. As a general rule, when I could play native RED files at half-resolution with the Quadro card, the GeForce would have to run the same file at quarter-resolution to get acceptable playback.

A more realistic experiment was six layers of Apple ProResLT (with effects on each layer). This played fine in full screen at half resolution using the FX 4800, but started to drop frames at full resolution. Another variation was a single ProResLT layer with four filters (fast color corrector, Gaussian blur, noise and brightness/contrast), which played fine in full resolution as a full screen image. The same clip had to be dropped to half-resolution with the GeForce card.

As an example of how well the FX 4800 handled AVC-Intra, I built up nine layers of a two-minute long 1080p/23.98 clip. This played at full-resolution without dropping frames for the full length of the clip. Only when I added an accelerated effect to each of the nine layers did it start to drop frames, requiring me to drop to half-resolution for error-free playback.

Some bumps

One of the big selling points Adobe offers Final Cut and Avid editors is to use Premiere Pro as a conduit to get into After Effects. Once inside Premiere Pro, Adobe’s Dynamic Link offers superb integration with After Effects. Like CS4, Premiere Pro CS5 can import XML and AAF files. In actual practice, I haven’t had good luck with this. I’ve never been able to successfully bring in a Media Composer sequence and my success with Final Cut XML files has been spotty.

I was able to successfully import an FCP sequence only after I stripped out all effects filters, but then still had odd audio sync issues. The timeline clips were linked to ProResLT and AIFF files that were originally converted files from a Canon 5D camera and Zoom handheld audio recorder. Picture clips were perfectly positioned, but audio sync seemed to come from different sections of the audio files. Inexplicably, when I opened this same Premiere Pro project a day later, the sequence was perfectly in sync. The third day – back to random sync. My suspicion is that the double-system sound files from the Zoom might be the issue here. (EDIT: I did a little more digging and it seems that there is a known issue with Premiere Pro CS5 and AIFF files. Convert the audio files to WAVE format and it appears to fix this problem.)

Premiere Pro writes cache files for each piece of media, including database files and waveform caches. Adobe Media Encoder, Premiere Pro, Encore and Soundbooth share a common media cache database, so each of these applications can read from and write to the same set of cached media files. Premiere Pro also “conforms” all non-standard audio files to uncompressed 48kHz. This includes any compressed audio, like MP3 files, or audio with other sample rates. In the case of the handful of files I’ve been using for these tests, Premiere Pro has already consumed 1.5GB of space for conformed audio. This is by merely linking to files that already exist elsewhere on my hard drives. These files had 44.1kHz audio, requiring Premiere Pro to write new 48kHz audio files, which are used in the project. Generally 10GB of free space will be adequate for cache files and preview render files.

Conclusion

I’ve barely scared the surface, but you can see there’s a lot in Adobe Creative Suite 5. Aside from my few nitpicks, this is very healthy upgrade that provides a number of feature enhancements, but truly delivers on the side of performance. Premiere Pro’s Mercury Playback Engine contains over 30 image processing effects, which take advantage of the NVIDIA GPU’s CUDA processing power, but you’ll enjoy a significant performance upgrade even with a non-CUDA graphics card.

If you’re choosing a nonlinear editor without any preconceived notions, then clearly Adobe is an outstanding choice on either a Windows or Mac workstation or laptop. In addition, vendors like AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox currently (or later this year) will provide CS5-compatible hardware support with their i/o products. Even if you’re happy with another NLE, you’ll find plenty for reasons to pick up CS5 Production Premium and add it to your toolkit.

Written for Videography and DV magazines (NewBay Media LLC).

©2010 Oliver Peters