Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5: Web Video Is Better, but Not Perfect
At a Glance
Premiere Pro CS5.5
GPU acceleration helps Premiere Pro CS5.5 offer unmatched performance, but the Web-video features could still stand some improvement.
Adobe Premiere Pro has moved up to CS5.5, adding new features and bolstering GPU acceleration. Last year, Adobe's introduction of GPU acceleration to its Premiere Pro video-editing application produced an incredible speedup of editing and rendering tasks, and no other video editor has since answered with any significant GPU-acceleration features of its own. But the big story this year, for many people, is how to produce video for the ever-changing Web--and in that regard, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 still has some strides to make. (Pricing as of June 26, 2011, is $799 for the full version and $179 to upgrade from the CS5 version. Premiere Pro CS5.5 is also available by subscription for $39 per month based on a one-year plan, and it's included in various editions of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5.)
Video Files, in Triplicate
HTML 5 support is one of the biggest features that Adobe touts in Premiere Pro's suite mate Dreamweaver CS5.5, and one of the most important HTML 5 elements is the use of a <video> tag. Unfortunately, because Internet browsers--even the newest ones--vary wildly in their support for video types, Web designers who want to use HTML 5 in their layouts will have to embed code linking to multiple formats, the idea being that whichever browser you're using will read through the code until it finds a format it likes. But Premiere Pro CS5.5 doesn't support two of the most HTML 5-friendly video formats, WebM and Ogg; as a result, if you're using Premiere Pro as part of a Web workflow, you'll either need to find other conversion tools or continue to fall back on Flash video output.
You can't instruct the Media Encoder application that ships with Premiere Pro to output multiple files at once, either. With this new version, however, you can drag sequences (video projects) from Premiere directly into Media Encoder to get them rolling, rather than using menu commands. You can create customized presets in Media Encoder, too, so that once they're queued up there, you can choose a preset for each sequence and click just one more button to begin processing. Premiere and Media Encoder have new presets for outputting tablet-friendly video, as well.
Similarly, Premiere Pro CS5.5 has an improved Watch Folder feature: You simply drag a folder to Media Encoder, and whenever you add something to that folder, the application begins rendering it, even if it's in the background. You can create multiple Watch Folders and set each to output different file types, and once again you can set them up to encode whatever is saved there to your preferred output format. But wouldn't it be nice if Premiere Pro generated the proper HTML 5 code for you, or if it expanded on its Dynamic Link feature (which currently lets you share projects between Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects) to dump the code into Dreamweaver?
Also new to Premiere Pro is captioning support, a welcome addition. Because many organizations--especially government agencies and organizations that accept public funds--are required to be compliant with the Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1993, closed captioning and transcripts are necessary for both offline and online video content. Furthermore, because of a law passed in October 2010, any television programming delivered online--even on a smartphone--must be accompanied by closed captioning. Premiere Pro CS5.5 now supports the import of closed-captioning files (in 608 format for analog TV, and in 708 format for digital TV). However, you cannot export closed captioning to an output file using only Premiere. If you need to embed closed captioning, you must purchase a third-party card or an external box, such as one of the models made by Blackmagic Design. I tried it anyway, just to be sure, by outputting a file with embedded closed captioning in Flash format and again in MPEG-2 format, and then uploading the files to YouTube, but the closed-captioning text didn't survive the trip.
As with the previous version, Premiere Pro CS5.5 has speech analysis for generating dialogue, and you can point the application to a transcript file to improve the accuracy of the speech analysis. The new version will also let you attach an Adobe Story script, and as a result you can edit based on text cues you set up in Story, rather than by only visual ones in Premiere Pro--meaning that you can search the dialogue for those words or phrases and see the words as you scrub through the timeline. This dialogue seems like a logical source for closed captioning, but if you want to convert it to closed-captioning text, you have to export it into another application such as CPC CaptionMaker.
Everything but the Sync
For many video projects, getting good-quality audio is a challenge--using the microphone on your camcorder just doesn't work if the person speaking is at the front of a room full of chatty people, and you're stuck way in the back. A new Merged Clips command in Premiere addresses the problem. You can synchronize up to 16 audio clips to a single video clip, and you can use in points, out points, time code, or numbered markers as sync points.
You can use a clapper box to generate a sound on all of the audio-recording devices; and when Premiere pulls in the tracks, it uses the clap noise as the common in point on all the tracks. Then you can use the Merged Clips command to combine the synchronized clips if you want, and you can preview the combined clip in the Source monitor. It's similar to using Photoshop's Merge Layers command, except that you can view the metadata of the entire composition or that of each component. Another new feature in Premiere Pro CS5.5 is the ability to insert or overwrite multiple clips with one of these merged clips.
The Mercury Playback Engine introduced with Premiere Pro CS5 produces phenomenal performance gains, but only if your computer has a supported Nvidia-based graphics card. Adobe has added several more cards to the list of supported models, bumping the total to about 20 cards, and these days you can find some that aren't outrageously expensive. Premiere Pro CS5.5 also adds more GPU-accelerated effects and other features.
I rendered a complex project containing multiple .mxf files and mostly GPU-accelerated effects and transitions using software only, and Premiere Pro CS5.5 required a little over 19 minutes to complete the task. But once I turned on the GPU-acceleration feature, the application required only 3 minutes, 46 seconds. Scrubbing through the timeline is smooth and effortless with the GPU features turned on--no prerendering required.
By my count, 41 effects are now GPU-accelerated (up from 36 in the previous version), and they now include the often-used Additive Dissolve effect and a new Film Dissolve effect. Some workflow features are newly accelerated too, including Interpret Footage (for matching up media that has different frame rates, pulldown order, or pixel aspect ratios, for example), speed-change operations, and features for adjusting field order, interlacing, and flicker removal.
Premiere Pro CS5.5 also has improved support for high-definition RED files, including a slew of settings that you can access when importing raw footage (similar to Camera RAW import settings for digital still shots in Photoshop). As in the previous version, the Mercury Playback Engine provides the ability to adjust the monitor playback resolution, which is useful if your computer isn't powerful enough to play back demanding files such as these.
Made for Speed, Not the Web
The benefits that Premiere Pro CS5.5's GPU acceleration provides are amazing, and so far no other application can touch it in sheer performance. But many people who are dealing with video destined for the Internet (I'm one of them) could use a little more help than Premiere Pro CS5.5 offers.