Driving the Engine
At IBC, Adobe announced that the BBC was adding 2,000 seats of Premiere Pro software for its news-editing operations. According to Karl Soule, technical evangelist of dynamic media for Adobe, the demands of high-end broadcast outfits such as the Beeb partially steered the development of the CS5 suite itself, which was released in April.
The story of the new releasefrom Adobe and professional users I've interviewedhas been the suite's raw performance power. In that way and others, the CS5 release adds to the rising professional profile that Premiere Pro has enjoyed in recent years. Old perceptions die hard, but no longer is the software a rarely used tool for a creative professional who might spend the bulk of her workdays editing images in Photoshop or creating graphics in Illustrator. Nor is Premiere Pro CS5 a mere stepping stone for a neophyte editor who will soon graduate to a "more professional" application such as Avid Media Composer or Apple Final Cut Pro.
Two keys to Premiere Pro CS5's boost in raw power are the suite's exclusive embrace of 64-bit hardware architecture (which facilitates the addressing of infinitely more system RAM, theoretically) and the introduction of the Mercury Playback Engine, which I explained in detail earlier this year. To boost playback of high-resolution clips including raw 4K video files, the Mercury Playback Engine leverages the processing power of both the system CPUs and of GPUs housed on Nvidia graphics cards. For IBC, Adobe announced the release of CS5 version 5.0.2, which adds to the initial batch of supported Nvidia cards; newly qualifying are Nvidia's new Windows-only GeForce GTX 470, Quadro 4000, and Quadro 5000.
I should note now that neither these nor the initial batch of qualifying cards fit in laptops. Soule explained to me that the amount of RAM housed on the graphics card is a common sticking point for the mobile market: Many cards host 500MB of RAM, but a video card should have 768MB for Mercury playback. That's not to say that enterprising laptop editors haven't coaxed some mobile Nvidia cards to work with the Mercury Playback Engine; Soule explains that it's just that Adobe hasn't yet lent its stamp to these marriages. "Why don't we open it up to everyone out there?" he asks. "The majority of our user base is professional, so if we say it works, it has to." Dropped frames are not an acceptable outcome, nor are playback hiccups or overheated graphics cards.
As newer and better graphics cards hit the market, expect Mercury playback support to expand. Besides qualifying a larger variety of cards, Adobe is also focused on refining the playback engine's performance at the high end. Version 5.0.2, for instance, adds 10-bit color output straight from supported Mercury GPU Quadro cards on the Windows side, with no need for any separate video playback hardware. (You do need a 10-bit-capable monitor, of course.) As professional users gain access to new features such as this one, many rethink their capabilitiesboth from within their editing software and of their business as a whole.
By day, Tim Walton is an editor with KVIE, the PBS affiliate in Sacramento, Calif. The station employs Final Cut Pro software for editing, and Walton in his free time co-runs the FCP User Group in Sacramento. He has used the Apple software since its 1.0 version in 1999. For his current feature-length documentary project, however, Walton has turned to Adobe CS5 and Premiere Pro.
The project lays out the history of Squaw Valley, Calif., which was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. For Squaw: The Documentary, Walton chose to shoot in 4K with RED cameras, aiming for a large-scale, IMAX-like visual style that could do justice to the beauty of the snowy mountains. Walton wanted to edit and manipulate the high-res clips in their raw form, and so he was reconsidering his editing tools as he undertook the documentary. On his previous system, a G5 tower that ran FCP 6, Walton would have to convert 2K files to ProRes 422 to open them on the timeline, which required a render. "Final Cut is at its core just a QuickTime editor," Walton says. "If you're not dealing with QuickTime files, you have to convert them."
So for his current 4K project, Walton invested in a new Mac Pro tower with 16GB of RAM and Adobe CS5. Premiere Pro CS5 would allow Walton to edit raw R3D files natively and thereby color-correct the clips at the level of raw data. Using the RED plug-in within Premiere, "I can open up those RED files in Adobe and scene by scene and shot by shot color-correct right on the timeline," he says.
The Mercury Playback Engine, by assigning the workload to the GPU of the Mac Pro's Quadro FX 4800, enables Walton's system to play back his 4K files "in realtime or close to realtime" while the system's CPUs are performing other video-related tasks. ("I do have to work at a slightly lower-resolution: quarter-size," Walton says. "It's still 4K size. While it's playing, it's just a little bit softer.") Besides when exporting sequences, the only rendering Walton has had to suffer was when he opened the project in After Effects and created titles. "I did RED native color correction, round-tripping to Soundbooth: none of that renders," he says.
For DV3 Productions, based in Wilmington, N.C., commercial spots, web shorts, and independent feature films are a family affair. Working alongside his sister, father, and brother, Obin Olson serves as director, editor, and director of photography for DV3. For editing, Olson has used Premiere Pro since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s, with version 4.2, but he has used other NLEs such as Avid and Final Cut in the meantime.
Over the course of that time, Olson has fully embraced the desktop-editing paradigm. "We haven't had a mastering deck in probably seven years," he says. Like Walton, Olson considers color correction crucial, and the Mercury Playback Engine is allowing him to execute tasks in that before simply were not possible. "I'm very picky about my color," he says. "I need masks and layering in the right order so that mathematically it looks good."
The editor's current system is an HP Z800 with 16 threads spread across dual quad-core processors, and Premiere Pro CS5 is his online editing application and hosts his primary color-correction plug-in, Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Looks. (DV3 also employs the standalone Assimilate Scratch.) He uses Premiere's native color tools as well. "It's all packaged within the [Premiere] timeline," he says. "It saves significant time and trouble vs. going to a third-party color-finishing program. Using RED raw files, I tested a bunch of stuff I didn't like. It acts like a high-end color-grading suite with the precision of the effects—it looks really slick."
Typically DV3 shoots and postproduces each project in which the small company is involved; its current project, Witness Insecurity, is an exception. On this project Olson freelanced as a camera operator, and DV3 is handling postproduction. He describes a title sequence that he and his brother, Amariah, created on the timeline of Premiere Pro—"something I would normally do in [eyeon Software] Fusion and [Adobe] After Effects," Obin says. With the Mercury Playback Engine in effect, brutal rendering times were no longer an issue. Amariah Olson dropped onto the timeline XDCAM, QuickTime, RED raw, and DSLR clips—all at 1080p and with color effects. "It's so satisfying for us to be on the timeline with two 42in. displays, one fullscreen," Obin Olson says. "There's this visceral feeling when you have a really high-end image and you're doing some really aggressive color-timing, and it's pixel-accurate, and it sizzles. It looks so good you could touch it— you could blow it up to 900ft. wide."