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Adobe Comes Back to Mac: Checking Out Adobe Premiere Pro CS3

Adobe has updated and improved its entire software lineup with the introduction of the Creative Suite 3 products and software collections. Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 marks the company’s return to nonlinear editing on the Mac and will spark the most interest among video editors. PC users already know this, but for Mac users who might have left Premiere back in the 5.0 or 6.0 days, Premiere Pro was introduced a couple of years ago as a totally rewritten application. The CS3 version is the 3.0 software update to that rewrite.

Premiere Pro CS3 comes as a standalone product or as part of CS3 Production Premium or CS3 Master Collection. If you purchase only Premiere Pro CS3, the package will also include OnLocation (formerly Serious Magic’s DV Rack) and Encore, Adobe’s DVD authoring application. Together they provide a complete suite for production, post and distribution. Opting for the CS3 Production Premium suite adds Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, After Effects, Soundbooth, Flash Professional, Bridge, Ultra and more. In short, if you plan on updating at least two of these applications to their new CS3 versions, it makes more sense to upgrade to the whole suite.

If you plan to run CS3 Production Premium on a Mac, you’ll need a newer Intel machine because Premiere Pro, Encore and Soundbooth are Intel-native applications. The Web and design products, like Photoshop, are Universal and run fine on Intel and PowerPC processors, as well as on PCs with Windows.

OnLocation provides the Mac user with an interesting option. Adobe chose to include this Windows application in the Mac bundle because Mac users can run it under Windows XP with Boot Camp on the same machine as the Mac version of Premiere Pro CS3. OnLocation isn’t tied to the CS3 suite, though, and can also be installed separately on a different PC for field or studio use as a signal monitoring system and hard disk recorder. It works with an incoming FireWire-based video stream—recording Premiere Pro-compatible DV or HDV files straight to the computer with advanced functions such as buffered recording.

Premiere Pro CS3: Mac OS X vs. Windows XP

I’ve reviewed Premiere Pro a number of times in the context of articles on Matrox’s RT.X2 and Axio cards, so it’s important to understand how the Mac and PC versions differ. Unlike Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro uses a plug-in architecture that is more open to the installation of codecs, effects and other add-ins supplied by a hardware partner. In the case of the Windows version of the product, Premiere Pro can edit AVI and QuickTime media files, but as an example, it can also use MPEG-2 codecs installed as part of a Matrox-configured Windows system.

Premiere Pro CS3 on the Mac works only with QuickTime, so the media files from a project that started on a Matrox Axio system using MPEG-2 files won’t be readable on a Mac-based Premiere Pro CS3 system. When you install Premiere Pro on a Mac, its presets are configured for the default QuickTime codecs available under OS X. Final Cut Studio 2 installs additional QuickTime codecs, such as Apple ProRes 422, DVCPRO HD and XDCAM HD. These formats aren’t optimized for Premiere Pro, so media files captured by Final Cut using such codecs may or may not play well without rendering if you import them into an Adobe project.

Apple owners now have the option of using Premiere Pro CS3 with hardware from AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox (MXO only). By the end of the year, you’ll be able to run most AJA Kona or Xena cards on a Mac Pro system using Kona drivers plus “Xena for Mac” plug-ins. This combination will allow both Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 to take advantage of the same card.

In addition to QuickTime media, Mac users will be able to use every Windows Xena file type except AVI inside Premiere Pro CS3. Animators will be pleased to know that this includes a whole range of image sequence file types like DPX, TGA, BMP, YUV and TIF. In the case of Matrox, their MXO 2.0 drivers shipped in May and are compatible with both Final Cut Pro and Adobe applications. Matrox reports that their Quality Assurance department is currently validating CS3 for official support, so Mac users should expect to be able to use MXO with both Final Cut Studio and Creative Suite 3.

The Test Drive

I had a chance to run various beta versions of Premiere Pro CS3 on different Mac Pros and even one of the 17-inch MacBook Pros with the higher-resolution screens. In all cases, I found the application quite stable and, in fact, a bit more stable than the last full-release Windows version that I’d run on an AMD-powered HP workstation. All of the Adobe apps gained a bit of a face lift. They feature dockable and tabbed windows with streamlined disclosure submenus at the corners. The brightness can be adjusted in most so you can tone down an overly bright interface. This last feature is a big plus for me over Final Cut. Much of this has already been available in Premiere Pro, but new for CS3 are bins that can be opened separately (like FCP or Avid). Each includes a new Spotlight-style Find line to search or filter bin contents.

For newcomers on the Mac or PC side, Premiere Pro includes a good multi-camera editing routine and sophisticated color-correction tools. In case you skipped the 2.0 update, Premiere Pro sports a Project Manager tool for media management that can trim the amount of unused media, collect files and copy them to a new location. Premiere Pro CS3 offers an elegant interface, solid performance and the best integrated audio mixing tools of any NLE at any price. You can mix 5.1, edit audio at the sample level and mix with subgroups, so it surpasses even quite a few DAWs. The only NLE that even comes close is the very expensive Avid DS Nitris system.

The biggest new effect is Time Remapping, which has been added directly to the timeline. I found this to be the easiest-to-program speed ramp effect in an editor. Keyframes can be added and adjusted from the timeline, including the range of the ramp at the speed changes. This effect relies on frame blending to achieve the visual results, so if you want more organic speed ramp effects, use the advanced Time Warp filter from the effects palette. This is the same as from After Effects and uses Pixel Motion interpolation. The quality looks great, but I didn’t find it as useful because it limits the duration to the clip’s original media length. I was unable to slip or trim the clip in the timeline enough to reach the end of the clip after applying the Time Warp filter. Despite frame blending, I found Time Remapping to be far more user friendly.

A big selling point for Premiere Pro CS3 is interoperability among Adobe applications. This is the tightest integration with After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator, and if you buy CS3 Production Premium, you gain Dynamic Link and Bridge. The latter is a straightforward asset management application to track and sort media. Bridge is launched whenever you choose Browse from any Adobe application. After Effects compositions dropped onto a Premiere Pro timeline are kept “live” via Dynamic Link. When changes are made in After Effects, the composition is automatically updated within the Premiere Pro sequence.

DVD Authoring

Encore CS3 is part of any package that includes Premiere Pro CS3. It’s a solid authoring application with the best Photoshop integration available, but Final Cut users will like it because it gives them a way to author Blu-ray DVDs. In fact, you can use Encore to encode and author standard DVDs, Blu-ray DVDs and interactive Flash projects from a single project file. In addition, you can author simple one-off DVDs straight from the Premiere Pro timeline.

The Rest of the Package

I had been skeptical about the market for Adobe’s return to Mac editing, which is dominated by Apple’s Final Cut Pro; however, Premiere Pro CS3 is a worthy competitor. After Effects users will feel right at home in Premiere Pro. In fact, I suspect many Premiere Pro users on the Mac will be die-hard visual effects compositors who need video support but aren’t really interested in buying Final Cut Studio. On the other hand, there are plenty of Final Cut users who will see the value of having the tools offered in CS3 Production Premium and might just end up using Premiere Pro as their secondary NLE. Reasons to do this might include better interoperability with After Effects, direct-to-DVD authoring or use of Adobe’s Clip Notes review-and-approval feature. Regardless of your needs, Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 adds features you’ll want to use, and many editors will make it their preference after just a single project.