Adobe CS5 First Look


Today, Adobe is announcing a refresh to its Creative Suite products, putting the software package at number five.  CS5 offers significant improvements to performance through a variety of updates, not the least of which is a new engine called “Mercury.”  Tim and I have been working with the beta version of the Master Collection suite for several weeks, giving us time to explore the new features and functionality of the programs included.  For our purposes, we’ve constrained our comments to the Production Premium package.

“The need for speed”
CS5 is a milestone update for Adobe because the company has now optimized the suite for 64-bit.  The complete departure from 32-bit for Premiere Pro and After Effects will leave users with older operating systems out in the cold, but will provide noticeable performance gains and more compact file sizes to adopters.  Mac users won’t experience so many woes as Apple’s OS has been 64-bit for some time.  Adobe recommends Windows 7 64-bit as the ideal PC operating system for CS5.  Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and InDesign have all been tweaked to take special advantage of the 64-bit architecture.  Preliminary informal tests have shown that renders in Premiere Pro and encodes in Media Encoder are noticeably faster, however specific benchmarks have not been performed due to the beta status of our software.

Adobe has also developed a playback engine for Premiere Pro and After Effects called “Mercury” which leverages the 64-bit architecture and GPU for especially efficient and powerful.  In a pre-release demo, Adobe demonstrated Premiere Pro playing back seven simultaneous HD streams with live effects without GPU support.  Nine or more were possible with the GPU.

Although Photoshop has been 64-bit since CS4, even it seems to have gotten a little bit of grease in the joints.  There is now a preferences pane for GPU settings, allowing you to tweak the preferences to your desire.  Alternatively, you can use a GPU auto-calibration, which runs a number of tests on a pair of images to determine which settings work best for your system.  I was particularly impressed by a new zoom option called “Scrubby Zoom.”  When this feature is enabled for the zoom tool, moving the mouse left or right while holding down the left mouse button causes the image to zoom in or out rapidly.  This may not sound very exciting, but it is wild to watch.  Not only does the image zoom as quickly as you move, but the resolution auto-scales in real time as well.  The result is going from 50% zoom to 1,200% zoom keeps the image sharp from start to finish.  No more waiting for the software to redraw the screen when zooming in large steps.

Pre-production and production
In the fall of 2009, Adobe introduced a new online/offline application called Story.  Story is a collaborative screenwriting tool that can be used as a web app or offline through their Air run-time.  You can read our review of it here.  During a pre-release tele-conference, Adobe reps claimed that they are not trying to break into the screenwriting software game, but that they are simply trying to fill a niche market and round out their software package.  The biggest advantage to Story, which is included with the Production Premium suite, is its ability to integrate with other programs within CS5.

OnLocation, which is largely unchanged from CS4, can import a shot list from a Story script, making recording with OnLocation a bit simpler.  The transcription feature that was introduced in CS4 can also now reference the Story script to better analyze the speech contained in clips.  We found this new feature to be lacking greatly in our review of CS4, so this modification will hopefully greatly improve the accuracy of transcriptions.

Premiere Pro got a very mild interface update.  The “tools” panel has been moved from the bottom right “vertical” version to a “horizontal” version at the top left.  This was a welcome change to me as I generally find myself only selecting tools by keyboard shortcut anyhow, negating the need to have the tools readily clickable.  The move also affords more valuable real estate where it’s needed next to the sequence panel.

The file-based editing templates have been updated.  Native support for the RED camera’s R3D raw file format has been added and performs adequately.  Although RED users are not normally using the R3D files to edit with, that capability is now included.  We tested this feature with some 4k footage generously provided by Matthew Rogers of Macville Productions.  The screenshots provided are taken from a short film called “Larry vs. the Aliens.”

After Effects maintains its spot as the top motion graphics editor with a new tool called the “Rotobrush.”  This paintbrush works similarly to some of the smart tools found in Adobe Elements software.  You select the foreground for rotoscoping with a standard left click and use the option click to select the background.  A quick swipe over the areas gives After Effects enough information to guess what part of the image you want to select.  You can then zoom in to fine-tune your selection.  Once again, smart algorithms may help save motion picture effects artists from retinal failure related to long-term pixel-level editing.

Soundbooth and Media Encoder both offer minor updates.  Adobe now offers loads of scores for free direct download through the Resource Central panel in the program.  Media Encoder now has an option in the preferences pane that allows for auto-start of encoding queues.  The default time is two minutes after a file has been added to the queue, but the countdown can be tailored to the user’s taste.  This helps to eliminate the time spent waiting for large Premiere Pro sequences to load in the queue just to click “start.”

Adobe says that shipping versions of CS5 should be available in the US in about a month.  Once we get our hands on release versions of the software, we’ll be posting a more in-depth hands-on review with at least one real-world project.

Here's Adobe's press release about the Production Premium suite.
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