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Adobe Premiere 5

The Trials of Being New

By Dennis R. Dimick

Washington Apple Pi Journal, pp. 33-37, May/June 1999, reprint information

Premiere 5 has the makings of a great software program. As the first program to use QuickTime, Adobe Premiere has since become the leading full-featured movie-editing program on the Macintosh. It has been a pivotal creative tool of mine for nearly six years.

The most recent prior revision, Premiere 4.2, proved itself a solid editing platform that offers amazing creative options for making QuickTime movies. If someone said I could use only one program, my choice would be Premiere 4.2.

Greetings: Premiere 5.1 shows you this screen at launch. If you get hold of Premiere 5.0, go to Adobe's website and get the free update file. The updated 5.1 is more stable and useful.

As a result, my expectations have been pretty high for the latest 5.0 release. Nearly every review in the Mac press since 5.0's arrival last spring made me believe the new Premiere's greatness was akin to that of sliced bread.

Perhaps these reviewers got a different program than the one I bought. Maybe their candor was tempered by having received a free review copy, or their publication got loads of advertising money from Adobe. I paid $190 for my upgrade to 5.0 from 4.2.

Premiere 5.0 was rewritten from the ground up, and it has performed like a program released before it was ready. One must assume marketing schedules and quarterly NASDAQ stock market revenue reporting demands drove timing on the new 5.0 version release, not whether Premiere 5.0 was fit.

Adobe Systems last fall released a free Premiere 5.1 update that has improved on the instability, slowness, and poor implementation. It is possible now to say that Premiere 5.1 shows promise.

Now Premiering

My first movie-making experience began with Premiere 3.0 in 1993 on a Mac IIci with QuickTime 1.6 and Sigma Designs' "MovieMovie" card. A year later SuperMac's Spigot II Tape card replaced MovieMovie in my setup. Premiere 3.0 provided the software tools to capture video, and to assemble and edit movies via QuickTime. The Spigot II card provided hardware support to bring video signals into the Mac and out to TV and VCR.

People were amazed these movies were made on a computer, let alone a Mac IIci. I was. Though these rough-hewn flicks were really quarter-screen playing at a half-speed 15 frames per second, they dazzled mostly because they existed at all.

The years since have seen QuickTime, Premiere and hardware improve. After the Mac IIci there was a PowerMac 8500 with built-in AV capture. Later a miroMotion DC-20 M-JPEG compression capture card was added to the 8500. Now my movie machine is a closeout-priced PowerMac 9600/350 with a Media 100qx card and QuickTime 3.0.

In today's market of blue and white PowerMac 400 MHz G3 towers, my hardware is nowhere state-of-the-art, but video quality from the Media 100qx card is beautiful. This setup is stable, and it's pretty fast for most tasks. Premiere 4.2 on my 9600 is whip-fast, Premiere 5.1 on this setup is not so fast. At least 5.1 doesn't crash as much as 5.0 did.

Improved Timeline: Premiere's main window for assembling video, pictures, titles, and audio into a movie has been given new features and options. This is where you sequence your movie in time and add transitions and filters. It's possible to have up to 99 video tracks.

Even with its limitations, Premiere 4.2 has been a reliable tool for producing short-form QuickTime-based digital movies. It has anomalies, such as the not insignificant failure to maintain lip-synch on audio over time. When Adobe announced Premiere 5.0 last year with promise of true audio sync and improved "professional interface," I rushed in for an early upgrade. Fools sometimes do that.

Alas, I spent more time restarting my Mac than using Premiere 5.0. I could rarely get Premiere 5.0 to launch, as it would repeatedly freeze when trying to load the "zigzag" filter plug-in at startup. Simple editing actions such as adding transitions were glacial.

Rather than spend all my effort coaxing Premiere 5.0 to run, it was time to return to the stability and productivity of Premiere 4.2. Projects were produced swiftly and with little problem.

Data Management: Premiere now offers detailed options for assembling media files into projects. You can store source material in different "Bins," according to media type or personal preference.

Since Premiere 5.1 arrived, it's possible to use 5.1 without fear it will randomly destroy projects, at least most of the time. Just assure that your Mac and video capture card's drivers are supported by this latest Premiere release. If, for example, you are planning to use cards such as the miroMotion DC-20 or older Radius or TrueVision Targa cards, you will be out of luck. Check Adobe's web site http://www.adobe.com for specific information on whether Premiere 5.1 will work with your hardware setup.

The Promise of 5.0

The allure of Premiere 5.0 compels with sleek and simplified on-screen presence akin to what one might find in a more expensive professional "editing bay," at least that's what the marketing materials call it. Premiere's got a new monitor window that allows easy multiple source clip viewing, editing, and project previews all in one. There's an enhanced timeline construction window that lets you hide or lock tracks. A navigator palette like those found in Photoshop and Illustrator makes for easy movement along the whole project timeline, even on a small computer screen.

Assigning Qualities: You can customize the information presented in the Project Window with these options in the Project Window setup screen. These additions make Premiere's data management tools more powerful.

There's compatibility with Photoshop filter plug-ins, a host of new audio filters and effects, and an improved ability to manage, sort, and search on project source clips in multiple "bins." Premiere 5 finally offers scrollable text in title windows and offers "keyframeable" effects that you can vary repeatedly within a single transition or filtered clip. The keyframe effects feature alone is worth the price of the upgrade.

This shopping list of 5.0 enhancements alone would provide a formidable challenge for engineers designing an upgrade, let alone a complete program rewrite. The superficial and interface improvements are wonderful.

New clip bins offer improved data management, and it's easy to sort and filter by many parameters besides time-code. The new look is elegant, and Premiere 5.0 offers a "three-point" editing metaphor that means you can edit a clip to a length so to fit an existing hole in the project timeline. Premiere also supports "Control Key Desktop Menu" options available since Mac OS 8.0. This new feature enhances editing speed by simplifying navigation and tool choice.

Pan and Zoom: Premiere's Image Pan filter allows you to create motion across still images. You assign start and end framing on the image and Premiere will create all the intermediate framing.

Though Premiere 5.0 released months after QuickTime 3.0 it was only compatible with it, and did not specifically support any of QuickTime's new features. Audio compression options that QuickTime has supported for years were still lacking, and none of the transition effects or video filters supported inside QuickTime 3.0 were recognized.

Premiere 5.1 now supports several QuickTime-based audio compression codecs on export, but we still await a promised plug-in from Adobe for support of QuickTime 3.0's many internal transitions and video effects such as "Aged Film."

5.1's Fulfillment

Regardless of support for features in QuickTime, stability and speed remain my main concerns about Premiere 5. I've constantly struggled with 5.1's video capture fragility; a challenge Premiere 4.2 handles like a rock. Sequential video captures in 5.1 have crashed my Mac, and the program freezes for no apparent reason while creating preview files. This all while I'm using the latest version Media 100qx drivers, a simplified Mac OS 8.1 with hardly any extensions, and a rigorous use of disk management utilities to assure system order.

Since Premiere 4.2 allows me to capture at will, it's possible to use Premiere 4.2 for video capture and follow with 5.1 to edit. Those who don't have a 4.2 copy of Premiere available might not be so sanguine. (Like some did with Microsoft Word 6.0, perhaps you could buy Premiere 5, then try calling Adobe to request a downgrade to the previous version. You can claim your Mac is too slow, or something akin to that.)

Audio Tools: Premiere 5 offers an array of audio tools including the new "Equalize" filter that lets you customize the tonal range of an audio track. Premiere supports up to 99 separate audio tracks in a movie.

Premiere 5.1 finally offers the core audio compression tools QuickTime has offered for years. Now you can export a QuickTime movie from Premiere 5.1 using various audio compression schemes as IMA 4:1, and the new QuickTime 3.0 codecs Qdesign Music, and QualComm PureVoice.

Premiere 5.1 also fixes a design shortcoming in Premiere 5.0 that deals with using preview files from disk to make final movies. During the editing process, Premiere creates many files on disk containing compiled transitions, audio effects, fades, filter effects and the like. During playback from timeline Premiere calls on these previews to show you in real time how your movie looks as you edit and play back.

Premiere 4.2 (and earlier versions) use these preview files when writing out a final movie file. If you properly configure preferences and compile preview files in advance, you can print movies directly to tape from the project timeline, or write a final movie file to disk as quickly as your Mac and hard drives are able.

Alas, Premiere 5.0 failed to use preview files when writing out final movie files, and a task that previously took a few minutes could take hours. Thankfully Adobe's engineers fixed this design oversight with Premiere 5.1.

Not So Fast

As faster computers let us do things faster, software engineers write in more features so we can do things not possible before. Computers slow down because they're asked to do more at once. This repeating cycle has become a cyclical market mantra: computers speed up, software gets bigger with more features, and computers slow down.

This holds for Adobe Premiere 5.1 and its forebears. Productivity must be examined in more than one way, and as we move ahead we've got to be willing to take a step back. Are more features better when programs run at half the speed as before? Why don't the software program marketers also tout stability and swiftness as "features"?

Have we (long past) reached a point with software where new features are added for the sake of cyclical upgrade income and an implied requirement we buy a new computer each year just to stay where we were speed-wise?

Challenge for the New

It's possible to say Premiere 5.1 is a good program that offers potential and leave it at that. The rub comes for those who don't have access to an older Premiere to compensate for Premiere 5's shortcomings. These people want to start making QuickTime movies now, and Adobe Premiere 5.1 is what they must buy if they want Premiere.

Once there were more editing programs in the Macintosh market, but mergers and acquisitions on the corporate side have left Adobe Premiere as the de-facto leader for the Mac. (Strata sells VideoShop, but for all its quirks Premiere is the better program. If you're into the new DV format, editing choices from Radius and others are also available.)

At heart Premiere is a wonderful piece of software. The feature set is amazing. I've now produced several movies with Premiere 5.1, and can say it has an elegant feel. It still runs slowly on my Mac, especially as projects get complex, and 5.1 still fails much too often to be called reliable.

If you haven't used Premiere before and can find a discount-priced new copy of Premiere 4.2, consider that. The older version has shortcomings, but if you want to start in QuickTime editing, 4.2 appeals. Premiere 5.x may have its bugs squashed by the time you are ready to move up.

Let's hope Adobe is working on a Premiere 5.2. I'm not looking for new features, just a stable and fast program where the offered features work reliably. I'd love to say Premiere 5.1 is the best Premiere yet, but for now my vote still goes to Premiere 4.2.

Pi member Dennis Dimick pursues QuickTime as a hobby. He has written for The Journal on graphics and multimedia subjects since 1992 and can be reached via email: ddimick@aol.com.

Adobe Premiere 5.1
Adobe Systems, Inc.
345 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95110

Retail Price $895
Upgrades $199

Requires a PowerPC Macintosh
Mac OS 7.5.5 or later
Premiere 5.1 requires QuickTime 3.02
48 MB or more application RAM recommended
Large capacity disk drive or RAID array
24-bit color display adapter
Compatible QuickTime capture card drivers required.


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Revised May 2, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
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