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Review: Adobe CS4 Production Premium

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Approximately a year and a half after Adobe released its Creative Suite 3 (CS3), the new Creative Suite 4 (CS4) is now available to the public in the same suites: Design Premium, Production Premium, Web Premium, and the all-in-one Master Collection.

With CS3, Adobe took its video product line several notches above the norm in quality, allowing it to elbow its way into the spotlight alongside other premium video software manufacturers such as Apple and Avid. The product introduced many features, including consistent user interfaces with brightness sliders, outstanding support for Flash video, and a new, easy-to-use audio processing program called Soundbooth. All these features allowed Adobe to catch the eye of many video professionals who previously incorporated only Photoshop in their workflows.

Each and every one of the suite’s features and technologies has been improved in CS4, some significantly. With an eye toward accelerating workflows and an initial foray into mission-critical metadata entry and retrieval, the product has some noteworthy improvements that merit attention.

Figure 1

Recording With OnLocation
We decided to start our tests by using OnLocation CS4, a direct-to-computer recording program that works with MiniDV and HDV cameras (see Figure 1). The first version of OnLocation, formerly DV Rack from Serious Magic, shipped with CS3 but was only available for Windows operating systems. OnLocation CS4 fixes that cross-platform oversight, as it is completely rewritten from the ground up to take advantage of both Intel-based Macs and Windows.

Figure 1
Figure 1. OnLocation CS4 is a direct-to-computer recording program that works with MiniDV and HDV cameras.

We wanted a way to test several of the features in rapid succession, so we chose to set up in a church auditorium, where we could test with both house sound and ambient sound. We could also work through a workflow that involved OnLocation, PremierePro, and Adobe Media Encoder (now a stand-alone product).

Paul set up a Canon XH A1 to record a 1080i HDV signal and connected the camera directly to the FireWire port of a MacBook Pro (2.16 Intel Core Duo, 2GB RAM, 250GB HD) with OnLocation CS4 installed. To test speech-to-text capture, an audio feed of the house sound from the sound system was connected via XLR to get the best possible audio.

OnLocation CS4, as well as several other CS4 tools, is now based on the concept of "workspaces," where only necessary windows appear on the screen. The calibration workspace in OnLocation, for instance, provides a view of the camera image, vectorscope, waveform, and shot list all in one place. This proved to be too much for the processor on our slightly slow laptop, so turning off the camera monitor view resulted in a significant boost in performance. In short, OnLocation requires all the computer resources it can muster, so be prepared to have your most powerful workhorse on the job if you use it for a mission-critical shoot. Our laptop had significant lag in displaying the camera’s output, which would prove impractical—or at least disconcerting—in most situations. After acquiring a white balance from the projection screen behind the platform, we were ready to record, and OnLocation worked very effectively in this regard. There was no noticeable delay from the moment the record button was pressed to the time OnLocation actually began recording, and more than 1 hour was recorded with no dropped frames. While using the production workspace, there was a lag between real time and the computer display.

Having seen the same thing in similar programs such as Canon’s Console software, this is a common side effect with using a FireWire connection from a camera in order to view a real-time image. While this lag was more acceptable than that of the calibration workspace, we still recommend using a separate confidence monitor if you need real-time feedback from the camera.

OnLocation also offers the option of adding all the metadata you could dream of before you complete your shoot by allowing you to enter the data in a convenient tab on the right side of the interface.

Editing With Premiere Pro and Soundbooth
After recording, we packed up our gear and headed back to our office to import the footage into Premiere Pro. Our test editing system was a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac with 2 gigabytes of RAM and a 250-gigabyte hard drive.

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