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Reviewed: Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium

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.

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. 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

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. 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 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive

Premiere Pro CS4 took about 10 minutes to index the 12GB MPEG-2 Transport (M2T) stream of multiplexed audio and video that OnLocation had created. It would be nice to see other format recording options in OnLocation, akin to the way that Focus Enhancements FireStore Direct To Edit technology handles hard-disk recording, but this would make even more processing power necessary

After the footage was indexed, it was apparent that the pixel aspect ratio was incorrect when we opened the clip in the viewer. However, by simply reinterpreting the footage to the HDV standard of 1.333 widescreen, the video appeared correctly, saving us the time of reimporting content

We weren’t able to open any of our old Premiere Pro CS3 projects because of the prerelease nature of the software, so we weren’t able to check out some of the complex edits we’d done with CS3. But we did notice that Adobe has added a few features to Premiere that make it a little more efficient and attractive

In the same window where you’ll find History and Effects, there is now a Media Browser option. This window provides a way to search any hard drive connected to your computer, finding any media that Premiere Pro can import. This is a timesaver, as you don’t need to keep clicking File > Import for every file needed for a project. Another new tab you can add to your workspace is called Resource Central—another part of the CS4 suite that blurs the line between offline and online usage. Within the Resource Central pane, you can access tutorials, sample files, and extensions for Premiere Pro and other video products that Adobe offers.

What used to be called the User Interface preference in CS3 is now called Appearance. In addition, it appears that the adjustable brightness introduced in CS3 was a big hit, because Adobe tweaked the slider to enable users to make the interface even darker or lighter than before. You’ll also find better control over where your cache files are stored. Also metadata has a greater use and benefit in most of CS4

Soundbooth 2 shows some significant improvements over the first version, which was introduced in CS3. A feature sorely lacking in the original Soundbooth was multitrack audio production, and the new Soundbooth’s multitrack interface aims to please. The interface is simple and not at all intimidating, as it uses dashboardlike controls that pop up when the mouse hovers over a track. One click on a track will quickly switch from the multitrack production interface to the file editing screen. After making editing changes, it’s another single click right back to your multitrack layout. For our testing, we used Soundbooth only to make some minor improvements to our sound quality and to get a transcription of the narrative, so we’ll expand our assessment in a future article.

After reducing our hour of footage down to a 3-minute test clip in Premiere Pro, we added fades in and out, adjusted the color, and exported the timeline to Adobe Media Encoder CS4

Encoding With Adobe Media Encoder
Adobe Media Encoder is a stand-alone product that works in harmony with After Effects, Premiere Pro, and other Adobe tools, but it can also be used on its own, similar to the way that Apple Compressor works either with Final Cut or on its own. Put any audio or video media in the Adobe Media Encoder queue, choose your compression settings, and let it go to work. You can also choose a specific timeline within a Premiere Pro project to compress without opening Premiere, which is a timesaver for those who just need to get the compressed file out the door as quickly as possible. Adobe Media Encoder also supports watch folders that will automatically begin a preset encoding session as soon as a file is placed inside.

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