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Streams of Thought: Creative Suite Turns 4

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Adobe’s been an underdog for years. After its botched attempt to remake Premiere Pro as a corporate video product that would live alongside Pagemaker—but only on Windows—and its further move away from its creative roots, many of us wrote off Adobe as nothing more than a company that had two good products that were on the periphery of streaming and video production: Photoshop and Illustrator.

But the company has been working its way back into the graces of creatives across the globe with its Creative Suite (CS) set of products, and I’ve covered the company’s execution strategy previously in this column.

From CS2 onward, Adobe has been executing well, even returning to the Macintosh platform in CS3 with a completely rewritten Premiere Pro video editing application for Intel-based Macs. The company also used CS3 to add solid footing in the CS bundles to its Macromedia acquisitions (Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks).

Yet there were still products in the suite that had vestiges of old code that slowed them down or kept them from being fully integrated across both platforms. For the streaming/video production world, products that came out of the Serious Magic acquisition, such as DVRack (renamed OnLocation) required a Windows PC or at least Apple’s BootCamp, limiting dreams of a seamless workflow.

A few months ago in New York and San Jose, Calif., Adobe brought journalists and key users together to show off the next iteration of CS. CS4 takes the integration of products in the suite to a new level, throwing in new code for Intel-based Macintosh and Windows Vista machines and leveraging the use of 64-bit processors on some key software tools.

You’ll read about a lot of CS4’s new features in the months leading up to its official launch. But I want to touch on just four of those here.

Native Tapeless Workflows
Premiere CS4 leaps ahead of Final Cut Express, which uses the bloated Apple Intermediate Codec for editing both HDV and AVCHD (Final Cut Pro, on the other hand, uses the more efficient ProRes 422). Premiere Pro CS4, by comparison, works natively with AVCHD, HDV, P2, and a few other formats that may not have been announced at press time. Even RED, the digital cinema format that’s been beholden to 2K proxy edits on Final Cut Pro, will be available natively in CS4. What’s that mean for streaming companies? Much better quality at much lower bitrates since the intermediate codecs such as AIC introduce noise and lossy compression that is exacerbated when a transcode to a streaming format occurs.

CS4 finally pushes the Adobe Media Encoder engine to a place it has needed to be since its inception in CS3. Media Encoder acts as the back end for all encoding, from the tapeless workflows of Premiere to the video transcodes for Flash video to After Effects to Encore’s DVD encoding. This underlying power, complete with batch encoding, does for CS4 what Compressor did to take Final Cut Pro into the Final Cut Studio realm.

I love metadata. Sure, it fulfills the übergeek in me to have everything cataloged neatly, but it also satisfies the MBA part of me to know that metadata makes workflows more efficient and content easier to monetize. Adobe’s got a good start on user-accessible metadata with CS4, specifically within Premiere, where there are multiple filters for metadata methodologies (including Dublin Core) and a fancy new speech-to-text conversion tool that runs in the background, rivaling portions of more robust systems such as Pictron.

Flash/After Effects integration
Up until CS4, the use of After Effects compositions in Flash was only possible as a rendered movie. While this was OK for basic compositions that only needed to be flattened and played back, it wasn’t acceptable for those compositions that needed to be further manipulated in Flash. Thankfully, through an intermediate file format, content layered in Photoshop or After Effects can now be manipulated as individual objects in Flash. Added to the CS3 feature debut of Adobe’s Device Central, this layer-by-layer manipulation in Flash allows for additional tweaks for various smartphones and PDAs.

To sum up my initial thoughts on CS4 in a few words, this is a nice step forward for Adobe, one that brings it slightly ahead of Final Cut Studio.

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