Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 review: speed and interface, enhanced
Unmatched performance and updated interface keep Premier Pro at the top of its game.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 builds upon the significant performance improvements that the company made in previous iterations of its flagship video editing application. In CS6, Adobe has found several ways to take better advantage of those past astounding leaps in performance. In addition, Premiere Pro CS6 ($799 as of June 1, 2012) gets even more performance enhancements.
A Pretty Face, Plus Easy Scrubbing
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At first glance, with its charcoal-colored interface, Premiere Pro CS6 looks pretty similar to its predecessors. But Adobe has added more flexibility and customizability. For example, the Project panel has been revamped so that it can show source clips at a much larger size--at maximum magnification, four clips filled the width of my 24-inch monitor. New icons show you how often a clip has been used, and if you click the icons, you'll see the sequences in which they appear.
A new built-in Media Browser, which you can use to view clips too, lets you look at files you have on your system and drag them into your Project. And a new hover-scrub feature lets you play the clips as you run your mouse over them (playback begins after 0.35 seconds, says Adobe). Click on a clip, and a timeline appears, and if you're in the Project view, you can use keyboard commands to set in and out points. It's great for rough-cutting a large number of clips.
Tools for trimming video have been greatly improved, as well. You can enable the use of Premiere Pro CS6's selection tool as a trimming tool, so that you don't have to switch away from the selection tool to trim clips. Double-click on an edit point in the timeline, and a new trim window appears in the program window. In this window, you can click buttons to trim backwards or forwards by 5 seconds or 1 second (you can use keyboard shortcuts instead, if you prefer), and you can see the outgoing clip and the incoming clip simultaneously. Other visual aids in the timeline make it easier to see what kind of trim you're doing, and again, you can use keyboard shortcuts.
You can now customize the buttons that appear below the source and program windows--so if you never want to see the Safe Margins guides ever again, you can hide its button. Put the Play button on the lower-right corner, if you want. Hovering over a button shows its function and its keyboard shortcut. However, on my system, when I tried to drag buttons to new spots below the windows, the application showed me a circle with a line through it--meaning, don't do that--but it always worked. The familiar and often-imitated jog wheel is gone, by the way; Adobe says few people used it.
One button you might want to reserve a spot for in the Program window is the Loop button, because Premiere Pro CS6's new Uninterrupted Playback feature means you can set your composition to continue to roll while you do other things, like correcting color (or even checking your email in another program). In previous versions, such multitasking--doing anything other than watching--would bring playback to a halt. Adobe says its Mercury Playback Engine GPU acceleration, which is responsible for accelerating rendering and many other Premiere Pro functions, enables this new feature.
For all the interface improvements, I still found some elements to be redundant. For example, to set the Program window's playback resolution, you can use the small drop-down menu below the window, or you can click a new little wrench icon below the window, or you can go to the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of the window panel. The wrench icon and the panel menu show you exactly the same commands. Adobe says that the redundancy is due to its not wanting to frustrate existing users who are used to where things have been, and that in some cases the application is still in a transition period--meaning, after everyone gets used to the new locations for menus and commands, the old ones will go away. But one thing that's missing is the new interface-text-size adjustment that Adobe added to Photoshop CS6; you won't find it here in any form.
New Editing Features
Of course, Adobe couldn't get away with merely sprucing things up; it had to add a few other improvements. The Warp Stabilizer, for fixing jittery video, is GPU-accelerated; the tool takes a little while to analyze a clip, but after that initial analysis, it doesn't need to go back and do it again, even if you make adjustments afterward, so it's fast. The maximum number of video tracks you can play with in Premiere Pro's neat multicam editing mode (which helps you cut between different camera shots) is now limited only by your system's power. If you have mono, stereo, and 5.1-channel audio clips, you can now add them all to the same track, if you like, instead of putting each of them on their own tracks.
Premiere Pro CS6's three-way color corrector isn't new, but it received a significant update, and it too is GPU-accelerated. Each of the tool's color wheels for shadows, midtones, and highlights now have reset buttons, so if you want to tweak only one, you don't have to start over; each has its own color picker. Color saturation controls are also independently adjustable. The tool has many settings, and in the hands of an expert, they are likely welcome, but in the hands of a hack like me, they seem a bit overdone. And again, there's that redundancy: You can use the color wheels to make adjustments, or you can scroll down and find controls that do the same thing but in a different way.
I do like the implementation of Premiere Pro's new Adjustment Layers, though. As in Photoshop, you can add an adjustment layer and then apply effects to that layer, and all of the tracks below it will receive the benefit of the layer changes. That can ensure some consistency: Instead of applying effects to a single track and then copying its attributes to however many other clips, you can change one and affect them all. Of course, if you do need to adjust a single track, you can move it above the adjustment layer and tweak it independently, or you can move the adjustment layer. Toggle the adjustment layer's visibility, and it will toggle the visibility of the effects on the underlying layers. It's a subtle, but very useful addition.
More Performance Improvements
As in the previous version of CS, Premiere Pro CS6's best performance is realized with the assistance of one of a select group of CUDA-enabled graphics cards, most of which are Nvidia models (CUDA is Nvidia's parallel computing architecture); but now a couple of AMD graphics cards in Apple MacBook Pro notebooks are supported as well. If you're truly after high-end performance--and are really well-heeled--you can now combine an Nvidia graphics card and an Nvidia Tesla card for dual-GPU processing.
My four-year-old workstation has an Nvidia FX4800 graphics card, which is supported by the Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro CS6 (as it was in CS5.5). I was able to export a short but complicated high-definition sequence with Premiere Pro CS5.5 in 2 minutes, 29 seconds, and then in Premiere Pro CS6 in 2 minutes, 18 seconds--a minor difference. However, when I disabled the Mercury Playback Engine in CS6 and exported the same project using only my workstation's dual Xeon CPUs, the job required 14 minutes, 30 seconds. Clearly, if you're going to be using Premiere extensively, your money's best put into GPU power, not CPU power.
The stand-alone Media Encoder that comes with Premiere Pro CS6 and which works with other Creative Suite products is a 64-bit application too. You can set its watched-folder feature to output multiple video formats, and Media Encoder processes those files concurrently. Alas, it still won't output WebM or Ogg video, two of the HTML5-friendly Web video formats. It does support H.264 output, which most--but not all--browsers recognize. An Adobe rep said that if Ogg and WebM "become major formats desired by our customers, we will add them."
Until such time, to cover all browsers, you'll either have to produce video in those formats using other tools, or you'll have to export to--wait for it--Adobe's Flash format, which all desktop browsers continue to support, and use other delivery methods for mobile platforms.
Performance Powerhouse, Web Weenie
For a company that's so out in front on so many things, it's surprising that Adobe is playing a waiting game on Web video. But beyond that limitation in HTML5 video formats, Premiere Pro CS6 broadens its lead over other video editing applications. Its GPU-accelerated performance still smokes anything else you can buy, and that's one waiting game I'm glad Adobe is saving me from.