Adobe unpacked a broad range of new features for the upcoming releases of its video tools, including what's sure to be a popular round-trip solution out of After Effects for 3D modeling involving a version of Maxon's Cinema4D. (See our After Effects coverage here.) But the most noteworthy of the offerings was arguably Adobe Anywhere for video, a showpiece technology that lets any user with a copy of Adobe Premiere Pro and a reasonably fast Internet connection edit video that resides on a faraway server.
If you're hoping for release details, you're out of luck. Adobe declined to announce a date for the new line-up, which is being officially "previewed" at NAB next week, or even to specify what it's going to be called. It's not clear when we will get more information, although it's probably safe to assume that news will be coming out of the Adobe MAX conference being held next month in Los Angeles.
The Whats, Whys, and Hows of Anywhere
Premiere is really just the front end to Adobe Anywhere, explained Michael Coleman, the Anywhere product manager, at an Adobe press event in New York this week. The heavy lifting is done by the Anywhere software. "A facility installs Anywhere on off-the-shelf, rack-mount servers," Coleman explained. "Once it's installed, anyone who is on the facility's network can edit with Anywhere. And anyone who is connected to their network, usualy via VPN, can use it."
Coleman demonstrated the system with a MacBook Pro, editing media that resided on Adobe's servers back in San Jose, CA. The quality of the stream is, of course, bandwidth-dependent, but Coleman's demo was pretty smooth, with little indication that he was not editing from local media files.
Here's how it works. First, anywhere is not a proxy-editing system. ("Proxies look like junk," Coleman said.) So you don't transfer any actual files in order to edit with Anywhere, and you're not conforming your edits with the original media at the end of the process. Instead, the system provides a viewing stream based on the original, high-resolution media, in real time.
The streaming functions are driven by what Adobe's calling the Mercury Streaming Engine, which employs three different types of proprietary compression. If you're having trouble streaming because of network congestion or low bandwidth, you can always step down to half- or quarter-resolution and still have a good experience. But with Anywhere, as soon as you finish scrubbing or stop playback, the picture snaps into full resolution and Premiere displays a pixel-for-pixel copy of the frame from the original media files so you can see exactly what's happening in the picture.
Coleman said the system needs a pipe that can handle around 25 to 30 Mbps at a minimum, which shouldn't be too onerous for pro users (though it will more than max out the connection at your local coffee shop). It's also built around what he called a "sharing model," with no provision for locking files. Edits are non-destructive with regard to the original media, so the system simply tracks any simultaneous revisions and warns users if someone else has been working on the same files at the same time, and allows them to choose how to handle the conflict. Adobe is describing it as a "collaboration hub," and if it performs as well in the real world as it does in early demos, it will be a very attractive way to work. Adobe hasn't announced pricing, but officials indicated that it would be in line with what users expect from the company's video products.
What Else Is New in Premiere Pro?
The company is clearly proud of the strides it's taken with Premiere Pro, which has been taken more seriously by users in recent revisions — especially since the launch of Final Cut Pro X left some former Apple fans disgruntled. Premiere Pro project manager Al Mooney noted that four of this year's films in competition at Sundance were cut entirely on Premiere Pro CS6, and a press release from the company announced that Joel and Ethan Coen are using Premiere Pro to cut "their next feature film slated for late 2013." (Adobe didn't name that film but it is, presumably, the recently completed Inside Llewyn Davis, which is scheduled for theatrical release later this year.)
The pressure is on, then, for Adobe to keep its editorial momentum going with improvements to address pro workflows — especially those for feature films. Some of the improvements to the upcoming version seem minor, though they will make the system more usable on a day-to-day basis and, in some cases, they restore functionality that editors raised on Final Cut Pro have come to expect from an NLE. For example, a new blue line display on clips indicates when duplicate frames appear in different places on the timeline, helping editors keep track of footage on complex projects with lots of similar clips. Also new to Premiere Pro is a through-edit indicator that shows where clips have been cut with the razor tool and allows those clips to be re-joined later in the process if you decide you didn't need that cut after all. And new relink functions make it easier to find and link up clips that have gone offline from a project.
More significant functionality is introduced with the decision to build Speedgrade's Lumetri Deep Color Engine right into Premiere Pro. That makes it possible for an editor to drag a .look file that's been created in Speedgrade right onto an adjustment layer on the timeline. Closed-caption support is enabled with a new function called the Caption Clip, which turns closed captions into just another editable track displayed right on the timeline.
On the audio side, a new FX host supports the VST3 spec for audio plug-ins. Loudness monitoring for broadcast is built in, and audio control surfaces are now supported. A clip mixer has also been added alongside Premiere's track mixer, which enables levels to be adjusted on a clip-by-clip basis — again restoring functionality that longtime Final Cut Pro editors expect.
One more thing I was thrilled to hear about in Premiere Pro? Not only are more GPUs than ever before supported by the Mercury Playback Engine — seriously, the list of supported has grown substantially since Premiere's last outing — those of us who have systems with officially unsupported cards using Nvidia's CUDA technology can now turn the Mercury Playback Engine on, at our own risk, without resorting to hacking configuration files in order to fool Premiere into thinking our cards are on the officially sanctioned list. (A pop-up will warn that the installed card is not officially supported by Adobe.)
Speedgrade's Look and Feel Is Revised, but Not Radically
A lot of video editors who had gotten used to Premiere Pro over the years were waylaid by the inclusion of Speedgrade in CS6. More than any other app in the Creative Suite, Speedgrade clung to a special-snowflake interface. The color-correction app was undeniably powerful, but it was tough for creative editors to harness its potential. Well, the Speedgrade interface has been significantly refined since that release, and the company is confident enough that it's an improvement on all fronts that they're not even including the typical Adobe option of returning to the interface from the previous version of the application.
Don't get the wrong idea — the color-correction environment is still alien territory for many editors. Even the timeline doesn't borrow the familiar styles from other Creative Suite apps. But editors can dive in with a new media browser that closely matches the spec of Premiere Pro's media browser, giving them a better view of the footage on disk. And new keyboard shortcuts allow users to easily switch between views that maximize the visibility of scopes by allowing just one to be displayed at a time, or to do away with scopes entirely to maximize the real estate devoted to picture. You hit "A," for instance — just "A" — to slide the scopes on and off the screen with a neat animation.
For users who want to address color-related tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible, the new AutoColorMatch feature looks like just the ticket, automatically manipulating the picture to make the best match between shots. If the effect is too radical, it can be easily dialed back, since AutoColorMatch is essentially an adjustment layer that can be controlled with a simple opacity function. For those who use Photoshop to set reference looks on set, AutoColorMatch can also be used to force a clip to analyze and closely match a still image.
The Best of the Rest
Adobe continues to refine Story, its scriptwriting software that treats the script as, essentially, a huge database that can be sliced and diced into a multitude of views that hook into scheduling and reporting, making production tasks more efficient for those that can wrangle its array of options.
The logging-and-ingest oriented Prelude now allows producers and others to assemble clips into a very rough cut that can be exported to metadata and loaded as a sequence in Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. It's also integrated with Story so that speech analysis can be performed on a clip based on an embedded script, synchronizing the visuals with a marker indicating each and every word spoken that allows quick scanning through an interview or other talking-head clip.
The powerful Audition audio editor/DAW is now a completely 64-bit application that shares its arsenal of real-time FX with Premiere. New technology has been employed that Adobe says helps use mathematical analysis to identify and separate different sources of sound in a recording, and Audition's new Sound Remover tool is geared toward removing foreground elements from a soundscape.
That covers most of what we've been shown so far. Read our separate coverage to hear more about what's new in After Effects, including that groundbreaking partnership with Maxon, then stay tuned to hear more about Adobe's plans for its video apps.