Debuts New Image Stabilizer, Audition Audio Editing, and Support for RED and HDSLRs

Adobe today announced the latest Creative Suite version 5.5. As the numbers suggest, this is more than an incremental .1 update, but not quite enough of an overhaul to justify moving the ticker ahead a whole number. Adobe CS 5.5 further develops themes that came on strong in version 4 and especially version 5 of the software – support for working with native file formats, the accelerated Mercury Playback Engine, and management of the metadata that comes with the rapidly expanding range of footage types users have to contend with on the desktop and in the timeline.
What does that really mean for a creative pro using the software? Well, that depends on your workflow. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Final Cut or Avid user, you’ll appreciate the more robust key-mapping tools, including presets that mimic Media Composer 5 and FCP 7 keyboard layouts. All of them can be further customized and saved as a preset. CS5’s Mercury Playback Engine, which brought tremendous GPU-accelerated speed gains, has been beefed up to support as many as 30 NVIDIA cards. (At press briefings last month, Adobe officials were unsure exactly what the final number would be, but said nearly a dozen cards would be newly supported by 5.5.)

Smooth Moves

The sexiest new feature for editors is actually an After Effects tool, the “warp stabilizer.” As the name suggests, this is a camera-stabilization tool with a difference. It doesn’t just track and stabilize your image as a 2D plane. Instead, it analyzes the picture to figure out how your camera was moving through a scene, generating a plethora of tracking points that it follows from frame to frame. It then remaps that camera move you actually made to the one you wish you made – probably a smooth line or curve, like you’d get from a nicely executed dolly shot – and then warps each frame of your clip to try and recreate what the camera would have seen from its ideal position in that smooth move. It also analyzes and tries to correct for some of those wobbly rolling-shutter artifacts.

If you’ve done image stabilization before, you know you may have to crop your frame significantly at the end of the process to get rid of blank areas that were revealed at the margins of different frames as your image was shifted and pivoted to compensate for your camera shake. The warp stabilizer will perform that crop for you automatically (this is the default setting) or, if you select the “synthesize edges” option, it will actually analyze other frames in your video and try to automatically rebuild those blank border areas. Think of Photoshop’s content-aware fill capabilities for still images, extended to work temporally across your video frames.

The Warp Stabilizer is such a dramatic addition to the Premiere editor’s arsenal that we asked Adobe to create a walkthrough video for StudioDaily.

The warp stabilizer isn’t perfect, of course. It strives to differentiate the camera motion you want from the shakycam qualities you don’t want, sometimes with odd results. You can mitigate those effects using options that let you specify the degree of “smoothness” you require – more smoothness generally means more cropping – or choose “No Motion” to indicate your camera was meant to be locked down rather than handheld. This feature doesn’t give you license to forgo a tripod or a proper DSLR rig, but it can salvage that iffy footage that you don’t have control over. When it works really well – when some video you shot holding up a Flip cam on the escalator suddenly looks like it comes from a Kubrick movie – it’s breathtaking.

This effect is easy enough for any video editor to use, and it might even serve as a gateway to get newbies hooked on After Effects. But since it is so very useful for editors, the question must be raised: why require a round trip into After Effects and back again just to stabilize a clip on the Premiere timeline? My guess is we’ll see this integrated in a future release of Premiere.

Also new in After Effects is a system of light intensity falloff that allows a user to specify that lights should provide diminishing illumination depending on how far away they are from an illuminated layer. Also new are advanced effects that simulate camera lens blur and can enable fine-tuned depth-of-field effects. Stereo 3D has been boosted, too, with a new “Create Stereo 3D Rig” function that automatically generates a second camera and a stereo 3D composition where convergence, interaxial distance, and other 3D image properties can be adjusted.

Seeing RED

Support for RED cameras has been enhanced through a partnership with the RED team. Color settings are now available in a Premiere Pro dialog box (the same dialog is available in After Effects) that supports loading and saving RED RMD files. You can fiddle with the color from there, using an eydropper to select points in the image as a basis for white-balance adjustment, manipulating color using a five-point curve, or using traditional controls in lift, gamma, and gain panels. Once you’ve got it the way you like it, save it as a preset. You can dial in a look on multiple clips at once either manually or by loading a preset, and you can always scrap your changes by reloading the original RMD.

Support for Canon XF files is new in this version of Premiere.

Merge Clips Function Has DSLRs in Mind

Adobe prides itself on its DSLR workflow, and the feature set is being expanded in that direction. For example, a new “Merge Clips” function in Premiere Pro makes it easy to sync independent audio files with video clips recorded on a separate device – a nod to the dual-system sound workflows that are necessitated by the frankly lousy on-board sound you get from your typical DSLR. Up to 16 audio clips can be synchronized to a single video clip, using in and out points, timecode, or numbered markers as sync reference.

The result is an MXF file that functions like a plain-vanilla clip, though the metadata from all of its individual components is preserved. You could do something similar in CS5, syncing the various audio and video clips on the timeline and then turning them into a subclip that you could use in a different sequence, but “Merge Clips” is more clearly and usefully geared toward a specific workflow case.

Story Integration

A big part of the story of CS5.5 is that Adobe’s Story software has received eight updates in the last year and is finally graduating to v1.0 status. If you’re working on a project with a script in Adobe Story, you can pull all the metadata stored in the ASTX file – that stands for the Adobe Story Interchange format – into Premiere. One of the immediate benefits is that Premiere’s speech analysis improves because it has a script to compare your audio files to. Once the transcription is done, you can search the spoken text of your clips or even build a rough cut using the script to mark in and out points without actually playing a clip.

What’s more, Adobe even has a version of Story running on iOS, allowing a script’s versions and revisions – represented by different colors – to be tracked on a mobile device. That fits with Adobe’s push toward what it calls “multi-screen distribution,” as CS5.5 makes it easier to publish content for multiple platforms, largely through improvements to the interface and workflow for the Creative Suite’s workhorse, Adobe Media Encoder.

Audition Replaces Soundbooth

CS5.5 finally replaces Adobe Soundbooth, originally developed as a kind of stopgap, with its full-featured multitrack editor Adobe Audition. Soundbooth was created for CS because video editors, especially, found the powerful but very audio-centric functions of Audition a bit arcane. Audition has been refined over the years, becoming less impenetrable in the process, and in 2010 a Mac version was finally put in public beta. (Both Mac and PC versions will have a unified code base moving forward.) The new multi-core, multi-threaded Audition engine performs most audio manipulation in real time, although time-stretch and pitch functions can be a little slower. Roundtrips with Premiere Pro are designed to be painless. Audition supports 5.1 multichannel projects natively, and includes access to its own SFX library.

Would You Like to Subscribe?

CS 5.5 will be available sometime in the second quarter at the prices you’d expect – for example, CS5.5 Production Premium is $1699 and the rule of thumb for upgrade pricing is that it’s half the price of a new license plus 10 percent. Adobe is also launching a new Subscription Edition of the software that allows users to pay by the month. A one-year subscription to Production Premium, for example, will cost $1020, paid in $85 monthly installments. Adobe’s month-by-month plan is more expensive at $129/month, but allows users to only pay for the software license during months when they actually need it. You can also go a la carte. A month of Premiere Pro, for instance, is $59 (or $39 with the one-year commitment).

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