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Winged Mercury accelerates CS5

The latest version of Adobe's Creative Suite should be a lot faster to use, not only thanks to workflow improvements but because its main broadcast applications are now all 64-bit and can access the new Mercury Playback Engine for video, writes David Fox.

The latest version of Adobe’s Creative Suite should be a lot faster to use, not only thanks to workflow improvements but because its main broadcast applications are now all 64-bit and can access the new Mercury Playback Engine for video, writes David Fox.

Mercury is “fast and fluid” and has been written from the ground up to make the most of going 64-bit (which allows access to all the RAM in the computer – rather than a 4GB limit per application). “It is leveraging RAM to its fullest and can run more streams of HD content,” explained Jason Levine, worldwide evangelist for digital video products. It also gains GPU (graphics processor) acceleration and “can run an infinite number of effects in realtime.” Adobe has accelerated all of the most common effects, such as Gaussian Blur.

It means you will usually be able to see the results instantly when using, for example, the new Ultra keyer, or applying multiple colour corrections. GPU acceleration makes a considerable difference to what you can easily do. For example, without the GPU, you might have nine layers of DVCPro HD playing smoothly on a multicore computer taking up about 60% of the processor power, but with GPU acceleration that processor usage would fall to just 5% because the GPU would be doing so much of the work.

Premier Pro is now claimed to have “the most native file support of any nonlinear editor,” with no transcoding as everything is native. AVCHD support, in particular, is much improved and will playback seamlessly even without GPU acceleration (partly due to the extra RAM allocation in 64-bit). It also fully supports Canon and Nikon HD DSLR formats, Red R3D and DPX.

None of the new features Levine demonstrated would have been possible on 32-bit computers, simply because of their memory limits, which is why Premiere Pro, Media Encoder and After Effects are now 64-bit only. “It was an untraditional move for Adobe. We were, perhaps, a bit more aggressive than we used to be,” he said.

One new feature in After Effects, Roto Brush, could easily pay for the upgrade in hours. The rotoscoping tool can automatically trace and mask an object over time “and does it in a few seconds per frame. What could take 30 hours [previously] could now take three hours,” he said. It uses new edging technology developed for Photoshop, which can use and account for motion blur, to take a foreground object out of even a complex background.

Adobe is also promoting a “script to screen workflow” with CS5. This starts with Adobe Story (an online service) for collaborative scriptwriting (which will work with Final Draft, Movie Magic and other industry standard software). CS5 can take the metadata from the script and leverage it throughout the production process, right through to being searchable on the web (useful for video use online).

Its On Location tool is now fully functional as a tapeless media application (which can be used for direct recording from the camera). It includes waveform monitor, vectorscope and audio spectrum analyzer (including pop alerts for glitches that are too short to see on the meters) to identify image and audio problems, and can be used for live logging. It can import the script, making it easier to see what shots you need, and for adding further metadata.

In Premiere Pro, users can automatically align the script with spoken words using speech analysis. There is also face detection, to quickly locate any clips with human faces in them (as they are more likely to contain speech).

As Final Cut Pro has become so widely used in the industry, CS5 also makes it easier for the two systems to interact. Users can now import and export FCP projects (as XML files), even within the Windows versions. It also has AAF support for integration with Avid.

Many of the new features have been direct requests from customers, such as the BBC, which is probably its most important broadcast user. “The BBC was very instrumental with the development of the story workflow, especially for use with P2,” said Levine.

In total, CS5 has more than 250 new features, across all the applications, “but we’re also looking beyond creating and assembling content, to monetising, delivering, viewing, analysing and optimising,” said Kevin Connor, VP of product management for professional Digital Imaging. “We’re not just focusing on creative professionals, but also on a company’s need to focus on getting the best results [financially].” This is why there has been such an emphasis on workflow improvements, but there are also lots of features creatives will love.

One of the ‘Wow’ features is content aware retouching, in Photoshop, which allows users to paint out a wire or anything else in shot and leave the software to decide what to replace it with, which it does quickly and, seemingly, with excellent results, so that it is difficult to spot that anything was replaced.

Photoshop’s extended edition (which is part of the Production Premium package) has improved 3D modelling support, for users who want to create 3D text and animations.