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• After Effects CS4
• Adobe Premiere Pro CS4
• Photoshop CS4 Extended
• Flash CS4 Professional
• Illustrator CS4
• Soundbooth CS4
• Adobe OnLocation CS4
• Encore CS4
• Adobe Bridge CS4
• Adobe Device Central CS4
• Dynamic Link
Due to the sheer volume of text I would need to include, in order to make a comprehensive review of the applications in this, and CS4 suites, I will review the key applications in each suite based on their target market. For a fuller picture of the various applications, it is advised you read all three reviews.
After Effects, as best I can see, hasn't really been altered too much at all. A bit smoother, a bit faster... but by far it's biggest contribution to the suite has been to 'donate' a lot of it's animation interface to Flash. This really is a dedicated piece of software, and it will probably suffice for a while yet. A few new features that are worth exploring include it's ability to now import 3d layers direct from Photoshop and build them into your overall project with ease, the searchable asset feature, or QuickSearch, allows you to locate any elements in your project quickly and efficiently - great for those larger projects that creep up out of the simplest beginnings. Oh, and it now offers better Metadata support through enhanced use of XMP. great for adding searchability to multiple levels of your projects. Search assets, projects and compositions... even layers can now carry metadata! Just to add a cherry on top... it now also supports XFL as well, allowing you to import your projects into Flash for more tweakings. Now that Flash uses a similar interface for animation, it's a breeze to flip between them.
However... there is one major new drawcard here bthat simply *must* get a paragraph to itself... Mocha. No, not a coffee brand... a motion tracking and compositing system the likes of which you haven't seen in affordable software before. Using a simple paralax mesh, you can define a plan in 3d and 'attach' it to a section in the scene. As the camera moves around, the system will keep a lock on that space, in 3d, and allow you to mask new artwork to it as though it was a part of the set! Gret for digitally stripping off and replacing a poster in a scene background, adding a feature to a blank placeholder on-set during filming... even compositing two film strips into one as though a reflection in a mirror. This was a lot of fun to play with during testing, when I had the opportunity to add new scenery into footage taken of a window as someone walked past it. Stunning stuff! It's a little complicated to describe, and your best bet is to watch a few tutorials on it before you get into it... but with some serious study and practice, it will become a favoured tool and strip significant $'s off your shooting budget. No more reshoots to fix background scenery!
Encore now has a better layout, but alas, the same 'boxy' structure as the CS3 interface. Despite this, and it's Mac-styled new skin, it is laid out in a far more easy-to-customise way. Works especially well on 20" or larger widescreen monitors, and really well on dual-monitor setups! Again, not too many 'quantum leaps' in the features department, but there are still some worth noting...
With the greatly enhanced integration with Flash, you can now output your work as a fully-featured SWF file suitable for embedding into webpages, PDFs, or disc-based projects with ease. A few clicks and a bit of settings-adjustment, and you can have your work on anything you desire. The new enhanced Dynamic Link allows you superior connectivity with After Effects and Photoshop on a level not yet seen in software this accessible. It also shares the goodies by offering you "Resource Central" - an application-level interface to an online storehouse of clips, soundbites, filters and more.
Apparently, they have improved the flowchart view to make it more efficient and intuitive... personally, I think it was a bit of a lame duck. Sure, it made assembling your DVD layout as simple and drag'n'drop, however clicking on items further along the chain made some parts of the flowchart move up and off the screen... at one point I had a master clip that played on disc load, leading toa main menu of 10 titles, and each of them looped back to the menu at finish... simple, yes? So, why was it that clicking on a title marker made the title markers move down and the menu move up the screen to the point where I had to scroll almost 5 whole screen-heights to get to one or the other? BUT... solution: click on the first icon in the chain and suddenly all markers realigned back to usable. Wierd, annoying, and utterly frustrating. Hopefully an update patch will fix this and set a limit on the amount of 'vertical' space an icon can move from it's parent before being forcably restrained.
The other update, and not at all unexpected, is the serious support for authoring Blu-Ray titles. With that format now making more than a cursory peek into the marketplace, it simply had to be in here. Sure enough, select your required output format and leave Encore to configure for best results. haven't tested this feature, but you can expect that it will work, and work well enough to be more than acceptable at this stage.
Premiere has long been one of my favourite media clip applications. Now, with CS4 you can expect to see some serious increase in grunt power. Reports are that on a 64-bit platform with suitable memory, you can expect a increase of up to double the speed... for those who have bigger projects in mind, this can add up to some serious time savings... and we all know time is money, after all. Another great tool is the Searchable Speech. Run your clips through the speech recognition engine and it will convert any recognisable speech into text embedded in the metadata. You can search for key words, and by clicking on them be taken directly to the frame in which it is spoken. This would be a very powerful tool for documentary makers, news editors and anyone wanting to make searchable archives of family holiday trips... except that it suffers the low reliability rating shared by Soundbooth. I am hoping that the next iteration, or a future upgrade patch, will improve on the accuracy of the engine.
Another great feature, especially for those who work in an area where clients sometimes supply their own footage projects. Premiere will now import, with full clarity, projects put together in FinalCut. Import them, and treat them just like a movie clip! This will save you a lot of pointless rendering time, and allow you to tweak it to suit the final footage requirements. When combined with the Dynamic Link feature that allows you to work with un-rendered After Effects clips... pre-rendering bits and pieces is just not a factor any more. Hello hours of time-saving, goodbye mind-numbing waiting!
However, when it comes to upgrades... that's about it really. A few minor things here and there, but basically a couple of heavy-hitter add-ons and we're waiting for the next big version for something new.
First impressions do count... and mine was "Very similar in look and function to previous versions, but with a new "Mac'ised" interface."
Biggest boost is the new multi-track support. This can be a little hard to get comfortable with, if you are a low-end user, but having that feature in CS4 brings it a little closer to Audition, but without the huge resource committment required by the 'heavy hitter' of Adobe's audio family. You can place tracks and soundbites along the timeline in a fashion similar to placing video clips in Premiere... so if you are a true multimedia author, this is already a familiar process and can help meld the workflow together smoothly.
Another stunning feature is the new ASND file format that works within the Adobe CS4 Suite (including Flash, Premiere and After Effects. This is a non-destructive format that keeps copies of your original sound files, transitions and settings, allowing you to update and adjust your final file before rendering out your finished project. Sure, this will make for a bigger file, but at the end of the day this is a minor matter far outweighed by the functionality inherent in the format.
A great tool for those into mixing and re-tasking audio is the "View Beats" feature. This will trigger a little detector routine which will scan your files, detect the base rhythm and display cool orange fader-bars in the waveform panel indicating where the beats are, making for cleaner loops and splices. For those die hard sound-splicers, there is a tool you'll fairly worship after you give it a go... the "Automatic Sound Correction" feature. Available in two flavours: 'Volume Correction' for single files, and 'Match Volume' for equalising volume across a range of clips. Easy to use, effective and (relatively) quick, it's a feature that once used will always be used.
Crossing the boundaries again, Soundbooth CS4 incorporates a new feature called "Searchable Audio". Utilising a speech recognition engine to scan your soundfile for recognisable speech, it will extract keywords and embed them in the metadata, which of course can be searched from within Bridge. It would be good if they had thought to make the text easily selectable for copy'n'paste exporting to other running apps, but alas, this was not on the cards it seems. To add insult to injury, even though the current state of speech recognition engines is astoundly high and accurate, this engine leaves a fair bit to be desired, as it got around a third of the words wrong. However, of those it got right, most were key elements of the test conversation so that's not too bad.
Sadly there are no 'totally perfect' things in life. The biggest let-down here is the lack of many basic functions, such as "reverse sound" allowing you to flip a soundbite and play it backwards. Such a simple feature, found in even free-to-download apps, but missing here... it's a bit like buying a Mercedes and finding it doesn't come with headlights and a spare tyre. You might not need them all the time, but they sure do come in handy when you do.
Overall, this is an excellent upgrade in all but the smallest of ways. My one and only gripe is that for those stuck on dial-up speeds, or with data-caps on their broadband connections, having all the resource, training and most importantly, manuals, online is just frustrating!
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Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962)