Adobe video production returns to mac

Seamus Byrne
22 September, 2007
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It seems an eternity since we were last considering an Adobe video editor on the Mac. The calendar says five years, but it doesn’t take a lengthy examination of Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 to realise that the last Mac version, Premiere 6.5, holds no resemblance to this new package at all. There was good reason for that program to lose its standing, with editing metaphors too archaic to withstand the power of the young upstart Final Cut Pro.

This time the tables are turned — we can now ask if Adobe has done enough to overcome Apple’s hold on this domain. Apple earned its place at the top the hard way, but Adobe offers the seductive potential of an unmatched workflow for those who need to move their work between other Adobe applications with ease.

So to compare like for like (to sidestep the “Apples” joke) I’m taking a look at the array of tools on offer in Apple’s Final Cut Studio 2 and Adobe’s Creative Suite 3 Production Premium. How do the apps compare with each other, and which of the differences offers a killer feature? The most obvious point is that buying either of these applications on its own delivers little value (and it is impossible with Final Cut Pro). It is in their combined potential that they are each at their best.

And don’t forget that Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 is for Intel-based machines only, it is not a Universal binary. (For more info on these Adobe apps, see Test drive this issue. For more info on the Apple apps, see Test drive last issue.)

Final Cut Pro 6 versus Premiere Pro CS3
What seems like the core of the debate is actually less important than you might think. Has Premiere Pro offered enough to win its place at the table? It certainly is a much smoother workspace than you would remember from Premieres past. This feels like a modern editor, with timelines and toolsets to meet serious expectations — the transition from Final Cut will be relatively easy. But pound for pound it has no specific features that would make you choose it over Final Cut Pro. It is in combination that some users could be making the switch instantly — drag-and-drop timelines between Premiere Pro and After Effects? The ability to animate layers of any Photoshop image? Superior output to a wide range of mobile devices through Adobe Device Central? This open workflow is what Adobe is really selling here.

If video editing is your lifeblood, Final Cut Studio is probably still your home. But if the edit is something you have to do less regularly, Adobe’s CS3 Production Suite may be the perfect option in your world of Adobe production tools.

Winner: Final Cut Pro 6. Purely a question of incumbency. Premiere Pro CS3 just hasn’t done enough to make us want to make the move for its features alone, but real competition is definitely back on the table.

After Effects CS3 versus Motion 3
Motion 3 offers some impressive new features that help it close the gap on After Effects. Now you can work in a much more effective 3D space, with intuitive camera animation controls for working with your 2D effect layers. Plus very effective tools for stabilisation and object tracking, and some of the slickest templates around. But all this is a winner for the more casual motion graphics user, and After Effects has too much maturity and extensibility on its side to give up its title anytime soon.

Winner: After Effects CS3. Motion still needs to overcome the chasm between it and what After Effects gives motion graphics professionals.

Encore CS3 versus DVD Studio Pro 4
DVD Studio Pro 4 hasn’t done too much to push authoring forward, and here Adobe has capitalised on Apple’s lapse in progress. DVD Studio Pro still holds the title of best templates and design tools around for making beautiful discs very quickly, and while things are much the same everything is turned up a notch. But this is still “DVD” Studio, and only some commercial replication methods are offered for producing discs in HD formats. Encore CS3, on the other hand, seems more serious about letting you publish your discs anywhere (sure, as long as your “anywhere” for HD is Blu-ray). They aren’t just talking discs either. Encore CS3 delivers one of the best video-publishing features ever to hit the desktop, with one-click publishing to SWF for web output. This means any DVD or Blu-ray project, with all interactivity and menus, can be placed onto a web site, viewable by anyone with Flash Player (which is 98 percent of all web users). That is simply unparalleled. If the program did nothing but that, it would be worth the price.

Winner: Encore CS3. While DVD Studio Pro 4 offers instant access to first-class DVD themes out of the box, Encore CS3 gives a more “here and now” approach to Blu-ray authoring. But Encore’s web publishing feature is the real knock out punch.

Soundbooth CS3 versus Soundtrack Pro 2
Soundtrack Pro 2 and Soundbooth are a well-matched pair of audio apps best suited to video professionals. Soundbooth is only a recent graduate of the Adobe Labs, but belies its age with many very mature features — its ability to auto-compose music to suit your video is a fresh arrival on the Mac. Soundbooth seems to have aspirations of wider use as an audio package, but right now that may be part of its downfall when discussed in the context of video. Soundtrack Pro 2 matches Soundbooth every step of the way, plus it delivers more tools that a video pro would see as unmissable. Surround-sound mixing is a powerful new element that allows for real-time freehand adjustment. Overall, Soundtrack works with video in smarter ways, and is better laid out for working as an integrated video-audio editor. The pool of content resources tailored to video helps give Soundtrack Pro its edge.

Winner: Soundtrack Pro 2. Both are young packages, yet each shows itself to be highly accomplished. Both feature the advanced spectrographic tools for visual adjustment that will be new, and very welcome, to most video editors.

But wait, there’s more: the rest of the suite. What you get on top of these core video elements tells the story of the two options at hand. Final Cut Studio 2 offers Compressor 3 for refining your outputs, but the massive boost on this front now is Color. This used to sell for more than $10,000 on its own, but now forms part of the suite and it is a stunning colour correction package that will change the way most Mac video editors polish their work.

Adobe’s suite, on the other hand, offers a who’s who of general creative software. Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash can hardly be considered extras — they prove the depth of creative potential this software grants every user. Adobe Device Central is also a broader approach to Apple Compressor, suiting those who prefer a less mathematical approach to their output decisions. Adobe OnLocation could actually be a killer feature for videographers who want to capture direct to hard disk while out in the field. Unfortunately it is a Windows app, so you will need to run it in BootCamp (at least for now), but it is included in the Mac edition because it offers so much as a quality control system when you shoot in the field and need to be super efficient during the shoot.

Winner: Final Cut Studio 2. This is perhaps the crux of the story. We have to choose Final Cut Studio because Color is by far the greatest piece of video software ever to turn up as a “thrown in” part of a video editing suite. For some, Photoshop could be much more important, but if video is the name of the game, Color will be one of your new best friends.

And in conclusion … Our unscientific poll hasn’t really come up with a clear winner at three to Apple, two to Adobe, most as close calls. Fence sitting isn’t what we are here for, but it really will depend on your needs to decide which way to go.

With the benefits on offer for all video editors from After Effects CS3 and Photoshop CS3 Extended, the rest of the equation could be a non-issue. The fact is, this package is priced as a winner even if you only need to update these two products. If you are already a user, individual upgrade prices will work out a little cheaper. But even if you only have one package now, the upgrade price to CS3 Production Premium will give you all the software, ready for serious evaluation. Studios should surely take this route. General users on a tighter budget? It remains true that if you are planning on buying After Effects and Photoshop, the CS3 Production Premium edition will be your best bet, opening the door for Adobe to win you back to its integrated suite of software. Grab the trial editions to take things for a spin.

If you’re a hardened video editor, Final Cut Studio is still your domain. If you’re a more generalist creative, Premiere Pro CS3 could well be the best bet for consolidating your needs back into the single suite of Adobe products.

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