The Adobe CS4 Master Collection user interface
Like the face that launched a thousand ships, Adobe's production software—Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, Flash, Dreamweaver, and all the rest—has launched and supported thousands of productions. For the last several versions, Adobe's software architects have been working to pull the diverse collection of applications into a visually and functionally unified whole suite, with data and media files able to flow easily from one app to another and back again. With Creative Suite Version 4, this collection of 18 programs has remarkable similarity of interface design, functionality, interoperability and integration, as well as the collective ability to do just about anything media-wise that you can imagine.
The applications in the Master Collection are (all in CS4 versions): Photoshop Extended, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Flash Professional, Fireworks, Encore, OnLo-cation, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Acrobat Pro, SoundBooth, Contribute, Bridge, Device Central, Dynamic Link, Media Player, and Version Cue. As one can tell, this combination covers virtually every medium; smaller, more media focused collections are also available. Needless to say, in-depth coverage of all these applications, or even the latest changes in each one, would consume way more space than we are permitted here (and for those details and minimum and suggested system requirements, head over to the Adobe Web site), so we will concentrate on Suite-wide functionality and improvements, as well as a few significant applica-tion-specific updates.
The Master Collection includes four application DVDs, a content DVD and a training DVD. It installs smoothly, and can be authorized on a maximum of two machines using Adobe's Internet authorization scheme. They've worked out the former kinks in this system, and it now works pretty much flawlessly.
One of the key features of the Creative Suite 4 is the way applications communicate, pass files back and forth, and move data. This sort of dynamic linking between applications is truly magical when all goes well, and it mostly does. There are many ways this can work, but here's one scenario: open a video file in Premiere Pro, send it to SoundBooth for audio work, then send it to Flash and Encore for online and DVD authoring. Changes applied to the media project at any point are reflected in the other applications as well. This method certainly beats working in one app, exporting, reopening, re-exporting, and so on, in terms of speed, disk space for storage of the multiple versions, and the ease of making adjustments at any point in the production path.
An important new feature in Premiere Pro is Speech Search. This tool turns spoken dialog into searchable text at the click of a button. What is created is not nec-essarily a word-for-word-perfect transcript; as in all such applications, accuracy depends heavily on the sonic quality and clarity of the original. Speech Search does provide a fairly solid way to make a searchable text file with timecode links to the video file. The resulting file provides an incredibly elegant way to make rough cuts in a long interview, or, exported to HTML, an online keyword searchable (and navigable) video site.
Most of my work is shooting and editing images and video for DVD, projection, broadcast and the Web. I've been using elements of the CS4 Master Collection on a daily basis for several months now and am sure that I've barely scratched the surface in terms of smoothing out my workflows and making the produc-tion process more efficient. I shoot with Sony's PMW-EX3 (tapeless to SxS cards), and while I've adapted to the file-based workflow, it still has its cumbersome and clunky aspects. For example, in tape-based workflows, I'd gotten used to being able to re-digitize previously captured material at full resolution when I was assembling the master version of the program. While Sony's free XDCAM Transfer software does a good job as the "front end" for logging and importing, the varied demands of a large documentary project I've been working on for a year and a half pushed me toward finding a more efficient solution. (The project involves providing numerous edits with different content and in different formats.) Premiere Pro is able to import and edit the XDCAM EX footage natively and export XML to my editing app (Media 100) in any resolution I need. Using Premiere Pro as the front end saved me a lot of time and searching, much disk space, and has provided a great way for simplifying the organization of more than 60 hours of interview material. It also gave me a way to make the material available to the writers via a simple Web site, and in searchable form.
Also, it was easy to send dynamically linked segments from Premiere Pro into After Effects. The footage came in as layers in the After Effects comp, making motion graphics and the inevitable changes and tweaks that crop up during post very easy to manage. Changes to the source edit in Premiere Pro are instantly reflected in the After Effects comp.
Taking After Effects as an example of the numerous changes and overhauls made to all CS4 components (as it's one of the applications I use most often), there have been a number of significant changes since even the CS3 version. The first and most noticeable is redesign of the user interface—which is still highly customizable—to bring it more in line with the other UIs in the Suite, making it more compact and darker and in general easier to read and use. RED-CODE media is now supported for use inside After Effects. XML is now also fully integrated into the After Effects workflow, making interchange with applica-tions outside the suite much easier and more reliable.
On Location is monitoring and hard disk recording software, and proved very useful. It provides a camera monitor, waveform monitor, vectorscope, me-ters, guides and zebra displays. On Location also is able to commit the incoming signal to a hard disk file—as long as it's transported over FireWire cables. During a concert shoot, I had to deliver SD DVDs to the artists for review, as well as create an HD stream for editing. I took the SD monitor feed from my EX3 and fed it into an analog-to-DV converter. I then FireWired that to my laptop, giving me not only critical focus and framing monitoring and metering, but also the ability to record a DV QuickTime file to an attached USB drive, which I turned into an SD DVD in a short time. We also pulled several tunes from the SD QuickTime file and turned them into Web-ready video in a snap.
Such close integration and interchange among applications in a suite is an idea whose time has come. I loudly applaud Adobe's development efforts along this important front, especially their use of XML, an open method.
Creative Suite 4 represents a large step into that integration, as well as a number of quite respectable advances in the development of all individual applica-tions. While some of the apps individually might not be first round choices for use in major project work, they all have a place in almost any workflow. I found Premiere Pro and SoundBooth to be quite useful in unexpected ways, as part of the Suite. Taken individually, I would probably not have chosen either as a primary tool for editing or sound work, though they possess that capability. I also applaud Adobe's decision not to throw everything into each of their applica-tions solely in order to compete with other similar applications in the marketplace.
Although the price of the Master Collection may be daunting, it also represents a considerable savings over individually priced applications. And remember that there are other collections, less pricey and more focused on the areas of media production your work involves. While considering price points, also keep in mind time and efficiency savings, which are key benefits from the streamlined workflow and file interchange that a well-integrated suite of applications offers.
Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org