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Mix and match – the incredible flexibility of Premiere Pro

Recently, I had the opportunity in Boston to do something I had never done before: a “Non-linear editing shootout!”  I agreed to do it with some trepidation because such things can be skewed or slanted.  My concern was that this thing be thought out with objectivity because the simple fact is that unless the format is laid out properly, chances are one NLE will stand out from the others and no one will get the benefit of seeing what an individual product can do.

Suffice it to say that it turned out to be a very enlightening experience for me, so I wanted to tell you about it.

First off, a special thanks to NVPA for dreaming this up and inviting me to the party.

NPVA1.jpg

The evening’s event had two components to it.  In the first part, the editor had 5 minutes to accomplish certain tasks.  In the second part, we had 20 minutes to give a top-level overview of the product highlights.  The second part was fun and I hope I effectively outlined some of the features most relevant to the videographers that were there.  My favorite part that I showed was having Premiere Pro, After Effects, Soundbooth and Encore all sharing the same media: make an edit and it changes in each application!

However, while the second part was fun, it was the first part that was the high point to me.  We were allowed to have the application(s) open, but with no media imported yet.  Within the five minutes, we had to import the media, take it to the timeline, do at least one picture-in-picture (PIP), at least one time-remapping or slo-mo, and take a Photoshop title and animate it across the screen.  The timeline had to be between 45 and 60 seconds.  Then, when you were done, you had to play the timeline.  Sounds pretty easy right?  I thought so to until I looked at the media!

We had the following media to deal with:

  • DV
  • DVCPro 50
  • A DVD .vob file
  • Web video
  • HD Cam (captured in Final Cut I think)
  • DVCProHD 1080p24 (captured in FCP)
  • DVCProHD 720p60 (captured in FCP)
  • Panasonic P2 .mxf file
  • Sony XDCAMEX
  • Audio files (mp3, wav, aif, etc.)
  • A quicktime file that was a 3d animation with an alpha channel
  • .jpeg still file
  • PSD files (720×480 and/or 1920×1080)

You had to use at least one clip from each group of files that were there and then complete the other tasks within the five minutes.  Technically, none of the vendors completed the task in the five minutes.  I was the closest and stole 30 seconds extra to quickly throw some keyframes on the PSD and then play the timeline.

So, who were the “contestants?”  I imagine you would call it the typical cast of characters.  Of course I was there for Adobe, as was Avid (it was in their backyard in Boston), Apple, Grass Valley (Edius) and Sony Vegas.  Of the five, only Avid brought a representative from the company. 

For whatever reason, I was given the opportunity to go first.  After me, there was Avid, then Grass Valley, Sony and finally Apple who closed out each section.

I was able to take a P2 720P24 clip and throw it down on the timeline.  It was about 50 seconds long.  Everything after that was either on top of it or functioning as a PIP.  I was able to make all of the smaller SD stuff standalone as PIPS (DV, Web, DVD, DVPRO50, Animation) and then I made PIPs out of much of the rest.  I took their PSD (which was very well done BTW) and edited it to demonstrate the integration level that no one else has and then animated it across the screen.  Finally, I took one of the .wav tracks (because it was a Mac) and threw it down on the timeline.  All in all, I did it in about five and a half minutes. 

NPVA2.jpg

What was truly fascinating to me was that many of the other big vendors didn’t get past the importing stage!  “How could this be?” I thought.  This was the big eye opener to me.  None of the other vendors even came close to doing all of the tasks in a reasonable timeframe.  To be fair, one mitigating factor was that some of the media was FCP captured and consequently, it was more challenging for vendors with proprietary codecs to be able to play it.   It would have been more interesting to have Apple’s Pro-Res or Avid’s DNX codecs as part of the mix since you can download these codecs for free.  More on that in another blog post.

This five minute task really impressed upon me the flexibility of Premiere Pro and more importantly the power of the new Media Browser panel inside of CS4.  Our ability to read and play back just about anything never struck home so well as it did that evening.   Until then, I had just taken it for granted.  What tripped up a lot of the vendors was not being able to natively read some of the tapeless formats – they needed to rewrap it.  In one particular moment, a large “A” vendor was importing the clips from XDCAM EX and it took him a couple of minutes.  Why? Because he had to rewrap the media in a format that he could understand.  This illustrated my point to the audience, which was that if you capture to tapeless media but can’t instantly access the media and use it (plus the metadata), how are you really saving time in your production?

Lest you think it was a mean, vicious, video vendor blood bath, it was anything but.  Everyone was professional and I applauded all of the vendors for having a remarkable amount of tact and not slinging mud at one another.   I should also mention that several of the companies were represented by local videographers (or a dealer) who used a particular NLE and they did a great job as well, talking about why they chose what they did.

In conclusion, I came away feeling fantastic about Premiere Pro as we continue to move into a world where media types continue to multiply and diversify.  Premiere Pro and Production Premium CS4 handled themselves with aplomb that evening and it made me proud… 

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