Adobe’s Mercury Playback Engine & Apple’s new MacBook Pro 17″ w/ThunderBolt

by David Helmly


March 14, 2011



Recently I’ve been getting a lot of performance questions from Mac users about using Premiere Pro editing systems with ATI/AMD graphics cards. No question this has been “sparked” by Apple’s recent series of MacBook Pro Laptops featuring Thunderbolt and a 1GB AMD Radeon 6750 graphics card. Below is a link (Click picture) to show the Mercury Playback Engine running on the new Apple MacBook Pro 17” Thunderbolt laptop in 64 bit CPU mode or what’s also known as Mercury Software mode. In software mode, Premiere Pro will use its 64 bit playback engine along with OpenGL to give you a great playback & rendering experience. Apple is now finally shipping a fast processor with 8GB of system RAM and 1GB of GPU RAM on a laptop.

As you’ll see in the 9 minute video, for many workflows with 2 or 3 layers of video , Mercury Software playback will fit their needs perfectly. With newer Intel processers and fast hard drives, Mercury software playback can render Titles, transitions, PSDs, and effects like Ultra Keying, and Color correction (Fast Color Corrector) in real-time. As you’ll see in the video, playback is very smooth.


Remember that the Red Line above the Sequence means that you are using the CPU to process data. It does not mean you can’t play in real-time. Frankly, we need more colors to show what’s actually happening during playback of the Sequence – I’ve already added it to the Premiere Pro wish list.

What about CUDA? I thought Premiere Pro CS5 required an approved nvidia card for Real-time.

Remember that Mercury Back has 2 modes:


1. 64 bit Software playback mode.  ie CPU + OpenGL mode

2. Hardware assist playback mode. ie CPU + GPU w/CUDA


When you have an approved nvidia CUDA card, you get powerful parallel processing (CPU + GPU) which allows you to edit and Export at the same time with incredible speed. The CUDA card can take on effects and free up the processor to handle other non CUDA tasks.No question, if you have the choice – this is the most powerful option.


With newer processors like Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor (8 Threads), the CPU can now take on a lot more tasks. We can now even use laptops to playback native Red files in ¼ mode instead of 1/8 mode. This was previously only possible on a desktop system. I was completely caught off guard – this was really impressive to see Intel giving us this type of performance in a laptop. Native DSLR (Canon 5D) and RED editors will totally dig this.

Bottom line, if you need to edit on a system that has a fast processor and an AMD/ATI, or other non-supported CUDA cards, give it try. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.We have a ton of surprises in in the works.


  • By Ron - 1:45 PM on April 19, 2011  

    DAVE, NEED HELP. I believe you that this can work but I simply cannot from my new Mac. My Macbook is brand new out of the box and has the newly changed graphic cards (AMD, not Nvidia) for 2011 as you know. Everything in CS5 master collection works except Premiere Pro. Btw, I’m using the trial downloaded from Adobe. I cannot find any information about this error. Surely someone else has had this problem.

    Upon starting up Premiere (which never gets past this error msg): “Adobe Premeire Pro could not find any capable video play modules. Please update your video display drivers and start again.

    Actions taken thus far with nothing working yet:
    1.) System update so everything should be the latest Rev including the GPUs.
    2.) Tryed starting with battery only to use the Intel GPU and with the power attached to use the AMD GPU. Rebooted
    3.) Tryed both turning on/off the automatic graphics switching feature. Nothing works. Rebooted

    MacBook Pro 8,2
    Core i7
    2 GHz
    4 Gb Memory
    AMD Radeon HD 6490M, VRAM (256mb)
    Intel HD Graphics 3000, VRAM (384mb)

    • By David Helmly - 2:01 PM on April 19, 2011  


      Your problem could be 2 things – One is an issue with the AMD driver in 10.6.7 on this laptop. Apple released this laptop without giving vendors a heads up on its changes – .We have seen this and are testing a fix now for CS5.0 users.

      The other problem is the trial version in CS5.0 does NOT include any MPEG codec support due to license issues with MPEGLA.

      GOOD NEWS: On May 3rd 2011, you’ll be able to download the new trial version of CS 5.5 which DOES INCLUDE all codecs in the full version. You’ll be able to edit anything the retail app can edit. This will also include the driver fix for your laptop.

  • By Ron - 2:35 PM on April 19, 2011  

    Thanks for the quick response Dave. I am pulling my hair out and could not find any info out there on this issue. It’s was a little frustrating that my brand new Mac wasn’t working for Premiere. But your right, I updated and now have OSX 10.6.7. Any temporary solution for two weeks? Sounds like I should just wait, huh?

    Thanks again for your response. I will update my Adobe forum posts and thanks for the video. It was the only place that kept me going on a solution…:-).