Adobe's first foray into consumer-level video editing, Adobe Premiere Elements, takes the most useful parts of , the company's $699 professional-level program, and distills them into a sub-$100 home title. The program offers a remarkable number of features and customization options for the price, but its level of detail makes it more complicated than some hobbyists may want. Adobe Premiere Elements comes as a three-disc set: two CDs for the program and one DVD of training materials. The program itself requires 1.2GB of disk space, but installation is simple and fast; follow the wizard, and you'll be done in a few minutes. The program itself starts up slowly, due to the number of components that need to load. When it's done, a splash screen asks you to pick a task: start a new project, open an existing project, or capture video.
Juggling the various panels on our 17-inch CRT display was pretty annoying; we had to enlarge windows to see their contents, which caused them to overlap, so we constantly needed to click windows to bring them forward. In many cases, however, you can drag the tabs out of one window and combine them with another to save space.
Unlike with competing products, which tend to force you into specific modules for different tasks, you'll find only a loose organization to Premiere Elements, which lets you work in whatever order you're most comfortable. You add video, audio, and still photos to the Media panel in the top left and view your work in the Monitor panel in the top center. The timeline stretches along the bottom; it begins with two video and two audio tracks, although you can add up to 99 of each. A How To panel sits in the top right, ready to help (although as soon as you're comfortable, you'll want to ditch it in order to make room on your screen). Finally, Capture, Edit, Effects, Title, DVD, and Export buttons along the top quickly bring you to other parts of the program. If you've tried other consumer-level programs, you might wonder where Adobe Premiere Elements' quick-and-dirty video Wizard is. But it's not that kind of program. There's no instant-video option, such as the one in , that can automatically capture, segment, add music, and burn your DVD in a few simple steps. Instead, the program offers more subtle and powerful capabilities.
When you've finished with your editing, the program lets you add a professional-looking DVD menu (choose from seven different categories, such as Travel and Wedding) and burn a DVD or export to QuickTime, Windows Media, MPEG, or tape. If you export to a video format, you can then select the size and frame rate you prefer.
For a first version, Premiere Elements is a beautifully stable product. We tested it for days and never experienced so much as a hiccup. Importing, editing, and burning all went smoothly. Adobe Premiere Elements' features show its professional-level pedigree; for better and worse, so do its support options. The 177-page manual does a tolerable job of explaining the basics, but it's a sloppy truncation of the full version's manual; for example, there's a note to read up on keyframes on page 233. The electronic files are better and delve more deeply into the program's features. The program also comes with a training DVD so that you can work your way through various lessons. But Adobe falls down when it comes to more advanced support. The Web site offers scant help files; the user forums are the best resource. Unpardonably, you get no free phone or e-mail support and can contact Adobe for free only if you're having installation troubles or if the product is defective. Otherwise, Adobe asks you to shell out either $39 for a phone call or $159 per year for Expert Support, which allows you unlimited calls. Those are support options for people on corporate budgets, not home users.