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Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium review: Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium

Adobe's new CS3 Production Premium software package is a solid upgrade for the growing number of professionals and enthusiasts creating film, Web and mobile phone content. For instance, an agency could use CS3 Production Premium to create a comprehensive advertising campaign in which TV commercials, Flash-based Web sites, and smart phones can share motifs without forcing creators to duplicate work (the CS3 Master Collection takes this a step further).

8.0

Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium

The Good

Adobe CS3 Production Premium's snug integration enables dragging and dropping of content throughout the applications while Dynamic Link skips rendering steps; Premiere has new slow-motion effects; AfterEffects adds Puppet animation and Shape Layers; Clip Notes streamline workflow; suite previews content on handheld gadgets; HD and Blu-ray support; works on some Macs.

The Bad

Adobe CS3 software can be a nightmare for newbies to master; lacks AVCHD support; color correction is basic; pricey technical help; limited options for Mac users.

The Bottom Line

Adobe CS3 Production Premium is ideal if you handle a mix of design, animation and editing tasks for video, the Web, and mobile gadgets. However, beginners should think twice about the splurge, and film pros without deep animation needs should probably stick to Apple Final Cut Studio 2 or AVID.


Adobe Bridge CS3 helps to manage assets throughout the many applications.

Installation
Installing the five-disc Adobe CS3 Production Premium took about an hour on both Windows XP and Vista PCs. The process was relatively free of surprises, and custom installation lets you pick or reject third-party content, codecs, and libraries. This package requires at least 32 GB of hard drive space, a 32-bit video card, and a 1,280x1,024 resolution monitor. We also worked on a laptop with a 15 inch, 1,280x800 monitor, which felt cramped. Mac users must have an Intel-based machine to run Premiere, Soundbooth, or Encore, or to use the Dynamic Link and Capture features in After Effects; Windows and BootCamp are required for OnLocation.

Interface
Once the programs are open, interfaces have changed somewhat, as former Macromedia properties resemble Adobe's style. The Production Premium bundle offers shared keyboard shortcuts, enhanced tweaks to workflows, and streamlined management of palettes. There are plenty of panels to drag and dock on the screen. But unfortunately, as with the rest of CS3, the many tabbed and drop-down menus with tiny labels prevent newbies from diving in without first investing hours with manuals and tutorials. That said, we found the interface changes an improvement, while Bridge can smooth the workflow. And if you already know your way around, creative tools, such as Puppet animation in After Effects, are easy to tinker with.

Features
Shared CS3 file formats and dragging and dropping allow you to move content briskly between the applications. In the process, the programs will keep layers, color settings, and styles intact. Flash provides native support for Photoshop files; Illustrator files get the same treatment in Flash. You can also export Photoshop layers to Flash or Flash Video, and export its video layers to After Effects and Premiere Pro. Adobe's Dynamic Link technology enables video editors to move content throughout Premiere, AfterEffects, and Encore while maintaining editing access.


The Puppet tool makes animating a cartoon character or a real person as easy as sticking a pin on the limbs, then stretching them by using the mouse.

After Effects
Although Apple has enhanced Motion's creative goodies within Final Cut Studio 2, AfterEffects reigns for postproduction video effects and animation. Adobe AfterEffects CS3 offers powerful new toys that are a snap to check out, once you've already learned the ins and outs of the interface.

New creative tools include Puppet, Shape Layers, and Brainstorm. Puppet enables you to make lively character animations, and copy and paste them onto multiple figures, without dealing with paths and Bezier shapes. It's easy to add simple pinpoints, say, to hands and feet, and then stretch them with the stroke of a mouse. The Starch option can fix a stable point while you choose for others to flop around. We turned photos of friends into Gumby-like jumping figures in a few quick steps.

Shape Layers allow you to create vector shapes and text without opening Illustrator. We had tested this feature before its final release, and thought it was a piece of cake. However, suffering amnesia months later, we cursed Adobe's user manual for making something simple seem nearly impossible. Once you master the basic steps, however, you might enjoy the relief of tweaking new, preset Brainstorm animations to your liking. And the results of After Effects' new capabilities are already starting to surface in commercials that feature fancy, exploding, fractal-like animations. Creating 3D models from flat Photoshop photographs is relatively easy as well. You can also apply 3D effects to individual text characters.


The Shape Layers features in After Effects enable drawing and animating vector shapes.

Premiere
While the last version of Premiere was known to improve stability, this upgrade expands its creative tools. There aren't as many fun toys as in AfterEffects, but Premiere does offer less-complicated controls if you want to slow down, say, the last moments at the finish line in footage of a foot race. Time Remapping lets you create slow-motion and other time effects with keyframe precision within the timeline--but not during real-time playback, which would be much more elegant. And while Premiere's color correction tools are good, they're shallower than those offered by Color within Apple Final Cut Studio 2.

Once you add an effect in After Effects, Dynamic Link can make the change live in the attached Premiere clip--a big boost if you're making round trips throughout the CS3 applications. Unfortunately, there's no Advanced Video Codec High Definition support. We wonder if this might come in the future, as Apple rolled AVCHD support into its first update for Final Cut Studio 2.


Premiere's color-correction may be a cinch to use, but they're not as deep as those offered within Apple Final Cut Studio 2.

Soundbooth
Rather than including the more complex Audition in CS3, Adobe designed the Soundbooth audio editor to appeal to visual thinkers. For instance, you can see hisses, pops, and cell phone rings easily in Soundbooth's colorful Spectral Frequency display, similar to Apple Soundtrack Pro's Frequency Spectrum View. We like that removing an unwanted noise is as easy as using the eraser, marquee or lasso tools in Photoshop. Auto healing considers what's before and after the selection when cleaning up pops and clicks, but it could be smarter. Nondestructive effects allow you to restore an original file, should you slip up.

Dragging controls let you easily fade sound in and out, enhancing the volume by 3 decibels with one click. The Play Selected Frequencies Only box allows you to zero in on a problem area. Helpful tools include Remove a Sound, Auto Compose Score, and Create Loop. The Pitch & Timing dialog shows time stretch and shift sliders. You can produce multichannel, 5.1 surround-sound audio. Plus, Soundbooth offers thousands of royalty-free scores, not just loops, to play with, which should expand as Adobe offers users a software development kit.

Although Soundbooth is less intimidating than audio editors such as Audition or Ableton Live, it could be more intuitive. For instance, we had to squint to see the tiny icons for navigating waveforms and enhancing volume.


Soundbooth's Frequency Spectrum view adds color to waveforms to enable simple cleanup of pops, hisses, and other audio aberrations.

Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash
Photoshop CS3 Extended includes features for animators and video editors who want to render their work for After Effects. The new Movie Paint feature allows you to edit movie frames as you would with images in Photoshop. This version of Photoshop also incorporates a new Clone Source palette and Onion Skinning. New document profiles include default settings for various types of media, including those for video and the Web.

Integration with Illustrator streamlines vector animation. The Crop Area option in Illustrator lets you lets you draw a rectangle appropriate to the type of media you're creating, and then export it into After Effects.

After Effects can set cue points and use keyframes for cue points in Flash videos. You can batch render FLVs and preserve alpha channels in images when jumping between Flash, Photoshop, and Illustrator. However, we wish that CS3 Production Premium included Dreamweaver. After Effects can recognize color management profiles from Photoshop. You can bring in a layer style, such as drop shadow from Photoshop, and AfterEffects will make it live.

Encore, Ultra, OnLocation
Among the applications we only briefly tested, Encore is relatively straightforward, as is Ultra CS3, which enables chroma-keying with background composites. During the recording process, OnLocation allows you to monitor levels and correct errors and inconsistencies that may be hard to spot from a camera alone. This application, which we did not test, also enables prerecording to capture something that happened up to 30 seconds before you pressed the Record button.

Used in tandem with Premiere Pro, OnLocation (formerly DVRack HD) enables you to capture digital and high-definition clips via FireWire to a Windows XP or Vista hard drive instead of to tape, eliminating the need to capture and import later.

Service and support
Adobe provides substantial book manuals for each of its applications, in addition to a quick workflow guide. Production Premium and the Master Collection also include exposure charts for shooting with OnLocation. We found Adobe's video tutorials more detailed than those provided by Apple for Final Cut Studio 2. Adobe also hosts free forums, where you can seek the wisdom of a crowd of users.

Getting Started help is free for 90 days after you first contact technical support. Costly paid support via telephone and e-mail comes in four tiers; at $175, Bronze guarantees one user a response time of four hours for five questions. At a colossal $1,200, Silver offers two users unlimited support for a year and guarantees a response within three hours. Gold and Platinum will cost corporate or enterprise users even more. However, as with Apple Final Cut, weekend support is limited--a major downside if you're racing to meet a deadline.

Conclusion
We were impressed by the range of tools and depth of integration throughout Adobe CS3 Production Premium, although its complexity sometimes made us want to scream "uncle." Although Adobe representatives claim they don't intend to lure legions of users away from Apple's popular Final Cut Studio 2, we suspect that Adobe CS3 Production Premium's well-stocked arsenal may tempt many creative types. Nevertheless, film professionals might prefer Final Cut Pro's appealing new open-format timeline and new color correction application. Adobe CS3 Production Premium is an excellent bundle for digital animators and editors, especially those who aren't wedded to Macs. But even users of Final Cut Pro will find plenty of features in AfterEffects that Apple software does not offer.

Unfortunately, this suite is expensive. That's not likely to be a problem for big companies, but individuals will have to choose carefully from among the six Creative Suite 3 editions (see chart below). It's a bit confusing if you want pieces of various editions without buying the entire $2,500 Master Collection. For instance, Production Premium includes Flash but not Dreamweaver or Fireworks for Web design. However, you can't find Premiere and AfterEffects in either the CS3 Web or Design packages.

Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium

  Price if bought separately

After Effects CS3 Professional
$999
Bridge CS3
N/A

Flash CS3 Professional
 
Flash CS3 Professional
$699

Illustrator CS3
$599

Photoshop CS3 Extended
$999

Premiere Pro CS3 with OnLocation (Mac version requires Intel-based Mac) and Encore CS3
$799

Soundbooth CS3 (Mac version requires Intel-based Mac)
$199
Ultra CS3 (Windows only)
N/A


Adobe Creative Suite 3 packages

  Price: Full Price: Upgrade
Creative Suite 3 Production Premium
$1,699 $799 (from Studios); $1,199 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Master Collection
$2,499 $1,999 (from Studios); $1,399 (from two older suites)
Creative Suite 3 Design Premium
$1,799 $599 (from Studios); $1,599 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Design Standard
$1,199 $399 (from Studios); $899 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Web Premium
$1,599 $499 (from Studios); $1,399 (from individual apps)
Creative Suite 3 Web Standard
$999 $399 (from Studios); $799 (from individual apps)

8.0

Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 9Support 7