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Adobe makes the CS6 sales pitch

What kind of software can you buy for $2,600? Creative Suite 6, arriving in May with a long list of new features for those dealing with photo, video, Web sites, and publishing.

CS6 icons

Adobe Systems first showed a few paws, then a tail, then a couple ears and some whiskers -- but now the company is letting the complete Creative Suite 6 cat out of the bag.

After a series of sneak previews and early announcements, Adobe now is detailing the full CS6 line, the meat and potatoes of Adobe's business. It's important to a large number of people involved with photography, videography, design, and publishing on the Web or on paper, and it's set to be arrive within 30 days, Adobe announced today.

But CS products aren't cheap, so Adobe must periodically add something new to keep people coming back. This time around, Adobe is adapting CS6 for more advanced Web design and publishing on mobile devices, and it's got a major new way to buy the products for $50 a month, the new subscription plan called Creative Cloud. For CS3, CS4, and CS5.x customers, Adobe is offering an introductory offer of $30 per month.

The subscription includes a lot more than the CS6 Master Collection, including an 20GB Dropbox-like online file sync service, Lightroom for photo editing and cataloging, Adobe's new Edge and Muse tools for designing Web pages in the HTML5 era, the Touch apps for tablets, Web site hosting, and a tablet publishing service.

But for the traditional set, Adobe also is continuing to offer its perpetual-license model for the narrower CS6 line. The all-encompassing Master Collection CS6 costs $2,599 new and $549 to upgrade; the more basic Design Standard costs $1,299/$299; and the Production Premium and the newly consolidated Design and Web Premium options each cost $1,899/$399.

What exactly is Adobe throwing into the mix to attract customers? Plenty. Here's a breakdown, and Adobe's list of top items is at the bottom of the story.

Photoshop CS6
The updated Photoshop comes with a darker interface and a number of features. For one thing, its brainy content-aware tools are a notch brainier for filling in backgrounds or stretching features automatically. For another, it gets a more more sophisticated video editing that's now in the ordinary version of Photoshop, not just standard.

Photoshop CS6 adds new "content-aware" tools for making up image data automatically when objects are removed or elongated.
Photoshop CS6 adds new "content-aware" tools for making up image data automatically when objects are removed or elongated. Adobe Systems

And it's got a lot of new hardware acceleration for better performance. Blur effects can be used to selectively focus on one patch of a photo or to simulate the currently vogue tilt-shift lens effect. And an adaptive wide-angle filter lets people fiddle with photos to get more natural-looking perspectives.

By itself, Photoshop costs $699 new for the standard version and $999 for the Extended version that adds 3D graphics and other features. It also can be used for $20 a month with an annual subscription or $30 per month for a month-to-month subscription.

Premiere Pro
Adobe's video-editing tool gets a radically simplified user interface that puts the video itself front and center rather than relegating it to panels encrusted with buttons and menus. The panel for managing video clips lets videographers scrub through videos and set the in and out points on the spot for faster work.

Premiere Pro CS6 gets a streamlined interface and a retooled panel at lower left for organizing and trimming video clips.
Premiere Pro CS6 gets a streamlined interface and a retooled panel at lower left for organizing and trimming video clips. Adobe Systems

Keyboard-oriented editors also get new controls for trimming video clips to a precise length, After Effects' Warp Stabilizer feature has been built in to correct for camera shake and rolling shutter problems, and the software can handle any number of cameras for multicam shoots. Laptop users will be pleased to know that the hardware-accelerated Mercury Playback Engine now supports higher-end new MacBook Pro models, too.

After Effects
This program is for video editors who need to add visual effects, composite multiple videos together, and build motion graphics -- think of the logos that fly across a TV screen as the big game is starting up. The big new feature here is caching that dramatically improves performance. A memory cache and a disk cache mean that once AE effects such as color changes are calculated, they can be reused as a foundation when adding other effects; previously, the software would have to recalculate every layer each time a new one was added. Adobe hopes the new approach will lower the barriers to experimenting with new looks.

Another new feature is the 3D camera tracker, which computes the position in 3D space of the camera used to shoot the footage based on the 2D motion in the video. Knowing that position means it's easier to perform effects such as creating shadows from 3D text added to a scene.

The new Prelude
Yet another video-editing facet is handled by a new program called Prelude. It's designed to get an early start on video editing by letting editors ingest video right after it's shot, tag it with metadata such as comments linked to particular moments in the footage, and assemble rough cuts out of collections of clips. Rough cuts can be handed off to Premiere Pro for more refined work.

The new SpeedGrade
Another new package is SpeedGrade for color-grading video, which means applying a particular color and tonal look. It works in conjunction with Premiere Pro and After Effects, and entered the suite via Adobe's acquisition of Iridas. The software can give digital footage a film-like look through presets or custom settings.

For designers working with vector art, the chief change in the CS6 version of Illustrator was made under the covers. Adobe moved it to a 64-bit foundation and Mac OS X's Cocoa interface, a transition Photoshop already made with the CS5 generation. One of the big advantages of Illustrator's shift is the ability to handle larger, more complicated illustrations with numerous elements. "We can take advantage of all available memory," said Brenda Sutherland, Illustrator product manager.

Illustrator CS6 gets an overhauled tracing tool to convert bitmap graphics to vector graphics.
Illustrator CS6 gets an overhauled tracing tool to convert bitmap graphics to vector graphics. Adobe Systems

Also in Illustrator is a new utility to convert bitmaps such as photos into vector art. "I'm happy to say we got rid of Live Trace. We replaced it with a brand-new feature that has much better results and a much simpler user interface," Sutherland said.

Illustrator also has a tool for creating tiles that can be linked together into repeating patterns such as wallpaper, wrapping paper, or screen backgrounds.

This software for layout has been updated to be more adept at digital publishing, not just paper. New "liquid page rules" let designers designate elements of a page as anchored or movable so a layout can automatically adjust to different screen sizes or shifts from portrait to landscape orientation on tablets.

For more dramatic reworking, a tool called the content collector serves as a beefed-up version of copy and paste. A designer can use it to harvest elements from one design that then can be placed quickly onto another.

Adobe's list of the CS6 varieties
Adobe's list of the CS6 varieties Adobe Systems

Flash Professional
Flash Pro is at a crossroads, because the Web is moving away from Flash. It remains widely used on personal computers as a way to deliver streaming video and casual games, but faced with Apple's iOS ban, Adobe ditched an effort to spread it to mobile devices. Flash Pro is far from over, though; the CS6 version can be used to create self-contained apps for iOS and Android that use a Flash foundation called AIR that's built into the app. One of the big new features in the latest AIR is Stage3D, which enables use of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics useful in games.

And Flash Pro is beginning to embrace the Web standards such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS that are displacing Flash Player. Flash Pro CS6 can use a plug-in called CreateJS that helps adapt Flash content so it'll run using a browser's JavaScript engine.

Adobe's Web site design software, Dreamweaver, is getting more attention with the prominence of HTML5 and the host of increasingly capable related Web standards. With CS6, the software works better for creating adaptable pages that work on everything from smartphones to personal computers, said product manager Scott Fegette. "Dreamweaver CS6 makes it easier for multiscreen [with] a movement called responsive design," he said.

Dreamweaver CS6 gets new abilities for Web page layouts that can be set to fluidly adapt to different screen sizes.
Dreamweaver CS6 gets new abilities for Web page layouts that can be set to fluidly adapt to different screen sizes. Adobe Systems

Also new in Dreamweaver is support for CSS transitions, a standard that can add pizzazz to Web pages through animated effects to Web page elements.

Not part of CS6, though are two new tools for Web design, Edge and Muse. Muse is geared for designers who want to make Web sites without having to learn how to code, while Edge is for creating interactive Web sites powered by Web standards.

Adobe is just wrapping up Muse, and Edge is coming later in the year. Each will be available through a $15-per-month subscription or through the larger Creative Cloud subscription; Muse will be subscription only, but Adobe hasn't decided yet how exactly how to sell Edge. Closer integration with other Adobe software is possible with Creative Suite 7, said Scott Morris, senior marketing director for Adobe Creative Professionals.

For now, though, Adobe hopes customers will lean toward the Creative Cloud option.

Updated at 8:36 a.m. PT to replace an incorrect Adobe chart.

Adobe's list of top CS6 features
Adobe Systems