Adobe Premiere Elements 10

The tenth version on the tenth anniversary of Adobe’s market-leading video-editing software brings full 64-bit support, key to powerful video editing, considering the file size of modern video content. It also makes some delightful effects far simpler to create.  Color correction and enhancement tools have gotten simpler and more powerful. The good folks at Adobe have also added the ability to directly upload to Facebook and YouTube. And new support for the popular AVCHD format means you can burn DVDs with Blu-ray quality HD. But is all this enough to bring Premiere Elements back into the lead among consumer video editors?

In short, no. Though performance gets a boost over the last version, the program still isn’t as quick at rendering and previewing digital movies as CyberLink PowerDirector 9 ($99.95, 4.5 stars). Premiere Elements’ still has a well-designed interface. And its organizational skills are excellent, beating the competition with its automatic video tagging, including automatic people-tagging.

Setup
New for version 10 is a 64-bit Windows version. The setup isn’t a quick hit of the install button. The 1.5GB installer still requires a reboot, and if you want the full set of content like menus, themes, and templates, you’ll have to install it from a second DVD. It’s a lot of content—three standard-definition sets and three HD. Nero’s Video Premium HD manages to get all the content loaded in one bout of installation, but it does require a reboot and takes a lot longer. I tested Premiere Elements 10 on a 3.4GHz AMD Phenom quad-core desktop with 4GB RAM, running 64-bit Windows 7. The graphics adapter was an ATI Radeon HD 4290 with the latest driver installed.

The Organizer
Whenever you start Premiere Elements, you’ll first see its Welcome screen, from which you can open or start a new project, or open the same Organizer app you get with Photoshop Elements 10. As we’ve complained in the past, this window is more of a roadblock to get to the editor than in any other consumer video editor. Sony Vegas Movie Studio, for example, just shows a small welcome box to let you start or open a project, but its main editor window is already loaded.

The first time I ran the Organizer, it offered to import all my pictures and videos residing on the PC. Unlike Picasa, it doesn’t just scan your disks—you tell it which folders to check. Still, you can set folders to “watch” which will cause Elements to automatically import anything new. It will, however, by default check all subfolders of the folder you choose. The separate Organizer app seems more skewed to photos than videos. Some options that might seem to apply to video as well as photos don’t. For example, “Auto Color” simply pops up a message saying you can only use it with photos.

You can access how-to videos from the Organizer, but some help video content is reserved exclusively for Plus members, even though some of the tips are pretty basic (like when to use the Timeline versus Sceneline view). I wish it were easier to view just videos and to view all files on the PC without having to select a folder. Fortunately, once I got out of the Organizer and into the video editor proper, buttons let me do this. I could preview clips in the Organizer, but some only after downloading a separate driver (QuickTime).

Importing
When I clicked the Import Media button, an Advanced window displayed thumbnails of the videos in the source I chose, whether a folder or media card. This dialog also let me apply metadata such as tags and copyright info, as well as auto-correction of red eyes and stacking similar images. As with most software that does media importing, you can specify deleting the media from the camera after import, but I’m not a fan of using that till I know I’ve got the videos and photos safely on my PC. For one MP4 HD video I imported, Premiere Elements would never show me a thumbnail in its source tray, even though other apps and even Windows itself had no trouble showing it.

During import, Premiere Elements can analyze and tag your content, associating Smart Tags to it, indicating characteristics like blurry or in focus, bright or dark, and perhaps most impressively, whether the clip contains people. Face detection provides a helpful and automated way to find clips later using the tag filter dropdown. This isn’t equaled in other apps like PowerDirector or Pinnacle Studio, though iMovie has a similar feature.

Surprisingly, most other video editors (Pinnacle, PowerDirector, Vegas Movie Studio) don’t offer any video tagging, the way most photo editing software lets you tag images for organization and selection later during clip selection. But the automatic people tagging is even more impressive than it sounds—you can later limit your clip tray to just those with One Face, Two Faces, Small Group, Large Group, Close-up, or Long Shot—all without manually entering a single tag. It’s not at the point of face recognition that some photo software does, but it’s a start.

Video Editor Interface
Its polished interface is one area in which Premiere Elements shines, beating out most of the competition in general usability and clarity. Once you get to the actual video editing interface by choosing “Edit with Premiere Elements,” you’ll see your imported clips’ thumbnails in the right media tray where you can click a star rating under each, or double click to do some trimming in the previewer. Tabs at the top for Project, Edit, Disc Menus, and Share modes make for a well-designed and clear video project workflow. These mode choices outshine what you get in Sony Vegas Movie Studio, but are equaled in PowerDirector.

Buttons here make it simple to view only video or photo thumbnails and to sort by length or name. Right clicking on the source thumbnail offers choices to remove tags—either auto or your own—or create an InstantMovie. You actually start creating a non-Instant movie by dragging clips into either the timeline or scene view.

Instant Movies
The Create Instant Movie checkbox is perfect for those who want instant creativity. When I chose this, after importing I was presented with a choice of themes, from birthday party to sports to newsreel to “Performance Star,” but several of them more suited to still image slideshows. Some themes involve yet another download and install process , though. Nero Vision Xtra—part of the company’s Video Premium HD, goes further than both, with 40 included themes and a whole site for community-built themes. But other options like Sony Vegas Movie Studio offer no instant movie feature at all. I do like that you can preview Premiere’s themes—both their sound and visuals.

The instant movies turned out some engaging results, with relevant intros, transitions, and added objects like footballs and soccer balls for the new Fun in the Sun theme. CyberLink and Nero offer tons of community-generated themes, so you’re more likely to find, say, a specific rugby theme rather than just a general sports theme.

A new option in Premiere Elements 10 is the automated Pan and Zoom tool. This automatically finds faces in photos and creates a movie based on these. You can choose how long you want the frame on each face. But this only works with one photo at a time. My results were less than brilliant. I was impressed that the software could identify the back of a head as a human, but missed one of the front-facing faces.

Basic Editing
Clip entry, trimming, and splitting are a snap in Premiere Elements. The bracket that appears in the timeline when you place the cursor at a spot in a component clip make for an easy way to trim and split clips, but a double click opens precision trimmer in a separate small window for more accuracy. Disappointingly, this tool didn’t let me set multiple in and out points, the way PowerDirector does. Premiere Elements’ timeline view is less quick to respond to zooming and other navigation than PowerDirector and Pinnacle Studio, but its Sceneline view is more useful, with transition drop targets between your clips. The timeline responsiveness is a big win for PowerDirector, though. All three apps let you step through a clip frame by frame using timecodes, or enter a specific timecode to jump to.

Adobe Premiere Elements can do all the basics—lighting, rotation, cropping, clipping. It also offers auto contrast, auto levels. A quibble is that it would be nice if you could double-click on the effect thumbnail to apply it, rather than having to click the Apply button. After applying, most effects offer further control from the Edit Effects button. In all, there are over 80 effects you can apply, in groups like distort, stylize, and transform. A right-click offers time stretching, which lets you speed up or slow down a clip to fit your time budget, or just for effect.

Transition options are plentiful, and, as with effects, I like how you can choose a type from a dropdown like 3D motion, dissolve, iris, or page peel. And a search box lets you enter the name of the one you’re looking for. CyberLink PowerDirector doesn’t have the search, which makes it harder to find the transition you want.

 

Getting Fancy with Your Movies
Not only does Premiere Elements offer plenty of keying options like blue and green screening to paste a foreground video, such as a person in front of a different background video, but it also offers VideoMerge, which doesn’t require a green or blue screen, but tries to remove the background automatically. When I tested this, even on a uniform background, the results were pretty useless, though a bit better when I used the option to specify a color for removal. A green-screen chroma key, however, worked nearly perfectly in my testing.

The app accepts third party VST audio plug-in effects and even comes with some third-party video effects like the NewBlue Cartoonr Plus, which attempts to give your video a cartoon drawing effect. Its results were pretty interesting, if not a total replacement for human cartoon animators or Pixar Studios. It did offer a wealth of adjustments like density, cleanup, width, mix, layers, and nine paint options. Pinnacle Studio requires a $100 add-in to create a cartoon effect. Nero’s Sketch effect is similar, but offers less control than Adobe’s. And Sony Vegas Movie Studio offers the same NewBlue FX, and even offers more helpful presets for drawing styles.

Another feature Premiere Elements gives you is effects masks, which let you apply effects to just one area in the video frame. This isn’t possible in more-entry-level apps like iMovie, though all the direct competitors like Sony Vegas Movie Studio and Nero Video Studio HD do this. The app also offers keyframing to time effects with specific video frames you mark, and a motion detection feature that lets you attach objects like speech bubbles to moving parts of the video, and Timeline markers and beat markers for soundtrack synchronizing. You can change the speed of or have a clip play in reverse, or freeze frame—mostly stuff you can forget about looking for in an entry-level video app.

A new option in Premiere Elements 10 is the automated Pan and Zoom tool. This automatically finds faces in photos and creates a movie based on these. You can choose how long you want the frame on each face. But this only works with one photo at a time. My results were less than brilliant. I was impressed that the software could identify the back of a head as a human, but missed one of the front-facing faces.

Whether you’re a fan of 3D video or have no use for it, the leaders among the latest generation of consumer video-editing software offers it. PowerDirector, MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus HD, and Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum can all boast the capability. Premiere Elements, unfortunately, has nothing to show in 3D editing yet.

Audio Editing and Cleaning
Premiere Elements lets you view audio waveforms under each clip in your movie project’s timeline, and lets you raise and lower the volume at particular points, fix noise and hum, or even add wacky sound distortion and acoustics effects. But PowerDirector adds a full app for audio fixing, rather than Premiere Elements’ batch of separate effects icons in the effect panel. In either, you can make multiple voiceover tracks, and keep adding more till you have all the commentary you want.

The SmartMix feature can automatically mix multiple audio tracks including  soundtrack background and dialog, and Prefab soundtracks, called SmartSound, are available, which Mac users can take advantage fo. The latter involves a plugin from Sonicfire. This exited without working for me, even though I had a strong internet connection, required for the plugin to download.

Output and Sharing
Premiere Elements sharing options are no longer relegated to the Organizer. Now you can upload to Facebook, YouTube, or Podbean directly from within the video editor. Easier sharing to Facebook is one of Elements 10’s hallmarks, as is a DVD-like online experience hosted by Adobe on Photoshop.com. Sharing to YouTube—where else would you want to upload your video?—couldn’t be easier. And you can choose 1080 high-definition format. Just click on the Share tab, which also lets you create a “Web DVD”—an online video hosted at Photoshop.com that includes DVD-style menus. You can also upload to Podbean.

Alongside uploading and file creation are Premiere Elements’ DVD authoring talents, accessed from the Disc Menus tab of the source panel. Here’ you’ll see main and scene menu template thumbnails grouped by general, birthday, sports, wedding, and so on. There are 14 categories, with two to seven choices in each. Of course, you can join the Plus program for more styles. You just drag the one you want to the preview window, and chapters will be automatically created if you haven’t already designated scenes. Type on titles right in the preview window to customize, and drag media into the menus. I could burn Blu-ray discs as well as DVDs, and new for version 10, AVCHD format to DVD, which lets you play shorter HD videos on a standard DVD player.

Performance
Premiere Elements was mostly sturdy and responsive, but I actually managed to crash it a couple times on my 64-bit Windows 7 machine. One MP4 720p test played HD video extremely sluggishly at full screen in the Organizer, compared with PowerDirector’s smooth playback. In the editor proper, playback was smooth, but very blurry. Premiere Elements reduces the resolution for snappier playback while editing, but on my test machine, which wasn’t a slouch, these previews were extremely muddy. The preview image would snap into focus when I paused.

Sometimes when I moved the scrubber or hit Play, I had to wait several seconds before anything would happen.  But when I applied the Stabilizer effect in the editor, the video playback stalled, looking more like a slideshow. A red line over the clip in the timeline shows un-rendered movie sections, explaining the jerky or muddy preview. I could select the clip and hit Enter to wait for it to render it, but even for a 30 second clip, this about 3 minutes. This points to the importance of my next test, rendering performance.

In a head-to-head rendering performance test, I took a test movie consisting of the same five clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD) with the same transitions and rendered it to 720p MPEG2-DVD format in each program. Premiere Elements took 7:27 (min:sec), while PowerDirector took 3:02 for the same source, transitions, and output format on the same PC. That’s less than half the time, folks! Premiere Elements showed an estimated time to completion, which was useful and quite accurate. PowerDirector adds the time elapsed, and actually previews the video being rendered. Of course, if you extrapolate the time difference out to longer, higher-definition projects, they’ll be magnified.

Adobe Premiere Element’s startup time has improved from last time I tested. A warm startup (after the program had been running, then was shut down) took 25 seconds, and a cold startup, after a system reboot, took 34 seconds. Shutdown, too, was far better, happening in about a second. But PowerDirector still had Premiere Element’s soundly beat on this measure, starting up cold in 16 seconds, warm in a snappy 3 seconds, and shutdown was nearly instantaneous.

Taking Your Digital Movies to the Next Level
Premiere Elements 10 adds a few new tricks, but its performance trails that of CyberLink PowerDirector significantly. Waiting for operations to finish is no video editor’s idea of fun, and by that measure PowerDirector has Premiere Elements beat hands down. With loads of video enhancing and movie techniques and embellishments, Adobe Premiere Elements 10 is still a good choice for budding videographers. But because it hasn’t moved forward as much as we’d hoped, not just in performance, but in advanced things like 3D editing, Adobe Premiere Elements 10 still trails our consumer video editing software Editors’ Choice, CyberLink PowerDirector.

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