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on 14 July 2011
Although I am well-accustomed to writing product reviews on Amazon, I have to admit I balked at the prospect of writing one for Adobe Production Premium CS5.5. Mainly because there are just so very many features that no review of it will ever be complete. However the more I use it, the more I want to SHARE it with everyone.

Bearing in mind I have upgraded from Macromedia Studio MX 2004,Adobe Photoshop Extended CS3, and Sony Movie Studio Platinum, to CS5.5 Production Premium, you can imagine that it is very much a quantum leap for me in terms of functionality and work-flow. Although Production Premium does not include Dreamweaver, my interests have moved from web authoring to video content since MX was the daddy, so Production is a much more suitable suite for me now.

Compared to Production CS4 and earlier, in terms of functionality, CS5.5 adds the following features:

- AFTER EFFECTS: Roto Brush tool, Refine Matte, AVC-Intra import, improved RED support, improvements and new plug-in tools for Mocha, Auto-keyframe mode, Apply Colour LUT effect, Align panel improvements, bundled Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse 3, bundled Digieffects FreeForm, Warp Stabiliser effect, Camera Lens Blur effect, source timecode support, improved stereoscopic 3D work-flow, light falloff, improvements to RAW work-flow, XDCAM EX support, and a whole bunch of other tweaks and improvements.

- PREMIERE PRO: Mercury Playback Engine, improved native tapeless work-flows, "script-to-screen" work-flow path when used with Adobe Story and OnLocation, round-trip editing with Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, various metadata features, CS Review for sharing dailies etc, revamped Adobe media Encoder, Ultra Key realtime HD footage chroma key, native support for DSLRs, integration with Encore DVD/Blu-Ray authoring suite, round-trip audio editing in Adobe Audition, closed captioning, improved speech analysis, and more.

- PHOTOSHOP: New and awesome refine edges module, content-aware filling and healing, rebuilt HDR merge/tone features, new "bristled" paint brushes, puppet warp, lens distortion correction profiles, 3D repoussé extruder, many 3D enhancements, CS Review integration, improved interactions with Bridge 5, ability to use newer versions of Adobe Camera RAW, GPU acceleration, 64-bit and 32-bit versions supplied.

- FLASH PRO: Share assets while authoring, copy/paste whole layers, scale content on stage resize, export as/convert to bitmap, code snippets panel, AIR for Android support, AIR 2.6 SDK, debug on-device via USB, new "Text Layout Framework", round-trip bitmap editing with Photoshop, new decorative drawing tools, physics in bone animations, XFL internal file format exchanges data with other Adobe applications, and a whole host of other tweaks and improvements.

- ILLUSTRATOR: Perspective drawing grid tool, variable width strokes, dashed line alignment, defined stroke arrowheads, brush stretch controls, bristled brush tool, shape builder tool, round-trip editing with Flash Catalyst, and more.

- ENTIRE SUITE: Adobe Audition (believe this replaces SoundBooth), Encore, Flash Catalyst, Bridge 5.5, Device Central, ExtendScript toolkit, Mocha for AE, Extension Manager 5.5, Pixel Bender Toolkit 2.6, and Media Encoder 5.5 are all included.
Dynamic Link connects assets between different applications, for example you can link an After Effects composition as a sequence in Premiere Pro, without having to render an output file from AE first. You can take this further by opening the Premiere project in Encore and building a Blu-Ray from your project and linked AE assets... delay rendering right till the point where you're about to burn a disc!

I actually found the new 3D Repoussé tool in Photoshop to be a little underwhelming, at least in terms of integration with After Effects, but as I said I have come from PS-CS3 so the rest of the upgrade more than makes up for it! Content aware fill has made my month.

The Roto Brush and Warp Stabiliser tools in After Effects are two of the biggest time savers I have ever seen in a software package, and the metadata integration between Adobe Story, OnLocation, and Premiere Pro is an independent content creator's dream. Being able to round-trip audio from Premiere to Audition for cleaning, and then sending it back again, is also really quite nifty.

Flash Professional I have only used so far for authoring a simple iPhone app. Taking advantage of ActionScript, and using the built-in animations and code snippets, makes it a breeze to create apps; much easier than learning object-oriented programming if you just want something simple. The exporter included with Flash also allows you to export your app to the Apple .ipa format along with all the correct metadata and icons bundled, which saves you from having to package up lots of resources yourself to make the application ready for Apple.
Just a word of warning: you WON'T be buying a copy of Flash and then making your fortune developing apps with it; many of the most crucial APIs for platform-specific Apple integration are missing from the ActionScript reference, for example iAds and in-app purchasing.
Another caution: you now MUST have an Apple Macbook Air/Pro, iMac, or Mac Mini in order to upload an app to the iTunes Connect service. The uploader on the Connect web site has been removed and apps can now only be added via the Application Uploader that ships with Xcode. You cannot upload an app from an iPhone, iPad, or PC.

I am unlikely to use Illustrator or Flash Catalyst, but having them in the package means that should I need to do some quick vector-based web or screen work, I have the means to do it. Which is nice. For me, the package was worth the money for Photoshop, AE, and Premiere - the other programs are nice bonuses!

CS5.5 has drawn some negative feedback regarding the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE) and its support for CUDA graphics cards. After going nuts trying to find reliable information on this I should probably share what I found: the MPE incorporates a software renderer which will work with any 64-bit computer regardless of whether the graphics card is CUDA-enabled. However, when one of a steadily-growing list of certified CUDA cards is present, MPE also uses hardware rendering to give a highly significant increase in rendering performance. This applies only to Premiere Pro rendering, NOT to After Effects. The list of certified CUDA cards is on the Adobe web site at /products/premiere/tech-specs.html.

Unfortunately for Mac users, the list of certified CUDA cards that are also Mac-compatible is really quite skinny compared to the list for PC-compatible cards. At the time of writing there are just three, one of which is a retired line and the other two of which are horrifically expensive. So nothing new there then! Also note that on Mac OS, CUDA acceleration features require Mac OSX v10.6.3 or later.

This release represents Adobe's big push to get most of its production software (a) 64-bit native, and (b) suitable for tapeless camera technologies, such as HD-DSLRs. The performance improvements from the 64-bit components such as AE, Photoshop, and Premiere are very noticeable indeed, and having presets and templates that I don't need to keep changing to match footage from a DSLR is one of those many little time savers that gives the whole experience a different kind of flavour.

All in all I would say that if you need to take projects from inside the camera to screen or disc, with any kind of professional editing and/or compositing, this package represents great value for money. As I delve more deeply into the software I will return to update this review if I find anything of note, particularly anything that might be a problem for prospective buyers. I hope this has been useful for people considering an upgrade or a switch!
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