The biggest change in the latest version of Adobe’s consumer video editing software, Premiere Elements 11 ($99.99), is the same as in its companion photo editor, Photoshop Elements 11—a redesigned, simpler interface for both the complementary Organizer app and the editing program itself. Premiere Elements 11 also adds some new effects, including cinematic FilmLooks, slow motion and speedup, and the ability to share with the artistic HD video site Vimeo. Video rendering speed has gotten faster, too, but some advanced video techniques still make for slow going during the edit process, and the software lacks some features you’ll find in competitors like CyberLink PowerDirector.
If you install Elements from the web, you’ll have to install or update the Adobe Air runtime in order to run Adobe Download Assistant. This requires an Adobe account login. At installation, you’re asked to choose between NTSC and PAL format for your disc output format, but text in the dialog helps you with this choice–basically the former for the Americas and the latter for Europe. Next, you’re warned that the program will attempt to phone home over the Internet to activate your license. The installation process required a restart. Thankfully, the setup doesn’t require installing separate runtimes or try to add toolbars to your browser, as some others do.
Interface and Organizer
Premiere Elements 11′s interface features a simpler, flatter, cleaner look—the direction the whole software industry is going, from Google Chrome to Windows 8. When you start the program, the redesigned Welcome screen reveals the new look: Organize and Edit have been replaced with Organizer and Video Editor, making it clearer that your choice is between launching two different apps. The Organizer is where you import, rate, keyword tag, and share media online, as well as outputting to other creative projects like DVDs. New mode options appear right at the top of the Organizer: Media, People, Places, and Events. These last three give you a new and helpful way of viewing your medi. The Organizer does seem skewed to photos—its Instant Fix button only works for those, as does the Places view.
You can capture video from within the editor, too, as well as simply importing media in the Organizer. The Editor’s Get Media button offers choices for Flip or Cameras, DV Camcorder, HDV Camcorder, DVD camera, and Webcam or WDM. If you’re planning to shoot in 4K, you’re out of luck with Elements, but that’s really a pro-level format that requires enormous computing resources. Users of the GoPro Hero3, which does shoot in 4K, will need to look at alternatives such as CyberLink PowerDirector. 3D video clips are another type of media unsupported in Premiere Elements, while several competitors such as Magix Movie Edit Pro, Sony Vegas Movie Studio, and PowerDirector have added support for this.
Like the Organizer and like Photoshop Elements 11, Premiere Elements’ main editor has also been simplified and streamlined. Atop the window are Quick and Enhanced mode buttons. The Quick interface uses an iMovie-like storyboard view of clips, and is one of the cleanest video editing views you’ll see anywhere. You can’t pop out panels into their own separate windows as you can in Sony Vegas Movie Studio, but you can use a dual monitor setup. The program window, though attractive doesn’t totally comply with Windows standard design—I couldn’t drag it to the side to take up half the screen or to the top center to full-screen it.
Along with this cleaner interface redesign, the interface feels faster (until you start applying any serious effects): scrubbing through high-def clips was delay-free unless I’d added overlays. As with most consumer video editing software these days, the program creates a lower-res preview version of your clips for immediate quick performance. You can hit the Render button at any time to see the full resolution movie, but this can take many minutes, depending on your video length and resolution, and you can’t render just one clip or section, just the whole movie. Somewhat helpfully, a line above the timeline shows which clips are rendered—green for done, and yellow for not ready.
The full-screen preview button was way at the top, away from the play and preview size buttons where you might expect it. This full-screen preview displays a shuttle control at the bottom, below step back and forward buttons and the play button, so it’s not really full-screen, but those controls are useful.
New in version 11 is the Project Assets panel, which drops down to show thumbnails of all your clips, audio, and image files. This resembles the way pros use “bins” in their video editing software to keep track of assets. There’s also a helpful History window, which lets you see what your project looked like at any point during your previous edits. One thing I missed on Expert mode’s timeline was the ability to quickly solo a track, hiding all the others; I had to manually uncheck Enable for tracks I didn’t want showing.
Basic Video Editing
Despite its simplicity, Quick mode has a button bar along the bottom of the screen offering plenty of editing tools, including color and light adjustments, transitions, titles, FX, music, and graphics. I liked the Auto options for lighting and color, which worked well. The Smart Fix tool attempts to automatically correct all this at once, and did a good job on my test clips. A search button makes it easy to find particular transitions, but thumbnails representing them are not animated using your own clip; they’re just a still image with A and B. I do like how, when you choose fade in or out (the most oft-used transition), the advanced timeline shows a line graph that lets you adjust the timing of the fade in and out.
Double-clicking a clip in the timeline opens a trimmer window, which makes it easy to set an in or out point, but didn’t let me split a clip or add multiple in and out points as CyberLink’s PowerDirector can. That’s useful for talking-head takes where the speaker may have goofed and repeated a phrase. This window doesn’t offer clip splitting, either, but on the timeline, a scissors icon does. I like how the timeline is “magnetic,” helpfully snapping clips to the edge of a preceding clip when you drag it near. Premiere Element’s Smart Trim identifies poor quality sections of your media and can delete them all at once, but I found this often left too little of my video.
The Instant Movie feature can applies canned effects and transitions to clips you select. You just chose from the list of themes—Fun in the Sun, Outdoor Wedding, Road Trip, Extreme Sports, for examples—and the program creates an edited movie for you. This isn’t at the level of iMovie’s Trailers feature, which tells you what kind of clips to add to a project with Hollywood-quality sound tracks and effects.
You can also apply some video effects as well as the new FilmLooks effects (more on these in a moment) in Quick mode. I had one interface peeve that applies to both Quick and Expert modes: I wish that you could just double click an effect while the clip want it applied to highlighted, instead of having to drag the effect onto the clip in the timeline.
Among the effects you can add from either Quick or Expert mode is Stabilize, which does a decent job of smoothing out jerky video, but it doesn’t play immediately, as you’d expect, and it gave my test clips a ripple-y look.
Advanced Video Effects
All the effects we’ve come to expect in a consumer video editor are still here: a wealth of transitions both 2D and 3D, picture-in-picture, chroma keying, scaling, opacity, and even keyframe-timed effects. I did find PiP editing slowed playback way down on my 3.4GHz AMD Phenom quad core Windows 7 test PC with 4GB RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 4290 graphics adapter. There are dozens of animated and still PiP presets, but it’s easy just to drag a clip above another on the timeline and resize it.
Chroma keying works excellently, with good control over opacity and chroma threshold, but at one point, when moving the threshold slider, my background in the preview switched to blue and the . When you add a clip with a solid background to your timeline in Expert mode, a dialog asks if you want to use the Videomerge feature, which makes the background transparent. You can even use Videomerge on non-green-screen clips, for a degree of overlay transparency.
A new set of video effects for Premiere Elements 11 are FilmLooks. Yes, you still get a slew of spiffy NewBlue effects (as you do in PowerDirector), including Film Look, which adds damage, sepia tint, jitter with a choice of wear patterns to make your movie look like it was shot in Charlie Chaplin’s day. Frankly, my interest in photos with retro effects is wearing as thin as the image on a hundred-year-old negative, but I’m sure many still find these charming. The new FilmLooks effects do offer a variety of looks, including a bright and blurry Dreamy, Hollywood Movie, which pumps up colors, and Pandora, which gives your movie the cool color cast of that title. These effects, however, are not always adjustable—some are either on or off. And applying a FilmLooks effect removes any other effects adjustments you’ve made to the clip.
A powerful tool in Premiere Elements 11 is the three-way color corrector. This lets you pump up a selected hue separately for midtones, highlights, and shadows.
Also new for version 11 is the time remapping tool—and it’s very cool. You select a portion of your video as a “time zone”, and a timeline control below lets you specify whether you want that part faster or slower, up to 8x and down to 1/8x. As with almost every intensive operation in the program, though, when I applied speedup to one clip section, playback nearly ground to a halt. It’s really hard to tell if your speedup or slowdown looks right when the playback is a stuttering slideshow. Another problem was that the audio of the sped up area wasn’t sped up, so I ended up with a gap in my video timeline. A couple of cool features here are the reverse mode and the ability to set the duration so your movie can last the length of time you desire. For slo-mo, you can choose frame blending to smooth the action, though this requires even more rendering.
Finally among the effect toolbar options is Graphics. The program can insert animated and still objects like flying birds and other animals, stars and snow, speech bubbles.
Titles and Text
Premiere Elements includes some attractive themed titling options, like Prime Time, Acquarium, Coming Book, and Ladybug Picnic. Most offer four templates, for credits, frame, lower third, and title. I had to download some of these before I could use them, but that was pretty painless since installing the content is all handled within the program. WYSIWYG editing made customizing the text a snap. But you’re not restricted to the present templates: You can choose from a huge variety of fonts and size it, choose a color, drag the text anywhere on the movie, and apply any of 38 animation styles.
Audio tracks can optionally show sound waveforms, and a yellow line in the middle lets you raise or lower a clips volume graphically. The Adjustments menu includes volume, balance, treble and bass boost, and AudioGain, which normalized audio to match sound levels of all your sources. Music button at the bottom offers ten background tracks to add to your movie, but you can add any MP3 or other sound file to an audio track in your timeline. From the Effect menu (the same one you get all the video effects from), you can choose Audio Effects, which include DeNoiser, delay, dynamics, and more. Some NewBlue audio effects are powerful, too, like its Audio Polish, which eliminates most background noise, hum remover, and reverb adder that lets you change the room size.
Sharing and Output
Most of your output options will be in the Organizer module, but there is a Publish+Share button in the editor at top right that can send your cinematic creations to DVD, computer files, or online. You can upload directly to Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo, choosing HD or SD quality. One option is an Adobe hosted Web DVD, which uses the same menus and chapters as a disc. You get themes for creating these, like Music Video, Broadway, New Baby, sports and holidays. This automatically builds chapters for each clip in your movie.
Saving files for use on Apple and other mobile devices is simple. All kinds of control over your output files is possible: choose Flash, MPEG, AVCHD, AVI, WMV, QuickTime, with options for all standard resolutions and specifying bitrate target, maximum, and minimum.
As I’ve mentioned in a couple places already, playback really becomes jerky and nonresponsive once you start applying any demanding effects, particularly picture-in-picture or time remapping, This makes it really hard to see how end resultwill play. On a few occasions, a system message appeared telling me that the program was not responding, but these usually resolved themselves after less than a minute, and I experienced no total program shutdowns—actually quite an accomplishment for video editing software—until I tried to shut down the application without saving my project.
In measured performance testing, rendering a four-clip, 4:27 clip to MPEG2 720p took a sprightly 4:15 minutes, compared with 3:02 for PowerDirctor, but Premiere Elements 11 improved drastically over version 10, which took 7:27 to render the same material to the same output format.
Is it Elementary?
Adobe Premiere Elements 11 is good-looking and powerful video editing software, and it offers a wealth of tools for joining, trimming, and enhancing your digital movie projects. But it lacks leading-edge support for things like 3D and 4K video sources. While its interface is simple, attractive, and clear, some actions are harder to get to than they should be (and are in other products). Most importantly it still suffered from performance lags in my testing when doing anything intensive, such as picture-in-picture or time remapping. By comparison, our Editors’ Choice for consumer video editing software, CyberLink PowerDirector, had none of these shortcomings.
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