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Driving the Engine

Sep 30, 2010 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

As Adobe updates the capabilities of its new Mercury Playback Engine, Premiere Pro editors are rethinking theirs.

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For Witness Insecurity, DV3 Productions employed Mercury Playback Engine to ensure smooth playback of heavily color-corrected 4K clips.

For Witness Insecurity, DV3 Productions employed Mercury Playback Engine to ensure smooth playback of heavily color-corrected 4K clips.

At IBC, Adobe announced that the BBC was adding 2,000 seats of Premiere Pro software for its news-editing operations. According to Karl Soule, technical evangelist of dynamic media for Adobe, the demands of high-end broadcast outfits such as the Beeb partially steered the development of the CS5 suite itself, which was released in April.

The story of the new release—from Adobe and professional users I've interviewed—has been the suite's raw performance power. In that way and others, the CS5 release adds to the rising professional profile that Premiere Pro has enjoyed in recent years. Old perceptions die hard, but no longer is the software a rarely used tool for a creative professional who might spend the bulk of her workdays editing images in Photoshop or creating graphics in Illustrator. Nor is Premiere Pro CS5 a mere stepping stone for a neophyte editor who will soon graduate to a "more professional" application such as Avid Media Composer or Apple Final Cut Pro.

Two keys to Premiere Pro CS5's boost in raw power are the suite's exclusive embrace of 64-bit hardware architecture (which facilitates the addressing of infinitely more system RAM, theoretically) and the introduction of the Mercury Playback Engine, which I explained in detail earlier this year. To boost playback of high-resolution clips including raw 4K video files, the Mercury Playback Engine leverages the processing power of both the system CPUs and of GPUs housed on Nvidia graphics cards. For IBC, Adobe announced the release of CS5 version 5.0.2, which adds to the initial batch of supported Nvidia cards; newly qualifying are Nvidia's new Windows-only GeForce GTX 470, Quadro 4000, and Quadro 5000.

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I should note now that neither these nor the initial batch of qualifying cards fit in laptops. Soule explained to me that the amount of RAM housed on the graphics card is a common sticking point for the mobile market: Many cards host 500MB of RAM, but a video card should have 768MB for Mercury playback. That's not to say that enterprising laptop editors haven't coaxed some mobile Nvidia cards to work with the Mercury Playback Engine; Soule explains that it's just that Adobe hasn't yet lent its stamp to these marriages. "Why don't we open it up to everyone out there?" he asks. "The majority of our user base is professional, so if we say it works, it has to." Dropped frames are not an acceptable outcome, nor are playback hiccups or overheated graphics cards.

As newer and better graphics cards hit the market, expect Mercury playback support to expand. Besides qualifying a larger variety of cards, Adobe is also focused on refining the playback engine's performance at the high end. Version 5.0.2, for instance, adds 10-bit color output straight from supported Mercury GPU Quadro cards on the Windows side, with no need for any separate video playback hardware. (You do need a 10-bit-capable monitor, of course.) As professional users gain access to new features such as this one, many rethink their capabilities—both from within their editing software and of their business as a whole.

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