It’s five years since Adobe launched Premiere Elements.
We took an instant liking to its powerful features, which were taken straight from Premiere Pro and wrapped in a simplified interface for home users. Subsequent versions have geared it increasingly towards casual rather than ambitious users. We suspect that Adobe is determined to win over people who see video editing as complex and laborious. As with previous versions, version 8’s new features focus on tempting these wary video camera owners to take their first steps with editing.
The Organizer application included with the new Photoshop Elements also appears here, and helps users manage their video and photo libraries. It’s a sensible inclusion, but Organizer’s video handling is patchy. AVCHD clips lack thumbnails, and full-screen video playback is accompanied by music, as if it were a slideshow.
Organizer has its uses, though. It analyses videos, splitting them into individual scenes, sorts them into high, medium and low quality and identifies problems such as shaky camerawork. In this latest version, a Smart Fix feature resolves shakes and exposure problems automatically when analysed clips are imported into Premiere Elements.
Smart Mix is another new feature that automates an existing one. It’s designed to stop musical soundtracks drowning out the dialogue in footage. Sadly, it tries too hard and makes the music lurch awkwardly in the gaps between speech. Setting the volume manually to a consistent level is far more effective.
Perhaps the most significant time saver is Smart Trim, which automatically discards the weaker sections of a clip. You can adjust how aggressive it is with a pair sliders for Quality Level and Interest Level. It handily rejected short sections of wobbly camerawork, but other edits were less explicable. You can review and adjust what is kept and discarded, but you can’t tweak edits manually later as you can with SmartFix and SmartMix.
The most ambitious new feature is motion tracking. Here you lay clip art over video clips, and it follows people as they move about the frame. You can also use it to apply effects to a moving area of the frame, although the sharp-edged rectangular border means the results are far from subtle. The tracking accuracy is loose at best. Still, it’s entertaining – we easily added a lightning effect to the head of our animated killer robot.
Background rendering is the most important new feature. Video editing is seriously demanding for a PC, especially when editing HD footage with effects. That’s why many packages generate lower-resolution copies of footage for editing, and revert to the originals when exporting the finished movie. After we imported AVCHD footage to Premiere Elements’ timeline, it generated 1,440×1,080 MPEG2 copies, speeding up preview performance. However, they took a long time to generate, and had to be rebuilt from scratch when adding or adjusting effects. Better systems, such as the one in Corel VideoStudio, offer customisable resolutions and apply effects in real time.
Despite this limitation, background rendering is useful when editing demanding formats such as AVCHD. However, AVCHD previews were severely compromised by decoding errors that led to blocky distortions. Exports were fine, as were previews once background rendering had processed the clip, but this was far too slow. Adobe confirmed that this was a known issue, but we’re stunned that it would release the software in such an unworkable state, especially when version 7 had no such problems. Premiere Elements offers a lot for just £57, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish from its competitors. Adobe’s efforts to convert ambivalent potential users with instant gratification are half-baked and clutter the interface for experienced users. The AVCHD preview problem means it’s no longer the best option for ambitious users, who will be better served by Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum.