More Premiere Pro CS5 trials

After watching Chris Fenwicks presentation about the benefits of Premiere Pro over Final Cut I felt inspired to give adobe’s NLE another look and run a few more tests for myself.

After spending a few hours trying various things I ended up with a lot of questions and made some discoveries which might be of interest…

Before going too much further I must point out that I’m still running the free trial version of Premiere for these tests, the full version might perform differently and include further bug-fixes / enhancements. I should receive my master collection CS5 upgrade tomorrow so I’ll be able to use the full version after that.

Anyway lets continue…

The magic Mercury Playback Engine

Premiere Pro uses something called the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE) to display video content. Think of the MPE as Adobe’s quicktime in that it’s the core technology they use to decode all video codecs and display the content along with any changes or effects you apply. Where the MPE is a bit special though is that it can utilise the amazing graphics processing performance that’s built in to todays super powerful graphics cards.

The card shown above is the very sporty looking ATI Radeon 5870HD, this is the card I have in my Mac Pro and is currently the top end card that apple supply in their Mac Pro’s. As pretty and powerful as this card may be though it’s a bit of a lame duck when it comes to the Mercury Playback Engine. The technology that the MPE requires on the graphics card is something called CUDA cores and unfortunately this technology is currently only available on certain Nvidia cards, ATI cards just won’t cut it.

To make matters worse, you can’t actually configure a new Mac Pro with an nvidia card at present so even if you’re buying a new mac to run Premiere Pro you’re going to need to swap cards to enable MPE hardware support after it’s delivered.

There are actually very few GFX card options available that will provide the required CUDA cores for mac users. The only card that’s listed currently on the apple store that will provide the CUDA goodness is the nvidia quadro fx4800.

Buy the Quadro fx4800 on the UK apple store today and you would say goodbye to a whopping £1,499! Okay so it’s a lot of money but whats more important for me at the moment is that this card is getting old and is soon to be replaced. The card is also lacking the mini-display ports required to run my apple monitors so I would need to either buy new monitors or converter boxes. DVI – Mini Display converter boxes run at around £150 each and to be honest seem a messy way to solve a problem that shouldn’t exist.

Nvidia have also recently announced the Quadro 4000 for the mac. This new card is supposed to be available from apple this month and is reported to knock the socks of the fx4800 and come in at a more reasonable price to boot. At present it’s not listed in the apple UK store so I can’t get an exact price but it is expected to cost around $1,100 in the US. How that converts to £’s is anyones guess.

The nvidia website also states that the card comes with one display port and a converter is included to downsize that output to a mini displayport connector. For now I guess it’s just a waiting game to see if and when the card is listed on the apple store.

The only other option I’ve found is to use one of the now outdated Geforce GTX285 for mac cards that apple used to supply. Although a lot less powerful than the cards already mentioned the GTX285 still provides the essential CUDA cores that the MPE requires and by all accounts performs really well in general use too.  The GTX285 is also lacking mini display ports though so again you would need a converter box to use apples latest displays.

These cards are no longer available on the apple store and I’ve not been able to source any other retailers that still stock them. Even Nvidia’s website no longer lists them as available to buy so the only option would be to purchase a used one. Looking on ebay turns up a lot of cards in the US listed as the mac version which are actually hacked versions of the PC cards, that’s not something I would feel comfortable purchasing or relying on in my Mac Pro though.

Software based  Mercury Playback Engine

You don’t actually need an appropriate GPU for the MPE to work, it also runs in software mode if Premiere cannot locate the hardware and utilises the system processor/s instead. My Mac is pretty highly specced, it’s a 12-core 2.93Ghz machine with 16GB of RAM and an SSD system drive. As far as Macs go, it’s pretty much top spec at the moment. So how well does Premiere perform in software MPE mode?

I’ve been running a few tests this morning with some DSLR footage and it certainly outperforms FCP when it comes to editing native Canon EOS h.264 on the timeline. I could drag the clips on to the timeline and they would play back as smooth a silk, I could even layer a few clips and they still played back without problem, although I did have to change the preview settings to ‘1/2 resolution’ to stack more than three clips.Where I did start to run in to a problem though was with colour correction.

Even with a single 1080p DSLR clip on the timeline, if I apply adobe’s 3-way colour corrector the system was not able play the output back smoothly. Interestingly the CPU’s do get used to their full potential (see that apple!) but this still isn’t quite enough raw power to give premiere the ability to apply the colour corrector fluidly in real time. Of course I could render the clip but that would make this whole test pointless. If I transcode the footage to ProRes I can easily apply a 3-way in FCP without the need to render, the whole point here is to work on the DSLR footage without the need to render or transcode it.

So from my tests it appears even though I’ve got  this super powerful Mac Pro it’s not going to be able to perform sufficiently well with DSLR footage in Premiere Pro. I’ll need to invest in a new gfx card and enable hardware support to see the real benefit. The big question now is how much faster will it be with a new card? As soon as I find out I’ll make sure to let you know.

Before I finish there’s just one more thing I discovered today that might be useful…

Don’t mess with my footage!

I’m really excited about working directly from my DSLR source files without the need to transcode but I did notice one thing that concerned me. Whenever I imported clips into Premiere the source files were being modified in some way. The file sizes were changing and the modified dates being updated.  If I’m working directly from my source files I really don’t want those files to be messed with in any way. Of course I could make a backup, or work from a duplicate set but again that’s taking away the advantage of this workflow.

I had a dig through the preferences and think I’ve found the reason the files were being modified. In the ‘Media’ preferences there’s an option labelled ‘Write XMP ID to files on Import’ which actually sounds pretty self explanatory. Premiere is obviously writing metadata to the source clips with this enabled.

I disabled the option and imported some more clips and they were not modified. I’ll need to look into what benefits there are to having this XMP ID in the files but for now I would prefer to leave my precious clips un-modified.

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12 Responses

  1. Richard Allen Crook says:

    You definitely need the appropriate Nvidia card to make the switch to Premiere worthwhile. To me this post isn’t a good test of what CS5 can do…but rather a report on the limitations when using the software without the proper graphics card. You will see it is a night and day difference when you enable MPE. The realtime color grading you mention is not only possible with MPE, it will become the standard in your workflow as it has in many others’, including mine. :)

  2. Paul Joy says:

    Just ordered the nvidia Quadro 4000, should have it around Dec 3rd. If you’re thinking of buying one of these cards in Europe then check this offer out.

  3. Paul… nice post… I look forward to seeing your results when you get the new card… I actually have a 4000 on the way and maybe I can replicate your workflow when it arrives..

  4. Nance Flynn says:

    This sort of answers my question: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiere/faq/

  5. Nance Flynn says:

    Bummer. My system will not boot into 64-bit mode anyway. I guess it’s too old. But I just read the article http://blog.fosketts.net/2009/08/30/64bit-snow-leopard-kernel/ where he says that I don’t really need a 64-bit operating system. I just need to run 64-bit apps. But how do I get Premiere to run in 64-bit mode??

  6. Scott Cassie says:

    I have a 8-core early 2009 model, which might explain why it wouldn’t boot in 64 bit as default. Same as our Macbook Pro mid 2009 model. But our 2007 intel imac doesn’t work with that hack.

    Nance – so it might depend on the model of your 4-core mac if the hack will work or not (or in Paul’s case – be needed).

    Also would like to thank you for the tip on the metatdata preference – that’s a good find.

    Although I havn’t done a project with premiere, having played with a few DSLR & AVCHD clips I can say the graphics card makes a huge difference. Our mac pro only has 6gb of ram, yet have had three layers of native DSLR footage with fast colour corrector and it’s played & scrubbed fine. Not sure how it would hold up with a long timeline – have read that previous versions of premiere tended to get sluggish with timelines over 30mins.

    If you have the latest macbook pro with the 512mb nvidia graphics card there’s a hack to enable mercury hardware acceleration:

    http://www.eoshd.com/content/442

    Now thinking of upgrading our laptop for this reason alone.

    Scott

  7. Nance Flynn says:

    Wow Scott! Thanks so much for that info about running in 64-bit mode! I thought I already was all this time! I don’t understand why Apple did that.

    Thanks also to you, Paul, for the info about the media size and date changes! I don’t want it to change, either. I’m definitely going to disable it. But it’s good to know that it’s only adding metadata.

    I have the same problem with finding an affordable video card. I also run Premiere on a Mac. But my Mac isn’t as souped up as yours. I have a 4-core with 12GB RAM and an ATI Radeon X1900 XT video card. My Premiere Pro seems to run the same on my system as on yours. It’s not too bad. It would be nice to have the expensive video card, but I don’t want to pay that much right now and I don’t really need to. Maybe switching to 64-bit mode will help! :-)

  8. Scott Cassie says:

    Hi Paul,

    We’ll be switching to a Premier Pro workflow next year from FCP. Actually upgraded when CS5 came out from CS3 (never used it, but bought that from Ebay USA on cheap incase we needed the blu-ray authoring).

    Also went with the GTX 285 for mac, good thing to as it’s now hard to get (noticed it’s available on ebay from USA). Was under £300, yet because Premiere Pro can only utilise around 100 cuda cores (at the moment) it should perform pretty much the same as the expensive quadro since the GTX 285 has over 200.

    What’s interesting is Snow Leopard itself. Did you know that it doesn’t boot natively in 64-bit? You have to hold down the 6 & 4 keys on boot up each and every time. But there’s a terminal hack so it will boot in 64 bit natively. Here’s the link:

    http://blog.fosketts.net/2010/07/26/boot-snow-leopard-64bit-mode/

    After doing this you should see an improved mercury performance in software mode, as well as with a cuda card.

    Scott

    • Paul Joy says:

      Hi Scott. That’s really interesting although I’m not sure it’s correct for all macs. Mine certainly seems to be running in 64bit mode without the need to hold down the 6 & 4 keys at startup.

  9. Allan says:

    Hey Paul, regarding the Mercury Playback Engine and nvidia video card, you don’t necessarily need a $1500 US quadro card. Below are some links for a “hack” to use unofficial nvidia cards that are much much cheaper (sub $150 US) Not sure necssarily that all cards will work with the Mac, however (on the PC you can use many varieties of the Geforce cards).

    http://www.insanelymac.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t223244.html
    http://www.studio1productions.com/Articles/PremiereCS5.htm

    • Paul Joy says:

      Hi Allan.

      Yes it appears that there are a lot more options for the PC, unfortunately the mac world is a lot more restricted. That’s in interesting page about hacking older cards though. I found a GTX 285 for mac listed on nvidia’s website but could not locate any in retailers, it might be a discontinued product?

      Thanks for the feedback.

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