MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.
Adobe Systems Production Studio 1.0
- Everything you could ever need, great integration
- Nothing of note
Put the innovation and integration together, and you have a clear winner.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
While there are many new features in Adobe's new Production Studio suite - some of which are long overdue - the focus here is integration, allowing easier access to the key aspects of each application without interrupting your workflow.
As usual, the suite is available in two flavours; standard and premium. The standard edition includes Premiere Pro 2.0, After Effects 7.0 Standard, Photoshop CS2, Bridge and Dynamic Link. The premium bundle has After Effects 7.0 Professional and adds Encore 2.0, Audition 2.0 and, interestingly, Illustrator CS2. At $2999, the full package looks expensive, but not when you consider that the individual applications would cost you over twice that if purchased separately.
Premiere Pro, Encore DVD and After Effects look much the same as before, but Adobe has added auto-fit and smart docking to the interface, making customised layouts easier to achieve. Bridge has been updated, with a search engine and preview function for assets like After Effects presets, and you can use it to create "collections" of asset files just as you would a picture album.
Completely new to the suite is Dynamic Link, which lets you work with After Effects projects within the Premiere Pro or Encore DVD timelines. You can alter a project in After Effects while it's still open in Premiere Pro or Encore DVD; any changes you make will be updated automatically on the original timeline without you having to export or re-render, allowing far greater scope for experimentation.
Photoshop integration has also been updated, and you can now initiate a new Photoshop project from within After Effects or Premiere Pro. Once again, any changes you make are updated automatically. And while After Effects still lacks its own video capture tool, it can now borrow Premiere Pro's.
After Effects has many new filters and effects presets, including templates for intros and DVD menus. It also supports more file types, including High Definition Video (HDV), 32-bit images (Professional version only), 32-bit audio, and Flash Video (export only). But the most important update is the Graph Editor.
This extends the functionality of keyframes, turning them into what Adobe calls "function curves". Switching to the Graph Editor view shows a more complex representation of the keyframe properties of each asset on the timeline. This provides more detailed information about keyframe activity, and allows for tighter control of properties - which you need if you're trying to synchronise keyframe actions for multiple assets. You can group and drag multiple keyframes, scale them with a bounding box, or add simple Bezier curves to smooth out property changes.
After Effects Professional (which comes with the Premium suite) now supports high dynamic range (HDR) colour. By changing the project colour settings to 32-bit, you can achieve greater control over the light and colour values of project assets. This is best illustrated by the new Exposure effect, which lets you adjust the "iris" setting as well as gamma to reveal detail that may not have been visible in the original video or image because it was either over- or under-exposed. HDR also allows for linear blending of overlaid objects, giving greater dominance to brighter objects during crossfades, for example, and producing a far more film-like feel.
Powerful tools for blur and timewarp (Professional only) have been added, and After Effects better utilises your PC's graphics processing unit (GPU) for effects processing, previews and rendering.
While there's less to report about the new Premiere Pro, it does offer some welcome improvements. As well as plain autoplay DVDs, you can now create a basic menu structure from a selection of templates, with timeline markers for scene, menu and stop points. The Adobe Media Encoder has also been upgraded to include Flash video support and a larger preview window.
More notable, however, is the inclusion of a multi-camera tool - which previously required a third-party plug-in. Like the one in Liquid Edition, this lets you cut between footage from up to four camera angles just by hitting a number key during playback - your rough cuts can be polished in the timeline afterwards. Enabling it is a little contrived, and it lacks the timecode adjustment tool of Liquid Edition's multicam, but it's still very useful.
Premiere Pro's colour correction controls have also been overhauled, and now include one-click white balance and output masking for accurate colour analysis. But it's the Clip Notes function that's really impressive.
Using this tool, an editor can send work for approval in a PDF document (the video can either be embedded or linked to stream from a network drive or Web site). When opened for review, the PDF file shows playback controls and your video, allowing your client to see what you've done.
Should changes be required, the client can make notes at specific points during the clip playback, so you know exactly what needs to be changed and where. This is a groundbreaking tool that has the potential to seriously streamline common video business procedures.
None of the additions to Encore DVD are as revolutionary, but slideshow creation is welcome - particularly as entry level video editors have long been able to do this - as is the ability to add multiple files to a single timeline.
Other features, like setting chapter point markers on the timeline at regular intervals, seem less useful, and extra royalty-free assets may attract the newcomer but professionals will prefer to create their own. Importing DTS surround sound is also new, though of little use, as it's not audible in previews. More practical is the automation of chapter menu creation, which can create sub-menus for chapter points in your DVD - again, a feature offered by many entry-level editors.
Complex projects will be aided by the new flowchart view - a useful feature that has worked its way down from the older authoring tools like Sonic ReelDVD and Scenarist - and Chapter Playlists can play back DVD content in different orders, without having to duplicate content or re-edit footage.
Audition is finally an Adobe product in its own right, rather than just a rebadged version of Cool Edit Pro. Version two brings with it low-latency ASIO support, with up to 80 inputs and outputs, plus live input monitoring during session recording. It can also record parameter alterations in real time, allowing you to make dynamic tweaks to your session during recording or playback. You can also "punch" into a track (re-record a section during playback), with a looped mode making it much easier to record/re-record a dubbed vocal track until you get the result you're after.
But the real standout feature for video producers is the ability to lasso sections of the audio track in the spectral waveform mode, which is perfect for manually isolating and removing unwanted transient noises like squeaks, clicks and pops. The spectral pan display looks pretty cool, too - though strictly for the advanced audio editor.
Initially, Adobe's choice to include Illustrator CS2 in the Premium suite may not make a great deal of sense, but exporting video from After Effects or Premiere Pro as an image sequence means that you can apply Illustrator tools like Auto-trace to convert video frames into vector graphic animations. With a little imagination, having vector graphics instead of video frames opens up a world of editing possibilities - though frame-by-frame editing is still a lengthy chore.
It's true that a lot of the new features in Production Studio can be found in other products, but that would be overlooking the innovations that this incredibly comprehensive suite offers. It's also true that none of the other products in question offer anything like the cross-application integration offered by this suite, which is enough in itself to recommend this product.
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Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.
This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.
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