Who needs a big hard drive when everyone’s videos will eventually live online? Neat new Web services, such as the ones offered by Adobe and linked to from its new Premiere Elements 7 video editor, may incline folks to load everything they have onto the Web. But Adobe will have to offer more space for less money–and greatly improve the editor’s integration with online services–to attract heavy video users.
You don’t have to buy the $100 Premiere Elements desktop application to get a free Photoshop.com account, which includes 2GB of capacity and a personal URL such as yourname.photoshop.com. (The site isn’t identified as “Premiere.com,” because it also works with Adobe’s Photoshop Elements image editor.) The 2GB of storage can accommodate a large number of still photos, but it equals less than half an hour of mini-DV video, for example. An upgrade to 20GB costs $50 per year; and additional storage packs are available in sizes up to 500GB, though Adobe hasn’t finalized their pricing. By comparison, a subscription fee of $50 per year at IDrive.com will get you 150GB of storage space.
Unlike IDrive.com, however, Photoshop.com offers more than just a place to park data. You can set up Premiere Elements 7 to back up files automatically; you can set preference parameters (for example, you can instruct the site not to back up any file larger than X MB); and once files are uploaded, you can access them from any computer that has an Internet connection, of course. But you can view only pictures online–to watch videos, you must download the entire clip to your desktop and use the PC’s video playback software. The interface at Photoshop.com is attractive and operates slickly; and it has conduits to Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa, so you can view images hosted on those services in the same Photoshop.com window (it’s pretty slow when accessing outside images, though).
I found that specifying files for backup within Elements itself required more steps than I’d like; you have to open a “Tagging” dialog box and drag a tag onto the files. It would have been more convenient if the program had allowed me to right-clicking on files in the organizer and then choose an ‘upload’ option.
And that’s just one of the frustrations I had with Elements’ interface. Many commands are arranged in a seemingly haphazard way. For example, you can use a system-tray icon to set backup options such as instructing the application to upload only while idle; but to see which files have been backed up or have a backup pending, you click on a tiny icon in the lower left corner of the application window–and this action prompts them to appear in the Organize window in the upper right corner of the application. To set additional backup options, you must pull up the Preferences dialog box from beneath the Edit menu.
Another drawback: Elements 7 has no link in the main application window to take you to your uploaded files (unless you count the splash screen when it starts up; but if you want to get back to that, you have to close your project). The program’s text and icons were very small on the high-resolution, 17-inch laptop monitor I was using, and you can’t adjust their size. Last year in my review of Elements 4 (the immediate predecessor of Elements 7, oddly enough), I complained about too-small text size; the problem seems worse in Elements 7, probably because the latest program requires you to do more hunting for important commands.
Your Video Stinks!
The Premiere Elements application does have several new features that don’t depend on online interaction. One is the Smart Tag feature, which analyzes your clips to identify ones that may be too dark, blurry, shaky, or out-of-focus–and that includes faces. I agreed with its evaluations (even when it called one of my videos “low quality”), and it works quickly. By default, Premiere Elements’ and Photoshop Elements’ organizers share the same catalog file, and tags (other than Smart Tags)created in one application show up in both.
Another new feature, Instant Movie, lets you quickly create a movie by selecting clips, choosing a theme, and letting the application implement transitions and effects based on that theme. (Other video-editing applications, such as Pinnacle Studio and Corel VideoStudio, have such automated tools.) With my clips, Elements’ tool worked about as well as its competitors–which is to say, not very well. I had trouble finding a theme suitable for my clips; the cuts from one shot to another seemed strange, and the transitions were often inappropriate.
You can edit your movie after applying an Instant Movie theme, but be warned: It broke my 5-minute movie into hundreds of tiny pieces of video, audio, transitions, and effects, making editing the movie extremely difficult. Elements 7 ships with 22 Instant Movie themes; you’ll be able to download new themes too.
Elements 7 has a new feature called VideoMerge, which is supposed to simplify the process of taking video that was shot with a single-color background and superimposing it on another video (for that supercool TV weatherperson look). When you drop a clip on top of another clip in the timeline, and Elements detects a solid background, it will ask whether you want to use VideoMerge; alternatively, you can initiate the process manually. The feature worked quite well with footage supplied by Adobe, but far worse with my own blue-screen-background footage: Despite its supplying a tolerance slider, the background video showed through my foreground video. Elements 7 won’t let you apply effects to specific areas of the video frame, so it’s difficult (though not impossible) to mask areas where background video that shows through.
I was more impressed with Premiere Elements 7’s Inspiration Browser, which provides Web-based tutorial videos in a floating window. When I first looked at the beta version of Elements, most of the tutorials available had been produced by Adobe and other professional outfits such as Lynda.com, but Adobe says that it will add more content over time; the company also offers a mechanism for users to submit their own tutorials (which must be approved by Adobe).
Elements now recognizes AVCHD content from high-definition camcorders, though it will burn Blu-ray Discs only in H.264 or MPEG-2 format (not in AVCHD) and with a maximum resolution of 1920 by 1080 interlaced (not progressive). Nevertheless, those are pretty good options for a consumer video-editing application.
You can still upload videos to YouTube, of course, and Elements 7 has a new higher-quality setting for uploading content to that site. But you can’t, for example, see which videos you’ve uploaded to Photoshop.com from within Elements, so it’s strictly a one-way link. And despite Adobe’s claim last year that it would add other video-sharing services, it remains limited to YouTube.
The upgrades to Premiere Elements 7 didn’t strike me as very compelling. I like the addition of downloadable walkthroughs and templates, the Smart Tags, and the ability to sync files without thinking about it. But the interface needs some housecleaning, Elements’ integration with Photoshop.com is pretty thin, and its integration with third-party services even thinner. More Webbiness is fine, but what I really want is more YouTubiness.