Premiere Pro CS3 was short on new features if you weren't bothered about outputting your video to mobile phones, and the fact that Encore was now bundled with the software didn't feel like extra value if, like most users, you bought the CS3 Production Premium bundled. However, the CS4 version goes some way to turning the tool into a true competitor for Apple's mighty Final Cut Pro. It has one outstandingly useful new feature, plus a bunch of welcome additions.
The tool that will make the most difference to your work is Speech Search, a dialogue-transcription tool that creates an unpunctuated list of the words spoken -- allowing you to scan or search through for a word or phrase to find exactly the part you want extremely quickly within a long clip. Click on a word in the Metadata tab, and the Source Monitor moves to that part of the clip.
Adobe has tuned the tool for British, American, Canadian and Australian English (plus a few other languages). For British accents, it performs better the nearer the speaker's accent is to that of 1950s BBC presenter, but was able to cope with strong Yorkshire and Scottish accents as long as the person spoke clearly. Slurred speech (from any accent) confused it quite easily though. It was also capable of differentiating between two voices, and we liked the manual correction tools to help you find a part at a later time.
There's a series of updates to help you work with tapeless formats, including -- at last -- native support for AVCHD format camcorders. This follows on from Premiere Pro CS3's recently added support for Panasonic P2, Sony's XDCAM EX/HD and Red Digital's Redcode formats.
To help with the import of these formats, Premiere Pro gains the Media Browser, which gives you a small Finder/Explorer panel within to make locating media easier. The files can be viewed as folder items, or tapeless media files with their metadata on show. However, it's cramped, slow, and has no support for shortcuts or quickly accessing standard OS layout conventions such as the Desktop, User or My Documents folders -- so using the Finder/Explorer instead is still preferable.
Improved editing tools include tools for working with multiple tracks at once, including the ability to apply video and audio transitions, change the speed or duration, apply one or more effects. Users can also copy-and-paste transitions, and there are countless little tweaks. Overall, this makes Premiere slightly faster to use than before.
Other new features include support for more than one sequence type in a project -- for example for quickly producing SD and HD versions of the same piece -- and users can import layered PSD files. Blend modes have also made the transition from Photoshop to Premiere Pro (though this didn't work properly in our beta version).
The Media Encoder has been broken out into a separate application -- it used to be a module within Premiere Pro, After Effects, Soundbooth, and Encore. You can import files or Premiere Pro or After Effects projects into it, and output. It's great as a standalone tool, as it can batch-process many different types of files and projects. Its new separate status allows it to have a 'watch folder' system, though there's no simple way to set it up on a separate computer (as you'd need to buy another copy of Premiere Pro to install it on a separate workstation).
Premiere Pro's satellite tools get a boost too. Encore CS4 gains the ability to output a project as a Flash movie, for example for CD-ROM distribution, but the ability to output as a Flash project to allow more interactive elements would have been preferable.
OnLocation CS4 is available for the Mac for the first time and has been given an Adobe-style interface that puts all panels on a single page for the first time (OnLocation CS3 was essentially just a bundled version of the bought-in DVRack tool from Serious Magic). The on-set capture and monitoring tool has gained a Shot List panel, which you can create in advance like a traditional paper shot list, but is then filled in with the actual shot when you capture from the camcorder -- assuming you're capturing DV, HDV or DVCPRO HD. OnLocation is rather less useful if you're working with a format such as AVCHD or XDCAM.
Soundbooth CS4 has been expanded to become a multi-track editor, though it's not been encumbered with features to the point where it's slow to perform simple tasks (we're looking at you, Apple Soundtrack Pro 2). It also gains the same Speed Search function as Premiere Pro and is integrated with Flash Pro. It ships as part of the Web Premium version of CS4, which makes perfect sense as its visual approach to audio editing is just as appropriate for Flash users as video editors.
Premiere Pro CS4 is due to ship in October, along with the rest of Creative Suite 4.