Adobe's latest annual update to its home video-editing package, Premiere Elements, tries to pack more of everything onto the disc: more clip art, more themes and more effects. Version 8 also includes automated features for enhancing and trimming poor-quality clips, and introduces smart motion tracking.
Aimed at the domestic user who wants a simple drag-and-drop approach to browsing, composing and exporting home movies, Premiere Elements is the top-selling video-editing software on the market. It provides just about everything you could want, from video effects and multi-track audio editing to titling and transitions. The emphasis is on ease of use, and version 8 expands on this theme.
You can pick up a copy of Premiere Elements 8 now for around £75, or get it bundled with Photoshop Elements 8 for roughly £115.
Although no striking changes have been made to the Premiere Elements program interface, one new addition is a little Smart Trim button at the top of the Timeline/Sceneline pane (see screenshot below). When this is enabled, the program analyses the clips in your current project for quality. It then marks passages in each clip that it considers to be poor and, therefore, ripe for trimming out.
To find out what Premiere Elements thinks the problem is, you hover your mouse over the hatched sections of the main preview timeline. An expanded 'tooltip' appears, listing its reasons for suggesting the trim.
Theoretically, this ought to be a great feature for quickly trimming out those parts at the beginning and end of many clips in which the video camera points at the operator's own feet. What it tends to do, however, is flag up every instance of blur and camera shake, effectively offering to trim 50 per cent of your material. This feature may prove problematic with movies of sporting events. On the other hand, Smart Trim does make it easy to locate problem areas quickly. Just don't trust it to trim the right thing without checking for yourself.
Choose a quick fix
Another automated quality-correction feature to note is SmartFix. This kicks in as soon you open any clip for the first time, doing its best to smooth out shaky footage, brighten dim clips, enhance the contrast in dull shots and so on.
This feature is difficult to evaluate: does it do the right thing? For casual camera work, it probably does, in the sense that some of our decidedly average test clips ended up looking jolly bright and cheerful after 'fixing'. You would never have known it was dull and overcast when we shot the video.
If you take pride in knowing your video camera inside out, however, you might find that SmartFix 'corrects' your artistic efforts by whacking up the saturation and applying a sharpen filter. Thankfully, you are prompted whether to allow SmartFix to do its work, so you can always decline.
On the audio side, a SmartMix feature (see image above) helps to smooth out spiky audio while automatically balancing additional tracks, such as background music, narration and overdubs. The idea of SmartMix is to just let the program do the work for you, producing less amateurish results without you having to worry how it did it. We could certainly hear the improvement during our tests.
Going through the motions
Our favourite new feature in Premiere Elements 8 is the motion-tracking capability. This lets you draw a rectangle over part of your video in the preview pane, such as someone's face, and then allow the program to track its movement automatically throughout the clip. You can then link a title or piece of clip art to the tracked item and watch it follow the item around the screen (see image below).
One suggestion from Adobe is to apply a speech bubble to a face or put a comical cartoon hat on someone's head. Naff though the idea is, it's fun and it works. Even better is that you can designate multiple items to be tracked independently in the same clip. You can balance a cartoon football on your friends' noses in the Sunday league, for example, or simply add name captions under faces in a jostling group shot.
This feature isn't infallible, of course. If there's too much cross-screen movement in the clip, for example, the tracked item can lose its anchor. At this point, the program just stops tracking the item, which is the sensible thing to do. It doesn't try to reattach a speech bubble to the wrong person, thankfully.
The updated program is supplied with a larger volume of clip art (see above), and now includes cartoon-like animations. Clip art is usually ghastly, and this animated stuff is no exception -- some of it may leave us with nightmares for weeks to come. But, if you like clip art, you will probably be charmed by the vulgar hideousness of it all.
More of everything
The program packs in a generous variety of visual effects, which you just drag and drop onto the preview pane in any combination and then customise using sliders and other simple controls (as in the 'old film' example below). Some of these are rather esoteric, turning your clips into a blurred mess with surprisingly little effort, but they are very easy to apply and work with. Impressively, you can apply effects to specific, moving subjects in a clip and have them follow the subject automatically by using the motion-tracking feature.
Adobe has also boosted its variety of transition effects. All video-editing-software companies seem obsessed with inventing more transition effects, and we don't know why. Be honest: how many of the little buggers are you ever going to use?
One thing Premiere Elements 8 is very good at is exporting your finished movies to a wide range of formats. In addition to CDs, DVDs, iPhones, YouTube and so on, you now also have the option to generate Flash-based 'online albums'. These rely on templates, so your options are limited, but the idea is good and we hope to see more templates being made available in the future, assuming Adobe isn't too busy inventing more bloody transition effects.
One last word goes to the improved Elements Organizer, a cheerful-looking utility for browsing, tagging and categorising your media files. It performs well, and you can allow its Auto Analyzer feature to tag your footage automatically by quality and even content. Our only disappointment is that there seems to be no single-click way of showing just your movie clips on their own -- they're permanently jumbled up with your photos and audio files.
Serious amateur video enthusiasts will probably stick with slightly more sensible-looking programs, such as CyberLink PowerDirector, Corel VideoStudio or Pinnacle Studio. But, if you want the easiest-to-use program, buy Adobe Premiere Elements 8. The interface is so friendly and drag-and-drop focused that you may never even have to click on a menu once.
Version 8 simply adds more automated functions so you have even less work to do to get the right result. Owners of version 7, however, might feel the latest update isn't significant enough to warrant spending £75. On the other hand, those who own version 6 and earlier will love it.
Adobe's specified system requirements for Premiere Elements 8 are:
- 2GHz or faster processor
- Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or later, Windows Vista or Windows 7
- 1GB of RAM (2GB for high-definition editing)
- 4.5GB of available hard-disk space
We also have a Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 review on the site for your delectation.