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Premiere Elements 2.0: Movie Making That's Not for Dummies

When it comes to home movie-making solutions, you essentially have only two types of applications to choose from: simple but limited programs such as Windows Movie Maker and Apple iMovie, and powerful but complex programs such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro Express HD. Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 purports to offer the best of both worlds, and it does—to a certain extent. However, it's clearly a member of the more complex group of movie-making solutions, much like Apple's Final Cut Express HD.

Like a related Adobe product, Photoshop Elements 4.0, Premiere Elements 2.0 is based on an expensive, high-end application (in this case, Adobe Premiere Pro) but has been ostensibly dumbed down for the consumer audience. I say "ostensibly" because there's little that's simple about Premier Elements 2.0. From the moment you open the application and start a new project, you get the feeling that you're in over your head. On the other hand, because this is a full-featured application, the skills you learn will be applicable in other high-end tools. And after you're familiar with Premiere Elements 2.0, you might find Windows Movie Maker and Apple iMovie a bit limited.

A Lot to Take In
When you start a new project, you're confronted with a workspace that has a whopping six discrete sub-windows, each offering a bewildering array of options and features. If you can get beyond those, Premiere Elements 2.0 works like most other movie-making applications: You acquire video from a source (such as a DV video camera or a previously captured video file), edit it in a timeline—adding audio and video effects, transitions, and titles—and then export it to one of a variety of formats.

The devil, of course, is in the details. Whereas all these tasks are obvious in applications such as Windows Movie Maker, or semi-obvious in applications such as Apple iMovie, Adobe seems to have gone out of its way to complicate matters. Users familiar with Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, however, will feel right at home.

Complexity exists at virtually every level of this application. Although the process of adding transitions, video and audio effects, and titles is straightforward—and akin to similar tasks in Windows Movie Maker and Apple iMovie—each of these additions comes with a confusing assortment of options and properties. A small How-To sub-window, in the upper-right corner of the interface, helps with guidance and advice, and is crucial for new users.

The Good Stuff
Complexity aside, this application boasts a number of features worthy of recommendation. Like Apple iMovie (but unlike Windows Movie Maker), Premiere Elements 2.0 supports the widescreen DV formats common to newer DV camcorders, offering a "true" widescreen video format without the expense and technical requirements of HDTV formats. Also, unlike Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie, Premiere Elements 2.0 can export to DVD-compatible MPEG-2, which I consider to be the world's only truly universal video format these days. (Windows Movie Maker is limited to WMV and AVI formats, whereas Apple iMovie is limited to various QuickTime/MPEG-4 formats and can only target MPEG-2 if you feed an edited movie directly to Apple's iDVD.)

Premiere Elements 2.0's other Export options aren't fantastic. It does support WMV and QuickTime, but only for low-resolution movies that are appropriate for the Web—unless you feel comfortable tweaking settings. Even then, results are mixed.

Regarding DVD creation, Premiere Elements' tools are fairly barebones compared to, say, dedicated DVD applications such as Apple Mac-based iDVD. That said, they're not too shabby compared to consumer-grade PC-based tools, though most of the themes are simply horrific. (Oh, what time spent with iDVD can do to make one jaded).

New in 2.0
Adobe has added a number of features to version 2.0, including USB 2.0-based DV capture, which is typically limited to FireWire-based devices. (Note, however, that this feature works only with a limited range of supported video cameras.) It also includes Dolby Stereo support, full-motion DVD menus, and support for 4-hour DVD movies. What Adobe didn't do, sadly, was make any attempt to really simplify the Premiere Elements UI. I imagine typical consumers running screaming from their PCs after attempting to use this application, forever assured that home movie making is beyond them.

That's a shame, because movie making is just the latest frontier, I believe, in PC application design, and it really needs some fresh thinking and simplicity. Ultimately, Premiere Elements 2.0 is more of the same, instead of being new and innovative. I suspect most consumers would rather see a more advanced version of Windows Movie Maker than another superficially simpler version of Premiere Elements. This application is just too difficult for many people, though those dedicated to fully understanding movie making will appreciate this product's low price (less than $100) and amazingly rich feature set. If you're looking for a truly inexpensive prosumer video tool for PCs, this is it.

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