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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

In 1991, Adobe introduced an innovative video-editing program called Premiere. Even though technology at that time wasn’t quite up to the task, Premiere hinted at the computer’s potential for making video production and editing more accessible to all. What once could be achieved only on high-priced, high-end equipment would one day be done on a desktop. And sure enough, Premiere was an important player in what some call the desktop video revolution. Like any good revolution, it had a democratizing effect. Today, DV camcorders, digital cameras, and fast, capacious computers are within reach of the common folk.

Yet, as Premiere had kept pace with innovation, it had also become more complex. And as it had become more full-featured, it increasingly appealed to a professional elite. So after numerous revisions and improvements, Premiere finally made a break with its humble roots—becoming Premiere Pro, a video-editing program specifically geared toward the professional editor.

But what about the video revolution? What about technological democracy? As Premiere Pro, has the program rejected its heritage and betrayed its populist beginnings? Fortunately, out of the grassroots rises another, more approachable Premiere: Premiere Elements.

Make no mistake: Premiere Elements is neither “Premiere Lite” nor a “poor person’s Premiere Pro.” At its heart, Premiere Elements retains Premiere Pro’s core strengths; but it sheds features you don’t need and keeps the ones you want. Premiere Elements is much more streamlined and easier to use. It even helps you with templates and automated features.

You’ve chosen Premiere Elements because you want a straightforward but powerful video-editing program. And you’ve chosen this book because you’re ready to get started.

The VQS Series

Chances are that you’re already familiar with Peachpit Press’ Visual QuickStart series of books. They’re known for their concise style, step-by-step instructions and ample illustrations.

Premiere Elements for Windows: Visual QuickStart Guide distills a multifaceted program in the time-tested QuickStart tradition. If the book looks a little thick for a “concise” guide, consider that it contains literally hundreds of screen shots that clearly illustrate every task. Like other books in this series, Premiere Elements for Windows: Visual QuickStart Guide strives to be quick without failing to guide.

Terminology: Digital and Analog

When you record audio and video, sound and light are converted to electrical signals. Analog media record these signals as continuously changing values. Digital media, on the other hand, record audio and video as a series of specific, discrete values. A playback device converts these values back to audio and video. The accuracy of each conversion greatly influences the picture and sound quality.

Because digital recordings use discrete values, it’s easy to reproduce them exactly, time after time. In addition, you can take advantage of the computer’s ability to manipulate these values—which means you can more easily alter the sound, color, and brightness, and add effects.

Using This Book

In this book, chapters are organized to present topics as you encounter them in a typical editing project, but the task-oriented format and thumb tabs let you jump to the topic that you need.

Although the text restricts itself to the task at hand, it doesn’t hesitate to give you critical background information, usually in the form of sidebars that help you understand the concepts behind the task. If you’re already familiar with the concept, feel free to skip ahead; if not, look to the sidebars for some grounding. Also keep an eye out for tips, which point out shortcuts, pitfalls, and tricks of the trade.

By explaining how to use Premiere Elements, this book inevitably touches on a multitude of related topics: file formats, editing aesthetics, special effects, DVDs, the Internet, and so on. Discussing the fundamentals and background of each of these areas is far outside the scope of this book (and even books that don’t have the word quick in their title). Nevertheless, this guide tries to provide enough information to keep you moving and point you in new directions.

How Premiere Elements Works

Premiere Elements is digital nonlinear editing software. A breakdown of this description can give you clues about how it works:

Digital— Premiere Elements manipulates digital media: digital video and audio, scanned images, and digitally created artwork and animation stored in various formats. Regardless of the particular format, these materials are stored as files on your computer’s hard disk. Strictly speaking, Premiere Elements doesn’t convert analog video and audio to digital form. In other words, it won’t help you scan a photo, but it will import the scanned image file.

Nonlinear— Editing in Premiere Elements is described as nonlinear because your sources aren’t constrained to a linear medium, such as videotape. In other words, you can access any source clip instantly, without shuttling tape, and you can change the sequence of clips without rerecording.

Software— As a software-only package, Premiere Elements can be installed on any personal computer system that meets or exceeds the program’s minimum requirements. Beyond the hardware that comes standard in most current computers, it doesn’t require specialized hardware. But although the software isn’t inextricably linked to particular system, it is sometimes offered together with a computer purchase, as part of the software bundle.

What You Can Do with Premiere Elements

The Premiere Elements workspace options reflect an incremental process, optimizing the interface for capture, editing, effects, titles, DVD layout, and export:

Capture DV footage— With DV and an IEEE 1394 connection, capture simply involves transferring video from your camera or deck to the hard drive. (Analog sources such as VHS require a capture device that can digitize the video, and separate software. Once they’re digitized, though, you can import the files into Premiere Elements.)

Import digital files— At this point, you add to a Premiere Elements project the footage you want to use. You can import a variety of digital media: video, audio, stills, image sequences, and so on. Your project uses references to the source footage, not the footage itself.

Assemble a rough cut— Arrange and adjust the sequence of clips into an edited program using a variety of editing techniques. Because you’re using file references, your decisions are nondestructive—that is, you can make as many changes as you want without permanently altering the source files.

Preview your sequence— Watch your sequence at any time, including transitions or special effects. Premiere Elements can render basic effects right away and at full playback speed using only your system’s resources. You can also view your work on a connected television.

Fine-tune the sequence— Rearrange and fine-tune the clips in the sequence by dragging them in the timeline. You can also create freeze-frames, or slow- and fast-motion video and audio.

Add transitions— Control how each shot replaces the last using a wide range of transitions, from a basic cross-dissolve to a 3D page peel effect.

Add titles— Create onscreen titles or other graphics from scratch, or modify one of the many templates provided. You can even create professional-looking title scrolls and crawls.

Add special effects— Superimpose clips, add motion or a wide variety of filters. Moreover, you can animate any effect, so that it changes over time.

Output— Export the finished sequence directly to tape or DVD, or save a file in any number of formats for playback on other computers, CD-ROM, or over the Web. You can even create a full-fledged DVD complete with a scene menu.

Premiere Elements vs. Premiere Pro

As pointed out in the introduction, Premiere Elements is the offspring of a more mature and feature-rich application, Premiere Pro.

As its name indicates, Premiere Pro is geared toward the professional video editor and includes such features as multiple sequences, a dual-view monitor window, advanced editing tools, an advanced audio mixer, surround-sound support, robust media management—and arcane video tools like a waveform monitor and vectorscope.

Needless to say, the features of Premiere Pro are overkill for the casual editor of family events and work or school presentations. And although a side-by-side comparison of the two programs reveals Premiere Elements’ lineage, it’s far more streamlined, lean, and simple to use than the Pro version.

If you’re not a professional editor (or an editor with lofty aspirations), you won’t miss any of Premiere Pro’s advanced features and more complex interface. In fact, you’ll be glad they aren’t there to overwhelm you—or your budget.

Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements

Although Premiere Elements can bring together a range of digital media—video, audio, still images—its primary purpose is to edit them together as a movie. So even though Premiere Elements gives you a great way to present your digital photos, it’s often better to prepare them in a program dedicated to the task. Photoshop Elements is that program.

Just as Premiere Elements is the more approachable, more affordable version of Premiere Pro, Photoshop Elements is the accessible version of Photoshop CS, the stalwart companion of photo professionals. Photoshop Elements makes it easy to retouch your photos, add text, crop, and doctor them in innumerable ways.

As you’ll learn in this book, you can open Photoshop Elements from within Premiere Elements. It’s easy to move files from one program to the other without performing intermediate steps or sacrificing elements of your work. Even the interfaces are quite consistent with one another.

In short, the two programs make great companions, and Adobe offers them together as a set for less than you would pay for them separately.

System Requirements

To use Premiere Elements, your system must meet these requirements:

  • Intel Pentium III or 4 (or compatible) processor at 800 megahertz or faster

  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional or Home Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or later

  • 256 MB of RAM or more

  • 2 GB of available hard disk space for installation

  • 1024 x 768 16-bit display

  • CD-ROM drive

  • DVD recordable drive required for exporting to DVD (go to Adobe.com for a list of compatible DVD burners)

  • IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire or iLink) interface to connect a DV camcorder


You’ll sometimes hear monitors and other video equipment referred to as NTSC, as in NTSC monitor. NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee, a group that develops the television standards used in North America and Japan; its name describes everything that meets those standards.

Phase Alternation Line (PAL) is the standard used in most of Europe and other countries, whereas SECAM (Sequential Couleur avec Mémoire) is used primarily in France, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

Suggested System

These features aren’t required, but they can make working with Premiere Elements a lot more satisfying:

Faster processor— The faster your system can make calculations, the faster it can process frames of video and create effects.

Additional RAM— Premiere Elements relies partly on RAM for performance and stability. In addition, the number of frames you can watch with the RAM preview feature (which allows you to render sequences containing transitions and effects quickly) depends entirely on the amount of RAM you can allocate to Premiere Elements.

Larger hard drives— Video files are notoriously large. Five minutes of DV footage, for example, consumes more than a gigabyte of storage. Ample storage space allows you to work with more footage at once.

Faster hard drives— Your system’s ability to play back footage smoothly relies partly on how quickly information can be read from the drives. To use DV footage your drives should sustain a data rate of around 5 MB per second. Most drives in a recent computer should be able to handle this.

Video monitor— Video monitors and computer monitors display images differently. So, since your work is destined for video, a television—preferably one with inputs compatible with your camcorder’s connectors and with good color reproduction—allows you to judge it more accurately.

DVD recorder— DVD recorders are quickly becoming as commonplace in a desktop editing suite as video tape decks. (Thankfully, they’re becoming more affordable, as well.) You can use Premiere Elements to output your edited sequence DVD. Your DVD can even include a scene menu.

System Configurations

As the preceding sections suggest, your Premiere Elements setup can be simple or elaborate. As long as your computer meets the minimum requirements, you can install Premiere Elements and start editing. On the other hand, your system might include a television monitor and a camera or deck. Here’s how a couple of configurations might look:

DV camera configuration (Figure i.1) In this setup, a DV camera is used to transfer source video to your computer’s hard drive over an IEEE 1394 connection. The completed edited project can be played back and recorded to a tape in the camera.

Figure i.1. This configuration includes a computer equipped with an IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire or iLink) and a DV camcorder.

Enhanced DV configuration (Figure i.2) —In this setup, several recommended options have been added to the system. A video monitor displays the program as it will appear on a television screen, and external speakers provide the audio. An external IEEE 1394 drive provides additional storage space for media (a secondary internal drive would work well, too). Inside the computer tower resides a DVD burner. The most extravagant option is a dedicated DV deck, which spares your camcorder the extra wear and tear from using it to capture footage.

Figure i.2. This configuration uses several options, such as a television, speakers, an internal DVD burner, an external hard drive, and a dedicated deck.

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