The 7 Best New Features in Adobe Creative Suite 5

By Matthew Braga

Adobe has officially unveiled Creative Suite 5. Here are the 7 best features you should care about.

In a webcast this morning, Adobe officially unveiled their latest package of graphics, web and video editing and tools, Creative Suite 5. Many of CS5's new features have been teased in videos and interviews for quite some time, but today's event gave users a better idea of what to expect upon its release in May. Until then, here are our picks for the top seven features announced for Adobe's Creative Suite 5.

1. Flash Catalyst

Catalyst. Many designers are looking to leverage the Flash framework, says Adobe, but have no previous coding experience. Catalyst's aim is to eliminate this barrier, allowing users to quickly create professional Flash projects with minimal effort. Files created in Photoshop, Illustrator or Fireworks can be opened in Catalyst, and augmented with animations, videos, or other Flash features. Demonstrating one of the new application's strengths, two web designers discussed the interactive web page they had developed entirely with Catalyst -- complete with animations, a photo gallery and interactive maps.

In some senses, Catalyst looks like Flash for Dummies. Those looking to design simple interfaces or interactive components can leverage the software for exactly those purposes. However, a dead-simple conduit for iPhone app creation may be its true strength. Full integration with the Flash suite means Catalyst projects can be opened in Flash Builder, and theoretically, put through Adobe's iPhone converter. It's no wonder Apple is scared

2. Full 64-bit support

Previously, only the Windows flavor of CS4 was available to 64-bit users. Now with CS5, Mac users can also join the party. For users of both After Effects and Premiere, this is a huge deal. Native 64-bit support means machines with large amounts of RAM can render faster, and preview more un-rendered footage at a time. According to one "benchmark", a high-definition After Effects CS4 project could only preview seven seconds of footage, versus almost 40 with CS5. At this time of writing, its unknown on what sort of machines these tests were run. Meanwhile, accessing dynamically linked Premiere projects from within After Effects will also prove faster. Users handling large, print-destined files in both Photoshop and Illustrator should benefit too. 
It should be noted that both After Effects and Premiere Pro are now 64-bit only applications. Says Adobe, "Premiere Pro does not support 32-bit Windows systems with CS5 because offering only 64-bit support enables Adobe to optimize performance significantly and take full advantage of the performance benefits of 64-bit support."

3. HDR Pro in Photoshop CS5

HDR Pro promises to offer far more control over each individual photo, similar to what you might find in an application like Photomatix. The images produced in the demo were impressive, and the ability to remove ghosting and create an HDR-style image from just one file (as opposed to three or more) also looked promising.

4. Painting Tools in Photoshop CS5

There has been much hype surrounding Photoshop CS5's new painting tools. Users are given the ability to paint from either a reference image, or using tools from scratch. When a reference image is used, users can select different brushes and paint over the image as they see fit. Otherwise, a blank canvas and custom brushes are available for use. But unlike previous versions of the Creative Suite, these brushes are radically different, and modeled after a real painting experience. Users can control the stiffness of the brush, bristle density, wetness of the base layer, amount of paint on the brush, or even different colors on a single brush. That's a ridiculous amount of control, but it's exciting to think what digital artists will be able to produce as a result. 

5. Content-aware fill in Photoshop CS5

This is another popular feature demoed previously in Adobe teaser videos. The content-aware fill tool is said to seamlessly erase objects from an image with almost no input from the user. In this morning's demo, the tool was used in conjunction with Photoshop's new refine edge feature, to trace around the outline of a horse. Once selected, the refine edge tool can further isolate fine details, like hair. After tracing the horse and separating it from the image, the background was filled in accordingly, based upon the image data surrounding the cut. The result was impressive, though not entirely seamless. However, less complicated images, like the example pictured here, produced a more successful result.  

6. Mercury video engine and GPU acceleration in Premiere Pro CS5

via OpenGL, including "support for camera depth of field and nested compositions, ... adjustment layers, track mattes, accelerated effects, anti-aliasing, 2D motion blur, lights, and shadows.  To be clear, GPU acceleration is available on most modern cards supported by CS5, but Adobe says the best performance will come from CUDA-enable NVIDIA models. 

7. Packager for iPhone in Flash CS5

Much news has been made lately of Adobe's Flash suite in CS5. Originally announced last year, the Packager for iPhone was intended as an alternate method to deliver Flash-based content to the popular Apple device, by compiling ActionScript projects into native code. However, recent changes to Apple's iPhone OS 4.0 SDK means that tools like Packager are, technically, no longer allowed. It's unclear how the move will affect converted apps already being tested in the App Store, though future apps will almost assuredly be rejected. Nevertheless, Packager for iPhone represents a novel way to allow Flash developers of all skills and experience to get their content into the App Story — theoretically, at least.

Honorable Mentions 

  • CSLive is an online subscription service that works with most of CS5's applications. Services include online collaboration and commenting for InDesign documents, and cross-browser testing of Dreamweaver documents, a la Browsershots.
  • InDesign now has basic Flash integration, which allows for interactive, animated InDesign documents for online display.
  • Adobe Story is a new scriptwriting application with deep integration into Premiere and After Effects.
  • Photoshop now has more advanced lens correction for photographers, including fixes for chromatic aberration, vignetting and distortion based on lens model.
  • Rotoscoping is vastly improved in Premiere, and can actually track movement of an object automatically across multiple frames. 

Have any other features you're looking forward to? Let us know below.