We preview Adobe CS4

Adobe launches Creative Suite 4, featuring some of the coolest features we’ve ever seen. Check out our look at the all new Adobe CS4.

Check out the video of CyberShack looking at Adobe’s new Creative Suite first to see a visual guide for what’s new in either low-resolution for dial-up and low-broadband or high resolution for high-speed connections!

When the crew over at Adobe had us over a month ago to show us just what the next generation of Adobe Creative Suite programs were doing, they didn’t tell us what it was going to be like. Names like “Stonehenge” and “Diesel” had been passing over the web for months, project names for Photoshop and Flash where huge changes were being made.
The web was filled with its random rumours. Words of graphics acceleration, 3D, Flash integration, and many others. There were even rumours only a week ago suggesting that the CS4 updates were little more than minor updates to the package.

Now after using Adobe Creative Suite 4 for the better half of a month, I can tell you that this is not a minor update. This is huge. To quote the fat man, this is “freakin’ big.”

The Adobe Creative Suite is a large collection of programs created by the good engineers at Adobe to create things. Whether it’s video, images, portfolios, magazines, DVD’s or anything that can have some aspect of creativity applied to it, Adobe’s suite of applications can be used for it.

But while we were all expecting just a simple upgrade for the shift from CS3 to CS4, Adobe have gone above and beyond the call of duty to add in features you wouldn’t even expect. These features will likely make it more fun for you to do your work as well as get things done yourself more efficiently.

Interestingly, Adobe Creative Suite 4 cuts the middleman out.

I should say early on that this is not a review but rather a preview of what we got to play with and what will be out later this year. Our testing is based off of pre-release versions but they still give you an idea of what to expect.
Let’s start with what’s probably the biggest thing here…

Adobe Photoshop CS4

Everyone knows what the term “photoshop” is, a term that was coined by the very program that is used every day by millions of people to do things ranging from editing of simple pictures to painting inside concept art to working on new web designs to plenty more.

Adobe Photoshop is one of those applications that no computer user in an artistic or creative field can really live without.
With the release of CS4 – what is actually Photoshop 11 – that statement has never been more true.

Adobe have gone to great lengths to make some of the features a true evolution of the software platform. They really are just that remarkable when you see what they include.

Let’s start with probably the coolest thing here: GPU acceleration.

This is a relatively new concept so I’ll explain it as best as I can. If you’ve got a computer that you use for gaming, you’ve likely got a fairly recent video card. The graphics processors that sit on those cards are powerful things; so powerful that in some instances, they can be just as – if not more – powerful than the very chip that is your CPU. So if it seems like a waste having it not doing anything when you’re not playing games, it’s because it probably is.

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Enter Photoshop CS4.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 features a GPU acceleration system which takes your graphics processor and runs several of the operations through that. This means that loading large high-resolution images can take a fraction of the time with a fast graphics card than a high speed CPU and memory combination. It also means that every time you zoom in further and further, you’ll get a better rendered version of the image that you see. This is important from the sense that we can see an unaltered and unhampered image that you might need to touch up or look at from a close-up level.

It also means that you can zoom in right down to the pixel and edit on a pixel by pixel basis with more speed and efficiency.

Then you’ve got 3D painting inbuilt. This won’t be that much of a deal for many of you, but if you’re into 3D animation or you’ve got friends & family interested in getting into it, they might already be aware of the pain in the backside that texture mapping and painting onto 3D models can be.
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Photoshop throws the dependency on those niche applications away with the ability to paint directly onto 3D models in the box. This means that you just have to load up a 3d model, rotate around it within Photoshop, and get to work painting in it.

We covered those in our little video but there’s even more we couldn’t add just due to time constraints.

Features like the ability to make adjustments to your image that appear in their own layer (and not affecting your image as a whole) help out, as do the Dodge & Burn tools which function the way they should (by dodging & burning). In our testing, they seem to function quite well with RAW files from digital cameras giving you that extra amount of control if you have to bring exposure back from the edge of life and death.

Photography nuts will love the new panorama functionality built right into Photoshop CS4 which can automatically make panoramas by detecting the edges for where images go. If this isn’t impressive enough, Camera RAW looks better than ever with even more control as well as localised & non-destructive elements plus a better integration with Adobe’s Lightroom software.

And then there’s content-aware scaling, a feature that lets you change the scale of only some things in an image while leaving others intact. It’s sort of like telling the background to change its dimensions while letting the foreground populated with people to stay the same making images look better than just “cropped”.

Wow. Just freakin’ wow.

Adobe Flash CS4

The next application that’ll probably shine a light into people’s lives in the next iteration of Adobe Flash Professional CS4. At least one of the functions had my jaw on the floor at our original press briefing and I’ve been going nuts over it ever since.

The term Inverse Kinematics might not mean a whole lot to you, but ask anyone interested in 3D animation what it means and you’ll get an actual response. Without delving too far into the technical side of animations, Inverse Kinematics or IK has its known in the industry is the creation of segments that interact and created flexible points.

The easiest way to explain it is by using the term “bone structure,” something of which 3D application do use in their terminology.

Well Adobe Flash now supports bones allowing you to make designs within the Adobe suite and apply a bone structure to them in order to get them to move. As a result, animating creatures or anything that moves more than one way in Flash now no longer takes a bundle of time, energy, and the patience to set up keyframes in Flash’s timeline.

Adding to this, Flash can now create the keyframes for you without pretty much any intervention short of you moving your creations in the ways you want them to. Motion tweens for animation can now also be edited freely and easily by just finding where you want to change information on the path and shifting it accordingly.

Other additions include better Adobe Media Encoder support complete with H.264, the ability to author Adobe AIR applications directly in Flash Professional, and 3D transformations that can be applied to 2D objects within Flash. Very, very cool.

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And a bunch of the other apps (Fireworks, InDesign, Soundbooth, and more)

We’d be here for a while if we actually went through every single feature that Creative Suite 4 had in it, sufficed to say that this is not a small update. There was a rumour floating around about a week before launch suggesting that CS4 was going to be a minor update and this is simply not the case.

Adobe weren’t lying to us when they said that this was basically the biggest launch of Adobe’s life.
But even though I’ve touched upon my two favourite programs in the Adobe collection, I would feel like an idiot if I didn’t talk about some of the cool features making their way into the other great programs found in the new line-up.

Macromedia’s original ImageReady competitor Fireworks has made the list with a cool new feature that takes an image, analyses it, and makes a Cascading StyleSheet out of it. Web designers and developers will really love this one as it means making CSS for websites doesn’t quite have to be the long laborious task it once was and can now result in faster build times. You’ll likely still have to get quite a fair amount of writing done to properly tweak the CSS to do what you really want it to do, but this is a fantastic step in the right direction and lets even first-time web developers get their heads around CSS in an easier way.

InDesign now sports a new feature that will allow you to export the project you’re working on into a Flash booklet. If you’re working on a magazine or a comic, you’ll be able to get a perfect understanding of how your publication looks complete with page flipping. There are other more important features in InDesign and I encourage you to check out Adobe’s website if you want more information, but this was just one of the cooler features I felt I had to talk about. If you want to see it in action, check out CyberShack’s launch video on CS4.

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Soundbooth has a feature that a lot of you are going to be incredibly excited about: voice OCR.

Have you ever scanned in a document on your scanner or fax and run a piece of software over it that lets you translate the scanned file into proper text? Well the engineers at Adobe working on Soundbooth have come up with a way of applying that logic to sounds. This means that if you’ve got a piece of audio from say an interview or something from a video, Soundbooth can run through it and transcribe what it’s saying. Adobe told us that they’ll have sound profiles for both Australian-English and American-English so we’ll be interested to see just how well it works for Aussies.

We’ve been trying it with the American voice profile and running it over a slightly American-Australian accent (the writer of this article), it was grabbing around a 60% accuracy rating which isn’t too bad considering what it does. Soundbooth does seem to do this in close to real-time so if you’re running this on a long movie, go away for a while and get some lunch.

But there’s still loads more to be found in Creative Suite 4. Huge amounts of features in the individual applications as well as some that get shared between Adobe’s collection. If you’re at all curious to see just how Adobe’s software has evolved with CS4, I encourage you to head to their website and check out what’s new.

Written by Leigh D. Stark