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New things I love in Adobe CS4 (Photoshop, Flash, Aftereffects)

Saturday, November 22, 2008 , Posted by Bradd McBrearty at 12:30 PM

I recently upgraded my OS to Vista Ultimate 64 bit.

[Before I get started, this post isn't about Vista, but I love it. It's clearly superior to all of Microsoft's OS. But there are caveats- First, It's an operating system designed to run on today's computers - not computers that are 3 years old. That's what XP is for. Also, it's designed to Run today's applications, not applications that are years old with obscure drivers. That said, my laptop is a Core2Duo with 4 gigs of ram. Upgrading to Vista 64 bit has yielded a huge performance gain across the board.]

There's a couple new things in CS4 that I stumbled across recently. First of all is the new .F4V video format. This is Adobe's update to .FLV, which as we all know revolutionized the way we waste time on the web, thanks YouTube. F4V brings h.264 encoding into the mix. For the Layman, this means Hi-Def over the web. I'll give you an example. I recently rendered out this video clip from uncompressed .TGA's to and Uncompressed AVI through after effects: Turn around Clip

The original is 324,024 KB. Huge. Ungainly for the web. Now, the .F4V, set to 'Use original bit-rate' (No compression) is only 2,258 KB. Side by side the two clips look identical. What this means, ladies and gentlemen, is that the era of HD video streaming over the web is here.
It's only a matter of months, not years, before Television and TiVo as you know and love them are relics of the past like UHF and VHS.

Moving right along- another new file format in CS4 - .XFL. And no, I'm not referring to Vince McMahon's ill-fated xtreme football league. This is Abode's attempt to open up flash's native .FLA file format to make it more accessible to other programs. Basically, it's a zip file containing an .XML document, and all the assets for your .FLA. The awesome part is many CS4 programs give you the option of exporting as .XFL.

For example, the splash page on my Website is a pre-rendered video. The first design I put up was a 6mb .SWF file. The average user was bored and clicking away long before it ever loaded. Using CS3, and voodoo magic I got the file size down to 450 KB. When CS4 came out, I took the same project file from Aftereffects, exported it as an .XFL, copied the video into my 'optimised' .FLA, and now on export my file size is only 213 KB, with a much higher bit-rate! Smaller files, higher quality. Adobe, I love you.

Moving on from technical talk about file formats, Adobe mas significant changes to the UI across the board in CS4. They've added drop-down menu's which automatically reconfigure the window and palette locations for different tasks.  My first step was to create a configuration suited to my personal work-flow. This is where I ran into my first complaint with CS4. Apparently the driver of my Wacom tablet doesn't play nice with CS4, and occasionally the palettes refuse to move. They'll detach, but won't drag with either the mouse or Wacom until I physically unplug the tablet from the USB and reconnect it. Annoying. I hope this bug gets fixed soon.

A new feature in Photoshop that I love is the ability to rotate the canvas. When Unwrapping UV's in the past I've been OCD about everything being rotated to the exact way I'm going to paint it in PS. This lead me to some semi-wasteful layouts. Now I can just cram them in there in the most optimised layout possible, then rotate the canvas in PS while painting! I love it.

My last little grumble is with Flash CS4. I'm used to having the property inspector at the bottom of the screen so I can refer to it quickly, and type in info as needed. In CS4 they've reformatted it to a vertical display rather than the horizontal that I'm used to . When I move it from it's new home in the right hand menu back down to the bottom where I'm familiar with it, it retains its vertical layout but now with all the input fields stretched the width of the screen, making it a huge waste of interface space and generally pointless to have down there. Unless I've overlooked something it looks like I'm being forced to keep it in the right-hand menu.

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