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Instead of jumping ahead one full version number every 18 months as usual, Adobe surprised us this spring with Creative Suite 5.5, a mid-cycle upgrade that brings new features to applications snubbed in the last release. The company plans to continue this trend in the future with major updates (like CS6) coming every two years and “point five” releases in between. Users of earlier versions can also graduate slowly to CS5.5 if they so desire -- our older copy of CS4 Design Premium coexists nicely with the latest and greatest version -- but as usual, preferences don’t transfer from older versions.
Preparing layered image sequences for tablet apps is a snap with InDesign CS5.5.
But does CS5.5 pack the same punch as a “full” release? Especially since CS5 was a significant update that brought 64-bit processing into three key applications -- Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Photoshop (the latter retained the ability to also run 32-bit for use with older plug-ins)? In short, CS5.5 isn’t quite as lustworthy -- unless you have designs on mobile or web domination.
We sat down with the gargantuan Master Collection, Adobe’s “everything but the kitchen sink” edition that assembles all of the company’s key creative software into one bundle for the bargain price of $2,599 (no, really!). Upgrades start at $549, and this time around, Adobe is introducing new annual and monthly subscription-based options for users with more infrequent needs -- or perhaps to lessen the financial pain of more frequent updates. At $195 for a month-to-month subscription or annually at $129 per month, having this much power available on a project-by-project basis will certainly feel empowering to many.
So what does that cash get you? Quite a lot actually, at least for those of us not anchored in old-school print and video. The Master Collection encompasses CS5.5 versions of After Effects, Audition, Device Central, Dreamweaver, Extension Manager, Flash Catalyst, Flash Professional, InDesign, Media Encoder, Premiere Pro, and CS Live (a set of five online services that are free until April 12, 2012). More modest 5.1 upgrades are included for Bridge, Contribute, Encore, Fireworks, Illustrator, OnLocation, and Photoshop Extended, while Acrobat X Pro now replaces the aging Acrobat 9 Pro introduced with CS4.
Flash Builder 4.5 Premium lets you create apps for all of today’s mobile operating systems.
CS5.5 Master Collection also includes one additional application that deviates from the suite’s version numbering: Adobe Flash Builder 4.5 Premium, a step up from Flash Builder 4 Standard included with CS5. The Premium version adds powerful testing and debugging tools for monitoring memory usage and network activity in Flex applications -- including content you can create for Android, PlayBook, webOS, Adobe Digital Home, or even iOS.
Flash Builder 4.5 Premium offers the flexibility of creating projects aimed at various platforms.
Mobile is clearly on Adobe’s mind with CS5.5, extending to Dreamweaver with the newly enhanced Multiscreen Preview window that allows you to see how a design will look at three screen sizes as you work—for example, a desktop web browser, an iPhone, and a tablet. It’s a feature that works so well, you’ll wonder how you lived so long without it.
Quickly see how your website will look on three devices with Dreamweaver CS5.5’s new Multiscreen Preview mode.
Seizing on another hot trend, Adobe InDesign CS5.5 stacks up additional e-book capabilities, allowing publishers to more easily export layouts to the ePub format used by Apple’s iBooks and others, as well as the ability to add audio and video for e-readers that support HTML5 tags. Folio Producer tools also help create layered interactive elements for digital publications, a trend sure to expand in future updates.
Despite CS5.5’s unabashed love for new media, Premiere Pro (for video) and Audition (for audio) also get nice shots in the arm. The former adds the ability to merge dual-system sound for audio recorded separately from video (good news for a new generation of video pros using cameras like RED), while the latter beefs up its arsenal for building video soundtracks with round-trip editing from Premiere Pro and project sharing with ProTools and other audio packages.
Premiere Pro CS5.5 lets users sync and merge dual-system audio recorded separately from modern cameras such as RED.
Video stabilization is all the rage these days, and Adobe has thrown its hat into that ring by adding a slick Warp Stabilizer feature to After Effects CS5.5. We lobbed a wobbly 720p HD clip shot with an iPhone 4 at the stabilizer and were amazed at how fluidly it played back. You’ll need patience, though -- even with a late-model 2.93GHz Core i7 iMac, it took five minutes to analyze a clip less than a minute long.
The new Warp Stabilizer feature of After Effects CS5.5 makes short work of even handheld iPhone videos.
Adobe has done a nice job of further unifying the suite with the latest version, although we’re not sure that three separate Flash applications are really necessary. Given today’s convergence of web and mobile media, Adobe needs to explore some consolidation of its efforts with CS6 and beyond, saving users from moving between too many applications within the same workflow.
If you’re still using an older version of Creative Suite or you’re looking to expand into the mobile space in a big way, CS5.5 Master Collection offers a lot of value for the money -- particularly if your needs are short term enough to take advantage of the new subscription options. However, if you spend most of your time in Photoshop -- or your needs are geared more toward traditional print or video—you’d be better served by one of the less-expensive design, web, or video bundles this time around.
The bottom line. If you simply must have it all, CS5.5 Master Collection will continue to reward you for years to come—assuming your wallet can handle it when Adobe rolls out new goodies with CS6 next year.
Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection
Multicore Intel Mac with 64-bit support; Mac OS 10.5.8 or 10.6; Adobe-certified GPU card for GPU-accelerated performance
Lots of software for the money. New subscription options make it potentially cheaper for many. Deftly addresses ever-changing mobile and web markets as well as shortcomings of several applications ignored in CS5.
Modest upgrade for users not focused on web or mobile media. Most users won’t need all the components of Master Collection. Dangerously close to offering too many options spread over too many applications.