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Unfortunately from Friday 10th March 2017 DVC has ceased trading. We would like to thank our customers for their support over the years. For a short time we may be able to offer limited technical support. Please email sales@dvctraining.co.uk and we will try to help where possible.

The Mercury Playback Engine

64 bit application

With modern PCs we are no longer limited to 3GB RAM and only being able to use a fraction of your processors power.  Modern computers can have multiple core processors and lots of RAM - we routinly supply computers with 16GB or even 32GB of RAM these days.

Unfortunately "old fashion" Windows programs such as Windows XP, are 32 bit applications and can only see about 3GB memory maximum.  Even when you stop using an old version of Windows and start using a nice brand new 64 bit version of Windows 7 which can see a lot more memory, old fashioned 32bit programs can only use 2GB of working memory. The way to make the program use all the memory and processor power is to make it 64 bit.  This means effectively re-writing the entire program.

Sony Vegas was one of the first programs to be available as a 64 bit application and it definitely works better and faster as a result.  Adobe have completely re-vamped Premiere in 2010 to be a full blown 64 bit application.  They have done the same with After Effects, and with the launch of CS6, Adobe Encore is also 64 bit, as is Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  Audio editing program Audition is still 32bit but this means it still has access to a lot of standard 32bit audio plug-ins.

Apple did the same thing with their editing program FINAL CUT PRO in 2011, although in the rewrite changed the program completely, leaving out many of the features FCP editors loved. AVID MEDIA COMPOSER 6 is also a completely re-written 64 bit application, although one, like Premiere, that works in exactly the same way as the 32 bit version, just with access to more memory.

Why does it take people so long to upgrade their programs?  Simply because it takes a lot of effort, programmers have to re-write the whole program - in the process sometimes not including everything that was in the program before.  Adobe decided the programs that would benefit the most would be Premiere Pro and After Effects, so these were the first two to be made 64bit.  They also chose to make a 64bit version of the Adobe Media Encoder, which needs to convert files into different formats as quickly as possible and so wants to use as much memory and processing power as it can and really benefits from being 64 bit. 

Ok so what does this mean in reality?

In means faster processing, the ability to handle larger projects and an end to "out of memory" messages.  Because memory problems are a large cause of instability it also means a much more stable program. 

Are there any downsides to being a 64 bit application?

1.  You must have a 64 bit computer with a 64 bit operating system - pretty obvious really but a lot of people will not have a 64 bit o/s.  We have been supplying all our systems with a 64 bit o/s for the last year or so, and even systems we have supplied with 32 bit o/s will work with a 64 bit operating system - so maybe all you need to do is have a new version of Windows installed.   Machines that are 4-5 years old may not be capable of running a 64 bit operating system.   CS6 will only work on Windows Vista or Windows 7, it will not work on Windows XP 64 bit.   If you are going to install a new operating system on your machine then Windows 7 Pro 64 bit is the obvious choice; Windows 7 Ultimate is an alternative, but does not given you much more for video work than Windows 7 Pro.  Although you can use Windows 7 home 64 bit,  64 bit Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate are recommended by Adobe.  If you want your machine updated with a new Windows as well as Adobe CS5 then give us a call and we can talk you through the options.

2. Premiere Pro CS6 will ONLY work with 64 bit plug-ins and 64 bit codecs.  Since most old plug-ins are currently 32 bit this means you will need updated versions from the makers of the plug-in.  Many of these are now available.     The same is true for After Effects and many of the plug-in manufacturers have been working on these new plug-ins already.

You can also only read files that have 64 bit codecs.  All the common codecs will load anyway such as QuickTime files,  XDCAM, DVCPro HD, AVCHD and MPEG4.  Manufacturers like Matrox and Black Magic have written their own 64 bit codecs, so they will not be a problem either.  Grass Valley, although EDIUS has not yet become a 64 bit application have written a 64 bit version of their codec provided you have EDIUS 6 and the dongle plugged into the machine you are using.

In reality this has not been a huge problem since the launch of CS5 but maybe if you have some really old footage lying around somewhere with a codec that is not used much any more.


Mercury Playback Engine

One of the main aims when Premiere Pro became a 64bit program with CS5 was increased performance.  Being 64 bit and therefore accessing more RAM and all the cores on your processor means that it works better on ANY system.  This improved performance engine is called theMercury Playback Engine.  It either works in "software" mode where it uses your computer processor for all the work or, if you buy the right graphic card, works in "hardware" mode.  Since graphic cards have really good processors on them these days Adobe said "why not use this power for editing?"  nVidia cards have special chips on them call "Cuda" chips which are very powerful and already used by many applications for improved performance. Now Adobe have harnessed the power of CUDA chips as well.

Why nVidia cards and not ATI?

CUDA is not found on ATI graphic cards although there is a feature called OPENCL on ATI cards which could achieve the same things.  With CS6 Adobe now support OPENCL but only on the graphic cards which are found in certain MAC laptops.  They do not support ATI cards on PCs.  The only reason Adobe chose to support mainly nVidia cards is that they did not have the time to write support for every type of graphic card, so chose to use the CUDA built-into nVidia cards. CUDA is also used by a lot of other editing applications (like Black Magic DaVinci, Sony Vegas, TMPEG). 

What graphic card do I need?

Adobe have certified several graphic cards for use with the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE for short).   There are only a few cards for a very good reason - Adobe want this version to be very stable and so want to keep the hardware which it uses to cards they have tested an validated.  Lots of cards have CUDA chips, and, if you know how, you can enable the Mercury Playback Engine on any CUDA card - Adobe have made it very easy to do this as well, just find the text file in the Adobe program folder (called CUDA SUPPORTED CARDS.TXT) and add in your graphic card.  However, they have only tested certain cards and so we know these work, where as other cards may have odd problems and crashes (we have tested the MPE with other cards and confirm they do not work quite as well as the supported cards, with occasional odd crashes we do not get using supported cards). 

Here is the full current list:

GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 470
GeForce GTX 570  (added with CS5.5)
GeForce GTX 580  (added with CS5.5)
Quadro CX
Quadro FX 3700M  (added with CS5.5)
Quadro FX 3800
Quadro FX 3800M  (added with CS5.5) 
Quadro FX 4800
Quadro FX 5800
Quadro 2000       (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 2000D    (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 2000M   (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 3000M   (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 4000
Quadro 4000M    (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 5000
Quadro 5000M
Quadro 5010M    (added with CS5.5)
Quadro 6000       (added with CS5.5)

This is the list for Premiere when used on a PC - not all of these cards are available for Apple Macs, although many do work which means you get the benefit of CUDA acceleration on MAC as well as PC.  You must also check that you MAC will support the graphic card - we have a 3 year old MAC pro that will not work with a MAC QUADRO 4800 graphic card because it is not an recent enough MAC.  Rather strangely if you install Windows on this MAC the Quadro will work, it just will not work on the MAC as a MAC!

The CUDA engine does effects - it does not help play back footage and it does not help encoding footage. If you put a clip on the timeline and choose to export it, it will take about the same time with and without a CUDA card.  If you add an effect, colour correction, picture in picture or just do something like downscale an HD clip to SD then the MPE gets to work speeding up all the rendering.  Since every project generally has some effects somewhere you will find that making your final DVD or Blu-ray disc is faster with an MPE graphic card because the computer will not have to spend effort on the effects and can concentrate on encoding.  It also makes the editing experience a lot nicer as you do not have to wait for things to render - you can throw the effect onto a clip, experiment with it and see the results straight away. 

Is it worth buying a more expensive graphic card for better performance?

We have mainly tested the nVidia 285, 470, 570  vs the Quadro 3800 or 4800 card - typically a 570 graphic card is 200-300 and the 4800 is about 1,500.  In our tests the 470 works as well as the 4800 and is a lot cheaper.  The cards can fly large numbers of layers of video around the screen - we managed 15 layers with some video formats on either card - but when trying to play that many layers of video there are other bottle-necks.  For example if using hard to play footage like AVCHD the processor is working to play back all the pieces of video at once and probably can only manage 4-5 clips - even though the graphic card could handle more layer the CPU can't.  If using simple codecs like DV or uncompressed the the processor can cope with lots of layers but the hard drive cannot.  Ij our tests on a 3Ghz i7 single processor system with 12GB RAM we can get 5 layers of AVCHD all flying around at once with either the Quadro or 470 graphic card, but the computer struggles with 6 layers.  To be honest 5 layers is enough for most of our jobs and if we are doing a lot more layers we tend to use After Effects which does not use the MPE anyway.

Why spend more money on a Quadro card if they are not any better?

If you have another program which can use the power of a Quadro it is a worthwhile investment - some of the 3D software we use will work better with a Quadro than a normal nVidia 470 card so it would be worth having a Quadro as it works both the MPE and the 3D software.  If just using Premiere we suggest you stick with the 470 or 570 card.

Why do Adobe validate so many Quadro cards and not so many of the "cheaper" cards?

It takes time to validate cards.  nVidia produce new graphic cards every six months, and the 470 graphic card, validated in approx October last year was already going "end of line" by December 2010.  We bought a large stock of these cards so we could still supply them with systems until the new 570 card was validated for use with CS5.5, but if we had not we would have had problems supplying a validated card.  The Quadro cards are intended for professional use and have a longer shelf life.

Does the Mercury Playback Engine work with any laptops?

With CS5.5 Adobe have validated some laptop graphic cards and we can supply system with these specific card installed.  We have supplied systems using cards like the nVidia 470M (the laptop version of the 470 card) and changed the CUDA text file to make the MPE work on the laptop and they have been generally ok, but do suffer from crashes more that a desktop computer, so have not been ideal.  Ideally buy CS6 and a laptop with one of the supported Quadro cards installed.  Our HP laptops have supported graphic cards.

What happens if I do not have the right kind of graphic card?

Premiere will work as it has done in previous versions - it will play footage, play effects in realtime if the computer can cope with them and play at lower quality if it cannot.  You then render the effect and it will play perfectly as with previous versions of Premiere Pro.  However once you have tried a computer with the MPE running you will not want to go back!

What effects are currently enhanced by the Mercury Playback Engine?

There are a huge amount of realtime effects including the Adobe Motion effect that every clip has, transparency, titles as well as: extract, levels, proc amp, directional blur, fast blur. Gaussian blur, sharpen, invert, brightness & contrast, fast colour corrector, 3 way colour corrector, luma corrector, luma curve, RGB colour corrector, RGB curves, tint, video limiter, black & white, colour balance, colour pass, colour replace, gamma correction, alpha adjust, 4,8 and 16 point garbage matte, track matte, Ultra key, noise, basic 3D, drop shadow, crop, edge feather, horizontal & vertical flip,  timecode, additive & cross dissolve, dip to black, dip to white, & film dissolve, mismatched media (clips of different frame rates and sizes), time remapping, Interpret footage, aspect ratio changes, field order changes, fast blur, invert, de-interlace and remove flicker.

All of the above were in previous version of Premiere Pro but were not realtime and needed to be rendered.  Ultra Key is a new filter and is a new chromakey filter based on a keying program called ULTRA that was included with the CS3 Production Studio.  A welcome addition to Premiere since most of the other keying filters included with Premiere are not that good!  Ultra is a very good realtime keyer with excellent professional controls.

Can I playback via FireWire using the Mercury Playback Engine?

With CS6 you can because Adobe have changed the way Premiere will talk to your DV device.  This was not possible with CS5.5.

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