The Pain of Premiere Pro
Permiere Pro has lately proven itself to be the singular worst piece of software I have ever had the misfortune to use. It has cost us far more time than it has saved, certainly several times its RRP in wasted hours. Normally I’m a software developer, but a project I was working on required me to do some basic video editing and I was shocked by the poor quality of the software being used.
In case you don’t know, Premiere Pro is “professional” video editing software, in a similar category to Avid Xpress and Apple’s Final Cut Pro. And to be fair, Premiere certainly seems to be fully featured. It’s just that it doesn’t work. It randomly crashes. Constantly. And when it’s not randomly crashing, it’s repeatedly crashing at the same point.
The first thing that irritated me is that I’m running it on a split new laptop with the maximum amount of memory (which is admittedly constrained to < 4 GB as I’m using 32-bit Windows XP) and yet it gives me messages such as “Adobe is running low on system memory. Please save your project and proceed with caution.”. Quickly you realise that it’s best to give Adobe full run of the machine and close any other programs which use memory (like Web browsers).
The next thing that perplexed me was that every time I close Premiere, I get a message telling me that Premiere unexpectedly quit and offering to send Adobe the crash report. No, Adobe, the quit wasn’t unexpected — I normally exited the application — but apparently you shouldn’t do that in Adobe land. This started to bug me, so I filled in the crash report and attempted to send it. Except I can’t, because my e-mail address isn’t valid according to Adobe1.
Quite often, Premiere doesn’t want to import certain media. Sometimes it tells you this, other times it imports the footage but only displays a blank screen or inverted colours. This is irritating, but can normally be worked around by using free software such as ffmpeg or Virtual Dub to re-encode the footage. (Yes, these free programs seem to handle various video formats better than Adobe’s £750 payware. Adobe even suggest using VirtualDub themselves (see Solution 6)).
However, these issues pale into insignificance once you face the beast that goes by the name of “Export Media”. This launches what is sort of an associated application known as “Adobe Media Encoder”, which renders your project into your final move file (e.g. .mov, .avi or .mpg). Sometimes this works flawlessly. Sometimes it will stop at a seemingly random point in the encoding and the logfile will contain such revelations as:
... - Encoding Time: 00:01:07 2009-10-28 14:18:47 : Encoding Failed ----------------------------------------- Error compiling movie. Unknown error. -----------------------------------------
Hmm, “Unknown Error”. Doesn’t really help, does it? Restarting the export will result in it stopping at exactly the same point. This forces you to come up with random hypotheses as to what caused it crash, testing them in order until you either fix the problem or give up. Sometimes re-encoding the original video footage can fix things, which would suggest the video is corrupted (although it will play fine in Premiere and other video software).
I had thought “Unknown Error” was the least useful error message I’d seen. I was wrong. Sometimes the encoding fails part-way, yet Media Encoder reports “Encoding completed successfully”. I don’t want to take personal offence from a bit of software, but it stopped with the progress bar halfway, created half a video file then declared it was happily done. Surely that’s simply rude?
Of course, you can attempt to find and follow the official Adobe advice. The first “note” here tells you to restart your computer “to refresh its memory” (read: not only is our software full of bugs, its also full of memory leaks). Solution 1 is to turn various effects off (read: lots of our effects have bugs). Solution 2 is to change the encoding (read: our codecs have bugs). The third solution annoys me even more: “Quit any applications that may be interfering with the render process”. Why? Surely Adobe should be able to share memory and resources with other processes? Solution 4 is “Use a different codec for your export” (read: our export function is full of bugs). Solution 5 is “Disable Auto Save” (read: our basic functionality breaks our other functions). I tried all of these; no dice.
In the interest of of ending on a positive, helpful note, I have the following suggestions for how Adobe can make things better:
- Replace “Unkown Error” wherever it occurs in the codebase. Handle exceptions properly – you’re meant to be a professional company and this is an very sloppy coding practice.
- Test the software. I’m using a split new machine from a vary large vendor. Why on earth doesn’t it work? There must be huge flaws in the testing process at Adobe.
- Remove support for features that don’t work. A particular encoding doesn’t work a given percentage of the time? Either fix it, or don’t pretend to support it.
- Look at your own advice. Most of these “solutions” indicate deficiencies in the underlying software.
- Provide some sort of cuddly toy with each purchase of Premiere Pro. Although this won’t make the software any better, it will reduce stress by giving users a representation of Adobe that can be tortured during periods of stress brought on by attempting to use the software.
- I think this must be because my work address contains too many dots for Adobe. I’ve redacted my address as this post does not represent the views of my employer, just me. But trust me, it’s valid. [↩]