On paper, Adobe Premiere Elements is a no-brainer. It's a sensible, serious, affordable editing program with an interface and workflow that comes from its big sibling, Premiere Pro. It has more features than most camcorder enthusiasts need, while ambitious editors will find it easy to use Adobe's prosumer offerings when they upgrade. The market is a fiercely competitive place, though, and it will need to shine to stand out against the likes of Pinnacle Studio and Sony's Vegas Movie Studio.

Premiere Elements looks less like Premiere Pro with each new version, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it's been dumbed down. Adobe has created a tabbed Tasks panel, that can be as confusing as it is economical. Workflow is divided into three steps - Edit, Create menus (for DVD authoring) and Share.

Each has its own sub-stages, such as Media, Themes, Effects, Transitions and Titles, at the Edit stage. Audio isn't mentioned in this workflow at all. This encourages users to follow a strict sequence that may or may not be right for the job in hand. As with most beginner's programs, Elements offers a choice of timeline or storyboard (known here as a Sceneline).

There's no limit...

What sets Premiere Elements apart, though, is its support for unlimited audio and video tracks on the timeline and tight control over sound and picture, allowing them to be trimmed and manipulated individually. Despite its leanings towards a toybox interface, there's an awful lot of interesting features under the hood.

Five options are provided for media acquisition. Video, audio and stills can be imported from DVD or from digital cameras, mobile phones, hard drive-based camcorders or media cards.

As expected, footage can be captured from a camcorder, digital VCR or webcam. DV and HDV formats are supported for capture, with scene detection by content for HDV footage. Files can be imported from the system's hard drives or downloaded from the internet, and there's a stop motion feature for capturing footage frame by frame into a single contiguous movie file.

Media files are neatly shown in the Tasks Panel. Clips of different types or media for different scenes can be organised into folders, and the panel can display or hide movie files, audio files and images independently. Video on the timeline is always displayed alongside its audio to help distinguish it.

Additional audio tracks not associated with video are kept at the bottom of the timeline. Video and its audio can be linked and unlinked to allow independent trimming and manipulation. Audio is shown with a visible waveform and a yellow rubber band indicating volume, while video tracks have a similar band for controlling opacity.

Array of effects

Elements' Themes offers a rather limited selection of ready made title sequences, sorted by theme - such as weddings, travel and birthdays. Like most consumer-level editors, Elements offers a mass of video effects, from sensible colour correction tools and an image stabiliser, to more flamboyant filters such as pixelate and emboss.

There's a healthy selection of audio filters too, many of which serve sensible functions such as balancing left and right channels or tweaking bass and treble frequencies. Video transitions are abundant with plenty of spins, peels, rolls and folds to entertain you. Titles are created from templates, and customised using a rich selection of text and graphics tools, with all work carried out on the video monitor itself. The font and style is easily changed, and animation is also supported.

A mixer panel is used for sound mixing during playback, or keyframes can be set and adjusted on the timeline. A lovely new feature is the ability to automatically place markers on the beat of your musical soundtrack. Unfortunately, Elements doesn't follow this up with the 'automate to timeline' command from Pro, which would gather clips on the timeline, cut at the markers. Another letdown is the lack of surround sound mixing in Elements - especially as it's now a standard with Pinnacle Studio and Ulead VideoStudio.

Like titles, DVD menus begin life as templates, but all elements, such as text, style, backgrounds and audio can be customised in an intuitive control panel. DVDs authored in Elements only feature the movie on its timeline. No additional video clips can be included as 'extra features', and there's no support for optional subtitles or extra audio.

Burn to DVD or Blu-Ray

Movies can be exported to disc, files on the hard drive, media files for playback on handheld devices, and even uploaded to YouTube or an FTP site. Elements will burn DVD and Blu-Ray discs, but there's no HD DVD support. And while it offers great control over MPEG encoding to a hard drive file, MPEG options are limited burning straight to DVD.

Elements soldiered through our tests without a hiccup, but performance on a 3GHz Windows XP system wasn't as fluid as we've seen. Basic cutting processes were quick and responsive, but the program seems hungry for resources, and this was evident when reviewing unrendered transitions and video filters. Rendering is quick though, and real-time performance is very likely to be top-notch on a multi-core system with PCIe graphics.

Despite initial misgivings about the continued simplification of Premiere Elements' interface, we still feel that it offers a sense of business-like sobriety that you won't get from the likes of Pinnacle Studio and Ulead VideoStudio. It's a very able editor, with many genuinely useful features. We're sure that it offers more than enough growing space for the majority of camcorder enthusiasts, as well as a language and workflow that will help the ambitious users hit the ground running, should they ever need to upgrade to Premiere Pro.