As computing technology evolves, we see many new trends in the way we look at productivity come to light, both in terms of software, and hardware. The most popular new trend these days, is general purpose GPU computing, (aka GPGPU computing). This is the process in which software engineers are taking advantage of the graphics card’s processor to augment the system’s CPU in performing more general purpose tasks instead of just being limited to performing graphics functions. We decided to take a look at a plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 from a company called Elemental Technologies, to see what .
Elemental Accelerator is a plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 that offers video encoding and decoding in H.264, Mpeg-2, and Blu-Ray formats. Through the plug-in, the encoding and decoding calculations are off-loaded from the system’s main CPU, and onto the GPU of one or more of the supported Nvidia Quadro FX graphics cards offering a substantial speed improvement.
Elemental Accelerator is aimed pretty squarely at the professional sector, as it is designed to work with Adobe’s high-end Premiere Pro, and Nvidia’s professional line of graphics cards and chips. Currently, the plug-in can be used with the following Quadro FX accelerators: FX1800 / FX3700 / FX3800 / FX4800 / FX5800 / QuadroCX / FX4800 for Mac / 1800M / 2800M / 3800M / FX2700M / FX3700M.
The plug-in itself is pretty simple and straight forward. For installation, an easy to use installer quickly takes you through the installation process. You just need to have Premiere installed, and the Elemental installer will detect it, and install itself in the proper location to be used with Premiere. Once installed, usage is simply a matter of selecting one of the Elemental codecs from within the media exporter in Premiere. By selecting the Elemental codec, all of the processing is then shifted over to the QuadroFX’s GPU at the time the export is initiated.
Now you might ask, what exactly is the purpose of this plug-in since Premiere supports H.264, Mpeg-2, and Blu-Ray formats on it’s own. Well, processing speed is when the Elemental plug-in comes in. As we all know in the professional world, time is money, and Elemental Technologies claims that they can save you time as the Elemental plug-in offers a substantial performance increase over traditional software encoding and decoding on the system’s CPU. And, if encoding on the GPU of 1 QuadroFX card isn’t enough, the latest version of the plug-in supports multiple QuadroFX GPU’s to offer even more processing power. ( an interesting note, as many multiple GPU applications require 2 or more of the same GPU installed in the host computer, the Elemental plug-in can work with different Quadro GPU’s in the same machine. This is evident as our multiple GPU test uses a Quadro FX5800 and an FX3800 to boost performance. )
For benchmarking, we used version 2.2.1 of Elemental Accelerator with Premiere Pro CS4, and our test systems has the following specs: HP Z800 workstation – Dual Quad-core Xeon W5580 CPU’s at 3.2GH, Dual socket Intel 5520 chipset mainboard, 18GB of DDR3 1333 RAM. HP Z600 workstation – Dual Quad-core Xeon W5560 CPU’s at 2.8GH, Dual Socket Intel 5520 chipset mainboard, 12GB of DDR3 1333 RAM. Generic test system – Intel Quad-core Q9550 at 2.8GH, and 3.2GH, Nvidia 780i chipset mainboard, and 8GB of DDR2 800 RAM. The following graphics cards were tested with the Elemental plug-in: Quadro FX1800, FX3800, FX4800, and FX5800. Driver version used is the Quadro 191.78 whql on windows XP x64. Also the FX5800 and the FX3800 were tested in multi-GPU mode. Let’s take a look and see if Elemental’s performance claims hold true.
So you can see by the benchmarks, that Elementals claims do hold true as we can see a roughly 60% – 90% performance increase using the FX3800, 4800, and 5800 over CPU encoding on the mighty Z800 and Z600 workstations with their 8 cores of Nehalem CPU’s. The only GPU that doesn’t beat out the Z800 and Z600 systems is the FX1800 due to it’s limited number of CUDA processing cores, but it still manages to beat out the Core2 quad 9550 CPU in both 2.8 & 3.2GH speeds by a significant margin. Unfortunately, I don’t have a single CPU core i7 system to test it against, but looking at the numbers generated by the dual Xeons, and the Q9550, we can assume that the FX1800 would probably beat out a single CPU core i7 and the newer core i5 systems as well.
Now there are a few other GPU-enabled video encoding products either on the market, or coming soon, and while they also offer increased video encoding performance, I have noticed that most seem to have some slight quality discrepancies over software encoding. Their color reproduction and image sharpness are not quite as good when using the GPU to do the encoding tasks. The differences are quite small, but they do seem to exist, so I decided to have a look at the image quality differences with Elemental Accelerator over the CPU software encoded media.
As you can see in the above image, there seems to be no noticable difference between the software built version, and the Elemental version. Color reproduction and sharpness levels remain consistent between both versions. The fact that the Elemental version retains the sharpness values as the Software version is especially important when working with high resolution Blu-ray and HD formats. It’s good to see that you don’t have to give up any quality to get the speed increases the Elemental plug-in offers.
Pricing for the plug-in is listed at $499.00 for the software as a stand-alone package, or a discounted $250.00 version if you already own a Quadro FX5800 / FX4800 / FX3800 / FX1800 / 3700M / 2700M. Or you can purchase the plug-in bundled with select Quadro FX cards. ( on Newegg.com they are currently selling the plug-in bundled with the FX4800, the FX3800, and the FX1800 for an average of about $120.00 more than just purchasing the graphics card alone.) In my opinion, the best value here is the Quadro FX3800. At street prices of roughly $850.00, adding 1 of these to your current system is much cheaper than purchasing an expensive high end workstation to do your video encoding and decoding tasks, and it will out perform the current crop of high end workstations as well. And if you are thinking of purchasing a Quadro FX4800 or FX5800 specifically to use this plug-in with, you would probably be better off going with 2 FX3800′s instead, as you will get more performance for about the same price as an FX4800. ( of course, if you are planning on using the Quadro card for 3D applications as well, the 4800 and 5800 will offer better performance than the 3800. )
So to sum up here, the Elemental Accelerator plug-in for Premiere does do exactly what Elemental Technologies claims, significantly increased performance in video encoding and decoding, especially when used with one or more of the supported Nvidia Quadro FX graphics video cards, thus saving you time in performing video encoding and decoding tasks.
I’d like to give a special thanks to the following for their contributions to this article:
Julie Williams, Elemental Technologies
Lisa Epstein, Elemental Technologies
Sean Kilbride, Nvidia Corporation