The Mercury Playback Engine
While we examine three different applications within Adobe’s Creative Suite (After Effects, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro), most of Adobe’s attention falls on Premiere Pro CS5 and its Mercury Playback Engine, the 64-bit, multi-threaded code base that can utilize Nvidia GPU (CUDA) hardware acceleration. Mercury acceleration is not global throughout the program, but it will accelerate a bunch of effects and operations. For example, the new Ultra keyer, proc amp, Gaussian blur, edge feathering, flips, sharpening, and color correction—in fact, most of the popular effects—are now Mercury-ready. So are three transitions: cross dissolve, dip to black, and dip to white.
Adobe boasts that very large projects can see up to a 10x performance gain from Mercury. Nvidia promises “performance gains of up to 70 times” for visual processing tasks. While we’re more inclined to lean toward Adobe’s number, given some of the GPGPU results we’ve seen in the past, such claims don’t sound infeasible.
Nvidia claims that because CUDA and the Mercury Playback Engine are doing so much of the visual computing work, “the CPU is free to continue to manage other system and application tasks, and to efficiently manage background processes.” On this point, we’ll remain skeptical until proven wrong by our data. We expect that CUDA will accelerate performance when it can, but we don’t expect miracles of CPU utilization reduction...yet.
Turning the Mercury Playback Engine on and off is a fairly simple matter. Simply navigate into Project -> Project Settings -> General. In the Video Rendering and Playback section, use the Renderer pull-down to select the desired Mercury setting.