OK, I am NOT going to say that Avid Media Composer 5.0 is a “game changer.” Mainly because I hate that term. And I don’t think that it is changing the editing game. But, what it is doing is adding more tools to make it a better application. Hmmm…well, I might actually have to change my thoughts on the term “game changer,” because it is actually changing the game, just not the game you all are thinking about. The game Avid is changing is the one it has been playing with it’s user base.
Initially Avid was good. They listened to the needs of the editors and incorporated many things they needed to do in early versions of Media Composer. But then they started to slip, and get lazy…or just plain neglectful. If we wanted a feature, they got around to giving it to us eventually, but they’d charge us $14,000 to “activate the new feature.” They got comfortable in their position and ignored the needs of their base.
But now the game HAS changed. Avid is not only listening to the editors and end users of their products (meaning post supervisors and facilites managers too), but they are actively seeking out our advice…and incorporate it into their latest releases. There was this great tool that we users of Final Cut Pro really rely on, and love. It is Select All Downstream, or Upstream…or between IN and OUT points. I myself use this daily. When we asked Avid to add that to Media Composer…low and behold, in Media Composer 3.0.5…there it was. And when we asked them to support the new camera formats…in less time than their usual record of a year or two, they listened to us. In fact, they are listening to us so much now, and taking our advice so much now, that they come out with a new MAJOR release of Avid Media Composer every 6-9 months or so. So fast that I personally have told them that they really need to slow down. Why? Because many large facilities and old guard post houses would be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars for new upgrades, because they’d need to upgrade 12-40 bays, including hardware to view on client monitors. And historically a fully decked out Avid MC would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
So, Avid’s old game of a) not listening to their user base, b) not implementing new features quickly enough and c) costing a lot of money has changed. And their NEW game is…well, listening to us, adding new features VERY quickly, and offering their Media Composer line as pretty inexpensive editing solution.
Enough preamble, onto the review.
Avid was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to beta test Media Composer 5.0. And in doing this I not only got to play with all the new features, but also help work out the bugs. And I got a chance to get more comfortable with how the application works. Media Composer 5.0 (MC5) has a LOT of new features, and I tried to test as many as I could, but I limited myself to the key areas that most impacted me and my editing style and workflow. If you want to see a full list of these features, you can see my NAB preview here.
What I played with:
This new feature adds “Final Cut Pro-like” timeline work habits to MC5. Before this release, you had to click on the RED select arrow (overwrite), or YELLOW select arrow (insert) before you could drag media around the timeline. While in FCP, this is the norm. I can tell you that when I go from FCP to Avid MC, I miss this ability a lot. Well, now I have it. But, it took a little getting used to. The main thing that distracts me is the OVER/UNDER behavior. If you are on the upper 50% of the clip, you get the OVERWRITE arrow, in the lower 50% you get the INSERT arrow. Well, on some of my timelines, my tracks are pretty thin, so trying to get the right select arrow becomes quite a task. So what I have done is disabled the INSERT select tool until I want it. But, I would really prefer a keyboard key to toggle between the two. Like OPTION or CONTROL. So normal behavior would be RED arrow so that I can grab chunks or clips and move them about. But when I want to swap shots I press CNTRL and the arrow becomes YELLOW temporarily. As it is now mapped, I have to press a key to activate which arrow I want. Which is a decent workaround (something Steven Cohen mentioned to me).
Now, how this is DIFFERENT in the old way is that now you have an OPEN SEGMENT MODE. This means that those options are now active all the time. In previous versions you either lasso your clips, or activate the arrows, and then do your moving, and then deactivate them to continue working and to navigate the timeline. The SMART TOOLS allow you have the segment modes open all the time, so that you can move clips, and then navigate on the timeline by clicking on the timeline bar (just like you do in FCP), and then doing more changes. And the TRIM tools are also active all the time, so you can slip and slide the cut points. And if you want to deactivate the tools, you can click on the lower ruler. But this is a setting you have to adjust in the TIMELINE settings.
So now you have the best of both worlds. The great Avid trim tools and trim editing that I have gotten to love again, AND the direct timeline manipulation that I love in FCP. Now, it isn’t EXACTLY like FCP, nor should it be. As I said, it took a little getting used to, but once I got it down, I had it. And you can enable clicking on the ruler or timeline to disable these functions, just like the older versions of MC. So you can still click all over the timeline when moving the playhead, activate the Smart Tools when you want to grab something, and disable them by clicking on the timeline bar…just like the old way. But, slighly different as their location has moved from the bottom to the side. So that might get the old-school Avid people a tad getting used to. When you are so used to the way something works that it becomes second nature, when things change, you get thrown for a little loop.
COLLAPSE STEREO TRACKS TO ONE LAYER OF AUDIO
I cannot tell you how much landscape this saves. I typically have 4-8 tracks set aside for music, for when things overlap or I add stings to other scores. And then 4-8 tracks for SFX. Now, I can use 1-4 tracks for each…as you can make one track into a stereo track. And I like my SFX to be in stereo, as often the sound in them travels from L to R. So this is just a small feature that gives you more room on your timeline, meaning you don’t have to scroll UP and DOWN so much to adjust your audio. A small time saver, and any time you can save doing these small things means more time saved in the editing process. And this can all add up to more time to do the ACTUAL work.
TIMELINE AUDIO TOOLS EXPANDED
This too turned out to be a big time saver Instead of having to have the AUDIO TOOL open, and having to move bins aside looking for it, I have have a lot of the tools I use on it directly on the timeline. I use MUTE and SOLO a lot to only listen to certain mics, or to quickly solo out the music tracks (so I don’t have to turn off the 18 other audio tracks) so that I can make sure the music edits I make are smooth. And the ability to turn on the audio waveforms ONLY on certain tracks, like music, means a LOT less time sitting idle as MC loads all the waveform data for ALL the tracks.
Again, a small amount of time, but enough to slow my train of edit (as opposed to train of thought) down. And all these little things add up.
I haven’t worked on a RED project yet, but I got some RED footage from a friend to test out this feature. And I didn’t go TOO in depth, as I focused mainly on other things. But, I will say, that with AMA, accessing the RED footage is a breeze. It doesn’t go after the PROXY files, or the other QT files that the RED produces. I tried to AMA those and only got errors. No, what it does is access the R3D files, so you are accessing the actual 4K files.
When I initially did this, in earlier beta builds, I noted that it was very sluggish. But then I moved my footage to my Caldigit HD one, and thing played a bit smoother. But still choppy. And I had choppiness issues with other AMA files, and finally figured out it was my graphics card causing the issue. I’ll talk more about that in the next section. But, needless to say, access the RED RAW files quickly through AMA, and being able to adjust a quick “one light” look to them when you do this is pretty slick. I need to play with this more.
Now onto one of the big main features that was introduced in MC5, Quicktime AMA. WIth QT AMA, Avid MC5 introduces a huge leap into working with multiple formats. Now MC5 can work with footage recorded using the KiPro, or the new Arri camera. Now MC5 can work with footage captured in FCP to ProRes. Now it can work with footage shot with Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras. QT AMA will either load the footage automatically (something I don’t like), or allow you to import an entire folder, or individual files. This is very cool!
Now, I want to tell you something. Just because you can now access these files natively, I caution against editing the files natively. Be wary about loading the files via AMA and start editing them in their native form. Can you? Well, yes, you can, if you have the right graphics card. Avid MC5 really relies on the NVidia line of graphics cards, they add more power to the system to deal with the processing power needed to deal with this footage. Initially I only had my ATI 4870 card, and things were sluggish.
One thing that I noticed is that my Canon T2i files would import fine, but when I get beyond 8 clips in the sequence, my machine would slow to an absolute crawl. I’d get the spinning beach ball for seconds before the system would react. And forget about playing in reverse. That made me crash. Editing with ProRes was better…a lot better, but still not smooth. The system was slow to react, and playing in reverse was not smooth. Red…stuttered. AVCHD…acted like my T2i footage. It was horrid. But that was because I was still using my ATI 4870 card. So note that issue when wanting to work with these files. I found out that getting an NVidia card would help, so I did. I got a lower end GT120, and replaced my ATI, and there was a significant improvement. I’m sure a beefier card would be better. But still, many formats, like H.264, is VERY processor intensive, and not really ideal for native editing. But with the card things were a lot better, albeit still sluggish as my sequence got bigger. So this hope that editing native will make your edit go faster…sorry to disappoint. A large sequence with this footage will be cumbersome to edit native, at least in my experience.
As for ProRes, it was normal. Editing with that format, after I got the NVidia, was pretty painless. Very smooth. Integrated into the DNxHD project well. And you know what else? If you install FCP on the same system, to get the codecs into QT, footage imported into FCP from P2, converted to DVCPRO HD, are also accessible, and also integrate well into the cut. So that was an added bonus. Because how many times has someone shot P2, imported into FCP, then erased the cards without backing them up?
I caution about editing with this footage, mainly the DSLR footage, in a long form sequence. Because the larger the sequence got, the more sluggish the system became. I got up to about 15 min when it became noticeable.
Your organization of these files will be very much the same way FCP organizes things. They are where you put them in the Finder, and they remain there. MC5 just makes clips that point to where the media exists. It does not move them to the MXF > 1 folder. Nope. And get this, you CANNOT CONSOLIDATE them there. Sorry, the Consolidate option is only available for Avid media file types. When I tried to consolidate, I got these errors.
And there are more reasons why you might not want to work native. It isn’t just the sluggishness of the system after a while, but many of the workflows that we need to do on the Avid are now impossible to accomplish with files edited using QT AMA.
You cannot output an OMF (pardon, AAF) file for audio. Sorry, that is only available to media in the Avid media file format. This is a very standard workflow…getting your audio AAF or OMF out to an audio post house for mixing. If you can’t export an AAF/OMF for that, then you are stuck mixing yourself, on the Avid timeline. Fine for some, but crippling for those of us in broadcast TV and feature film editing. MC5 is just one step in the post production chain.
A workflow I was hoping would work, doesn’t. I was hoping to capture in FCP to ProRes, use QT AMA to access this footage and use Avid to edit it (or allow the Avid editors more comfort level using this software to edit), and then use Automatic Duck to bring the sequence with linked media back to FCP for finishing in Color. But no, sorry. You cannot export an AAF file with non-Avid media file formats. Nope, I get the following error:
I have heard of someone having success getting footage captured in FCP, and in a sequence to Avid and in a sequence that linked to the media via the EDL method. But they had to do a lot to get it to link properly.
So yes, QT AMA is great in that it allows you to access many media types rather quickly. But this doesn’t mean that now you can edit natively, because many of the crucial features of Avid MC5 won’t work on this media. In fact, the people at Avid highly suggest that you don’t work native, but that you transcode to an Avid format. Quicktime AMA is merely a tool to allow ACCESS to this footage. Once you get access, you need to transcode to an Avid media file format (DNxHD) in order for everything Avid does well to work properly. Sorry guys, no native editing if you want to edit properly.
MATROX MXO2 MINI
Avid opening up hardware to third party vendors for the MC line is big. BIG! I also was able to test this and can say that it works great. Installation was easy, and the result was amazing. I was able to view my DVCPRO HD 720p 23.98 footage onto my HD monitor. I was able to monitor the AMA’d footage…everything. And it was clear and smooth. Didn’t stutter or skip. It output the 720p 23.98 as 59.94 to my external monitor, but that’s fine. That’s how I view my 23.98 from FCP too. It still looks 23.98. And it outputs 1080p 23.98 as 29.97, adding the proper pulldown to monitor properly. And there it is, full HD quality playback on an external monitor for under $500. Matrox is working on new drivers, and the 2.0 drivers, due out later this summer, will output 23.98 at 1080 via HDMI. Until then, the pulldown it does to the footage works well.
The MXO2 Mini only works as playback in MC5, even though the unit is designed to input video. Currently that functionality isn’t available in MC5, but is in FCP and Premiere. Avid and Matrox have only enabled output on the unit at this time. It’s sole purpose at this time is for playing back footage onto an external monitor, it isn’t reliable as a means to output a show to tape. For this you still need an Avid MOJO DX, or Nitris DX. I’m sure you can try…get a Keyspan Serial adapter for deck control and see what you can do. No one stopping people from trying. Heck, you can use this to output to a DVD recorder, or if you are still in the dark ages, a VHS deck. With the realtime timecode overlays, this will be a VERY fast way to encode DVDs for client review.
There is another big reason that this is a big deal. This now makes the MC5 package more affordable to the big shops that employ Avid MCs. Because now they don’t need to buy Mojo DX boxes for all their edit stations. Many production facilities want to have edit bays that play out to client monitors, and until now they have had to shell out $8000 for the ability to do that, via the MOJO DX. And the Mojo would ONLY be used to output to a client monitor. They wouldn’t use it to go back out to tape. So now, with the MXO2 Mini, these facilities can save a TON of money. They can get their fully equipped Avid MC systems with Nitris DX or Mojo DX for capture and online/output stations. This might be just a couple of machines. And then they can equip all the rest of the systems with the Matrox MXO2 Mini and save $7500 per station. The MXO2 mini connects via a PCIe card for towers or Express34 card for laptops (your choice when you buy…to get both connection types it is an additional $99). It will not work on iMacs or MacBooks or MacBook Pros that do not have the required slots.
This might be just the incentive that many post and production houses need to get them to upgrade their systems. Many places hold back because the upgrade cost is daunting. Now Avid has made the upgrade more affordable.
Why the MXO2 Mini and NOT say the MXO2, or AJA Kona, or Decklink Extreme you ask? Well, according to Avid…baby steps. This is but their first step in the direction of third party support. They still need to sell the other hardware to remain profitable, and so if you want to capture and output, you get the Mojo DX or Nitris DX. But if you just want to view, you can get the MXO2 mini. Yeah, I was a little put out too. I only had the MXO2…the big daddy of the line. I had to get the Mini in order to interface with MC5. No saying what the future might have in store for third party capture card support. Avid keeps hinting that more is in the works. And if their record of hinting holds up, we might just see expansion of this. And giving their recent history of new releases every few months, it might not be that long before we see it.
My overall impression? I like it. I like it a lot. QT AMA brings a LOT to the table. Now, I still recommend transcoding to Avid’s codecs, because MC5 still likes to work with it’s file type for optimal performance. And if you want to be able to continue using the footage the standard production chain, it is essential. But, you can work with the files natively if you stay entirely in MC5 for everything, and the performance on these native files was better than I expected. I love the added audio features on the timeline, it sped up my editing workflow. I’m torn on the SMART TOOLS as the over/under doesn’t work for me as well as I thought, but I have a decent enough workaround (thanks to Steve Cohen) and found that mixing the Avid and FCP way of dealing with the timeline will take a little getting used to. The MXO2 Mini is a great added asset, and not only good for the smaller guys who just need to monitor their footage full quality, as they might never output to tape and might stay completely digital, but also great news to the larger post facilities that want client monitoring in all their bays.
I give this upgrade a big thumbs up.
As a post script, I felt that I needed to mention that the latest version of Media Composer will not come with ScriptSync for free. If you are a new purchaser of the software you will have to pay an extra $1000 to get this awesome software. However, those who are upgrading from MC4 will be able to get it for free, but only for this upgrade. For full details as to why, please click on this link.