I’m going to start out by saying that I was one of the beta testers of this version of Media Composer. One of a couple hundred actual end-users of the software. Editors from all walks of professional life who used the beta on some of our actual projects. Because it was a beta I only used it on non-time critical projects, but I did use it in real world application. Avid is showing a true commitment to professional editors by having the pros test every aspect of MC6 and provide feedback. Even on the UI. There were several instances when Avid conferenced-called us users and got our feedback on what we liked and didn’t like. What worked and didn’t work. And the feedback was almost instantaneous, as we’d have a new build to look at every week or two. They really listened to their base.

OK…that all said and done, let’s move onto the new features of Media Composer 6.0.

I will start first with what we all see when we first open up the application…the User Interface (UI). It has been updated from the old UI we have been using for a decade or two now, and it is pretty sleek. It is something we all got a taste of at the Avid Event in July (that I blogged about here), but at that time it wasn’t locked down. There were minor changes done since then…refinements to every part of the interface. Here, I’ll show you several pics, so you can see for yourself.

Here is a big picture of the grey interface.

And here is a pic of the black interface (what I use)

You can have it look the normal flat grey…or you can go very dark grey.

You can choose one of 6 highlight colors (I like gold personally, and very dark). Missing are all the bin color options and various window color options, which I find refreshing. Mainly because I’d open up my in my assistant’s (or another editors) settings and be confronted with neon chaos. Avid is now keeping this simple. Some may like it, some may not. MC6_TimecodeReadout The timecode displays in the Composer window are green, like you’d see on a deck. This is not modifiable…which is fine by me (and the other editors on the beta). It is very readable, and stands out, without being obnoxious.

There are bin highlight colors on the top bar, so you can see which bin is active. Note that the close/expand/minimize button are also colored when active, so they are easily spotted.

Clip color. Instead of highlighting the whole clip in the bin with the color, there is a little box next to the clip that contains the color. And if you right-click on that, you can change the color to what you want…within a limited palette.

And you can move that box indicating clip color to wherever in the bin you want.

Meanwhile, on the timeline, the entire clip does show up as the color you gave it in the bin, making it easy to spot. And if you change the color in the bin, the color is instantly changed on the timeline as well. One thing you may notice with those above pictures…the bin has TABS.

This is yet another idea that Avid has borrowed from FCP (because it is very useful), BIN TABS. Now instead of a SUPERBIN, which I personally despised because navigating between bins wasn’t easy, and the single click nature of it went against all my muscle memory of opening bins. So now you can have one bin that is several, just click back and forth on the tabs. This is great if you are working on a laptop, and also great if you are in the habit of opening lots of bins on your tower to access a variety of footage. And you can rearrange the order of the tabs too, by dragging them where you want. Sorry, no tabbed sequences. Avid is still limited to one sequence open at a time.

One big thing that I need to point out is that Avid didn’t do any radical changes. Meaning that they didn’t re-arrange buttons on us. They didn’t change the interface as drastically as Apple did with FCP-X. They know, as they got constant feedback from us editors, that we rely heavily on muscle memory in order to edit quickly. Start moving things and things go haywire, and we get grumpy (note the Smart Tool). And if you don’t like where some, or ALL of the buttons are, you can open the Command Palette and put whatever you want, wherever you want. The Smart Tool was a minor change that Avid added to MC 5, and that small change caused a lot of uproar within the Avid community. It was a good change, in my opinion, as it did offer an improved toolset (borrowing again from FCP). But Avid has learned that make too many drastic changes, and you risk angering your base. And really, why fix what isn’t broken? The interface works. If you don’t think so…change it to your hearts delight. The tools are there.

Alright, now let’s delve deeper into things, moving on to the 64-bit architecture that MC6 is built on. Now, what you won’t get with this is what you see with other 64-bit NLEs…like 8 layers of video with text and moving graphics and no need to render. Sorry, you won’t get that with this version of Media Composer. But what 64-bit does for this version of Media Composer is fix a lot of issues it had with previous versions. It enables the application to utilize more RAM, so that it can handle some of the routine tasks better. Like sluggish performance when you had multiple bins open, or bins with tons of footage. When scrolling on long, complex timelines. When keyframing or dealing with effects. 64-bit simply makes things faster…more responsive. Less waiting on our end. This means that I no longer press 15 keyboard combinations to complete a task and then 15-30 seconds later the Avid catches up with me. No, now it keeps pace with me. Scrolling on the timeline is quicker, zippier…no lag on long complex sequences. I can click on a clip, open the effects editor, make changes, and close the editor as quick as I can click. If you are new to Avid, this is something you won’t really notice. But if you are an old hand, you’ll see how 64-bit breathes new life into the application, making it able to work as fast as we can.

What 64-bit also opens the door for, hopefully, is background rendering and background transcoding. Those aren’t things available with this version of Media Composer. Those are just hopes that I have for future options. And I think they are possible.

I know what you are thinking…well, some of you anyway. Does 64-bit enhance Avid’s AMA? Meaning, can we now access footage via AMA in it’s native format, and edit that native format without loss of performance? Well, I did test this, and for many formats (like DVCPRO HD, XDCAM, AVCHD, ProRes and RED) direct AMA does work well. Far better than previous versions. So your edit times are greatly sped up because the need to transcode to Avid codecs isn’t always required. You can work natively with many professional formats, saving you hours of transcoding time. And even a few minutes of savings, multiplied by multiple edit bays, over a few days, adds up.

But some formats, such as H.264 from DSLR camera, AMA and working native isn’t a viable option for longer programs. It is quicker, at first. But add more and more clips, and it slows down. Transcoding is still a better option for that format.

Speaking of which…Avid has added a new codec. DNxHD 4444. Now they too have a full 4:4:4 codec. Alpha channel support isn’t quite there yet, but it will be soon.

AND, Avid Media Composer on the Mac can now encode to ProRes (Sorry, not available for Windows). Yup, all of the ProRes codecs are available…ProRes Proxy, ProRes LT, ProRes, ProRes HQ and ProRes 4444 (ProRes 4444 is available when your timeline is set to an RGB colorspace). You can encode to a ProRes Quicktime file when you do an export of your sequence, or, as you can see in the picture…

…capture or encode to ProRes MXF.

ProRes support is not limited to Quicktime, but available as MXF as well. So if you have ProRes QT media that you want to work with in the Avid, but you don’t want to transcode that footage to DNxHD as that will result in quality loss, or perhaps a gamma shift…you can either Fast Import it, or access via AMA and transcode as ProRes MXF. This causes the ProRes QT file to simply be re-wrapped as MXF…zero quality loss! How does that grab you? All that footage you captured while using FCP is available at full resolution in Avid MC6.

And Avid has expanded support for the RED and AVCHD formats as well. This is a clear sign that Avid is moving towards being more of an open application. Open to more workflows, more formats…and more hardware.

And remember when in July Avid announced that they’d be supporting third party hardware from AJA, Matrox, BlackMagic Design, MOTU and BlueFish? But they couldn’t say which specific models they’d be able to support? Well, I can now provide you with a full list…in a bit. I tested the AJA Kona LHi with Media Composer 6…and the first time I captured video with it I did a happy dance. Yup, I got up and danced about in my bay/garage. Here I was, capturing video into my Avid using an AJA card…and it WORKED! I did all sorts of capturing: HDCAM, HDCAM (using the Sony JH-3 deck), digibeta, betaSP, BetaSX (using the Sony J-30)…all very successfully. When you choose the VIDEO TOOL, the AJA Control panel opens up. If you have used this card with FCP, the interface is exactly the same…all the tools you had before with the Kona cards, are available here. One feature I rely on a lot with the Kona is the great clean upconverts I get with it. Upconverting BetaSP and Digibeta to 1080i HD are commonplace in my world. And the card still does that beautifully. And I can capture as 1:1, or 2:1, or DNxHD, or ProRes HQ MXF.

I didn’t test output, as I only had access to player decks. But rest assured, that is supported as well. So all the hardware can capture, and output…they aren’t limited solely to output.

This is a HUGE thing for Avid. This means that if you already own this hardware due to having a Final Cut Pro workstation…or several Final Cut Pro workstations, you can simply purchase Media Composer 6.0, install it, and run it on all the same hardware you did before. You heard me right…NO NEW HARDWARE. You can transition to Avid and still be able to capture tapes, output to tape, output to your broadcast and client monitors, without skipping a beat. So where Apple might have left you high and dry with the release of FCP-X, Avid throws you a line and lets you continue to work with the professional tools you need without major costs involved.

Now, what does this mean for the Avid hardware? Why should I buy a Nitris DX for the new discounted price of $5499 when i can get a Kona 3G and K-Box for under $3000? I thought of the same thing. Well, the selling point for the DX hardware (Nitris and Mojo) is that with them, you get several advantages:.

– HD-RGB capture through dual link
– DNxHD encoding (dual stream) Hardware encoding, built into the box
– AVC-Intra encoding (dual stream), hardware encoding, built into the box
– Both DNxHD and AVC-Intra encoders in the box at the same time
– Full frame stereoscopic (3D) capture/monitor/output
– Thin raster format support (meaning that it takes the burden of stretching out anamorphic footage to full screen off of the computer and shoulders the task itself)
– Dual live sync
– Always active analog and digital audio monitoring

The third party options have other limitations as well: LTC I/O isn’t supported (but RS-422 is), they cannot be used to perform audio punch-ins on tape, they don’t support full frame stereoscopic capture or output, don’t support ancillary data nor universal mastering. So if you need a high end Avid with all the options available, it is best to get the DX hardware. The third party cards work fine, they just don’t do everything.

OK, that list of supported hardware I promised? Here it is:

AJA: Kona 3, Kona 3G, Kona LHi, Kona LHe Plus and IO Express

MATROX: MXO2, MXO2 LE, MXO2 Mini, MXO2 Rack (and all the MAX versions as well)

BlackMagic Design: All current DeckLink, Multibridge, Intensity and UltraStudio models.

MOTU: HDX-SDI and HD Express

BlueFish: All models.

So we have a new UI, 64-bit architecture, ProRes encode, third party hardware IO support…and 3D support

Ah… 3D. If you are going to be working in 3D anytime soon, you will be working with an Avid Media Composer. It pretty much is the only option going now. Final Cut Pro? Sure, with the aid of a third party plugin…but FCP 7 is End of Life, so that will be short lived. And FCX doesn’t do 3D, so that is a dead end. Sure, you can use FCP 7 for some current 3D workflows, but it being discontinued means that it won’t advance with technology. And the current workflows can be a tad complicated. Adobe Premiere Pro? At this time it too will only do 3D with the help of third party plugins. And again, the workflow is a bit involved. So if you are going to be working with 3D, the clear choice is Avid Media Composer 6. It is the only NLE that makes it simple. Avid has 3D sewn up tight.

Artist Color. With the acquisition of Euphonix, Avid now has a great color correction interface tool, the Artist Color. This works with all the built in Avid color correction tools, and interfaces with Resolve and Color as well. And it controls the Avid timeline for those keen on a tool to do that. And it is only $1500 to boot!

And I need to mention that with this release, Avid Symphony will be available as a software only option. And it too works with all the third party capture cards. How about them apples?

Finally, Avid has added a new feature that will greatly help those of us in the documentary world. The Avid Marketplace. This is an in-system portal to the Thought Equity Motion stock footage library, which allows you to download footage directly into the Avid…track that footage and the footage costs, and then order and download master footage that will then replace the lower resolution versions in your timeline. Avid isn’t limiting itself to Though Equity, it is just starting with them. We might soon see other stock footage libraries added to the Marketplace so that we have a wider variety of options. The Marketplace also enables customers to browse available audio and video plugins, so the won’t need to scour the web for them.

All in all I am very pleased with the current release. It might not have all the WHIZ BANG POW that people might have been expecting with the 64-bit architecture, but it does pack a punch. I was very pleased with the performance on the timeline when scrolling through footage, and when the system was able to keep pace with my keystrokes, no matter how fast I went, how many bins I had open and how big my timeline was. I like the fact that the UI has an updated look, but didn’t change where the buttons are, and didn’t change the editing workflow. I love that Avid now has tabbed bins. I liked how I could bring in my RED footage via AMA and work with the footage natively, without transcoding. I jumped for joy and did a happy dance when I was able to capture footage with my Kona card, meaning that I can transition back to Avid and retain all of my hardware. I like that I can fast-import all of my ProRes footage without losing one ounce of quality.

OH…and one more little trick that Avid has up it’s sleeve that isn’t in the press release, and only came out when I complained to an Avid employee at a recent Customer Advisory Board meeting. He informed me that Avid MC6 now allows the export of self contained Quicktime files with multiple channels of embedded audio. Mappable to the channels that you want. Meaning that I don’t need to resort to FCP or Quicktime Pro when I need to deliver that DNxHD Quicktime file with 16 channels of discreet audio. You can now do this directly from the Avid.

I give Avid MC6 a thumbs up.

OH…and to quote the great detective Colombo…”one more thing…” Avid Media Composer 6 on the Mac side is Mac OS 10.7 LION only, and Windows 7 only on the PC side. It won’t run on Snow Leopard or Windows Vista. So in an uncharacteristic move…but something I’m sure has to do with the 64-bit nature of the app…Avid software only works on the most current OS.

Pricing and Availability

New versions of Media Composer, Symphony and NewsCutter software will be available on November 15, 2011. Beginning with these releases, NewsCutter will be available for the same price as Media Composer, Symphony 6.0 will be available as a standalone software option and Nitris DX will be available as a standalone hardware option.

• Pricing for Media Composer 6.0 starts at $2499 USD. Upgrade pricing starts at $299 USD.
• NewsCutter 10 starts at $2499 USD. Upgrade pricing starts at $499 USD.
• Pricing for Symphony 6.0 starts at $5,999 USD. Upgrade pricing starts at $499 USD.
• Nitris DX starts at $5,499 USD.
• Pricing for Media Composer Academic version 6.0 starts at $295 USMSRP for educational institutions and students.
• Final Cut Pro (excluding Final Cut Pro X) users can purchase Media Composer with free online training to help them move from Final Cut Pro to Media Composer, for $1499 USD.