MEDIA COMPOSER v5.5 IS THE BEST YET!Chris Brumwell
You’ve got to feel just a little bit sorry for Avid.
They produce arguably the best editing and finishing system in the world – but each year, they have to think of more ‘features’ to add to keep it fresh and stay at the top of the heap. The trouble is of course, when you’ve been doing that for twenty years – it starts to get difficult. It already does, and does well, pretty much everything the majority of users need it to do. Yes, they’d probably like it to render or transcode faster – but Avid are at the mercy of Intel, nVidia and the Laws of Physics on that one. They’d probably like it cheaper too – but, well, it already is…
In 1993, Avid introduced Media Suite Pro a system aimed at users who, at the time, would typically have been editing on a three machine S-VHS suite. Best picture quality available was single field, 5:1 compressed.
A Media Suite Pro back then would have cost you £20,000 or more for a turnkey system – and remember, those are early 90’s pounds not your current day ones that are only worth two shillings and sixpence. Included in that system would have been one or two 2GB SCSI drives with a list price of £4,000 each – these days, companies give away as marketing ‘freebies’, memory sticks that would out-perform those drives in terms of both capacity and bandwidth. Also back then, and for some considerable time afterwards, if you wanted to edit video on a computer, you needed to fill it to the brim with additional, usually very expensive expansion cards. Sometimes, there weren’t even enough slots in the computer and so you also had to buy an expansion chassis. Over time, the requirement for all that additional hardware has dwindled to the point that you can now edit HD on a laptop with no additional hardware. So you see it already is cheaper, much, much cheaper both in real terms and actual terms.
In the old days, NLE systems never did everything you wanted them to do; you wanted improved picture quality, ‘real time’ effects, and 3d effects. You wanted storage that was bigger, faster and cheaper. Then in later days, you wanted to be able to edit HD material and you needed support for all the new-fangled video formats and codecs that mushroomed out of nowhere. You wanted all of that, and to a large extent you’ve now got it – and much more besides.
All of which brings me, in a somewhat meandering way to the new release of Media Composer – v5.5 which started shipping in the latter part of March. What were Avid to do with it? The last release, v5 had seen the introduction of support for third party monitoring hardware (Matrox MXO2 mini ) – maybe that could be expanded upon? The introduction of AMA in earlier releases had moved the ‘responsibility’ for new format support from Avid to the camera manufacturers – so not much could be done there. In v5 there was a reworking of the user interface – so you could now work faster and more intuitively. It’s a bit soon to change the UI again – so nothing to be done there either.
So what’s new?
Well, it’s a first for Avid – they’ve finally qualified a third party piece of hardware for Input, Output and Monitoring. The piece of kit to be honoured with this accolade is the AJA IO Express. It provides HD/SD SDI and HDMI input and output, SD / HD component output, and SD only composite and Y/C outputs. There are also phono level audio outputs for monitoring purposes. Note that although there’s an RS-422 deck control port on the box this is disabled when used in the Avid environment. RS-422 deck control is however available using the usual Avid deck control cables. Similarly LTC and Ancillary Data are not
yet supported – but will be at a later date.
The IO Express interfaces to Workstations via a PCI-e card and to Laptops via an Express Card adaptor. The IO Express can down convert in hardware, but there’s no hardware up- convert capability. List price at the time of writing this article is £740. On the subject of I/O there’s two further points I should make here. First, although v5 saw the introduction of support for the Matrox MXO2 mini, which is an I/O box, when used with Media Composer software, only output functions are enabled – it is for monitoring use whilst editing only. Finally, you may be thinking that an I/O box is an I/O box is an I/O box. There are however many differences, some fundamental, some very subtle, between the various I/O box options that can be used with Media Composer software. Avid have produced a document that meticulously details all of these differences. It runs to eight A4 pages and can be downloaded from http://cdn.pinnaclesys.com/SupportFiles/attach/HW-Capabilities_1.2.pd
Next on the list is a new feature called Phrase Find. Now I should make it clear from the outset that Phrase Find is a £295 optional extra that requires v5.5 in order to function. Basically what it does is enable you type a word or phrase into a search box and search in either the current bin or across all bins in the current project for occurrences of that word or phrase in audio. It does that by phonetically indexing, as a background operation, all audio material as it’s brought into the system. The option can be installed with one of eleven languages as default – the others can then be purchased separately as required to co-reside if necessary. It should be noted that UK English and US English are classed as separate languages. How well it works with regional accents remains to be seen – a query raised by one of my Glaswegian colleagues. It will list in a search results box all clips that contain occurrences of that word or phrase listed in ‘confidence’ order. Double click on a clip in the search results and it loads into the source monitor with the cursor parked at the beginning of the phrase. You can also apply other search criteria within the search results to narrow your selection. These secondary search criteria could be text searches in metadata fields for example. Reduced, bundled pricing is available for users who require both Phrase Find and the previously released Script Sync option. Phrase Find is a great feature – if you need it.
In April last year, Avid acquired Euphonix who amongst other things make some excellent control surfaces and v5.5 finally brings support for most of them to Media Composer. There’s a range of surfaces available that can control transport functions, audio levels and other operations via programmable soft keys – though disappointingly the colour correction oriented three trackball control surface is not yet qualified.
Prices range from £315 for the ‘Transport’ surface, through £885 for the 8 fader ‘Mix’ surface to £1200 for the hybrid ‘Control V2’ surface which features a context sensitive touch screen interface, 12 assignable soft keys, 4 touch sensitive faders, 8 touch sensitive rotary encoders, a jog shuttle wheel and transport controls. You can watch a demo of the control surfaces at http://www.avid.com/US/avid-tv/Artist-Controllers.
For those of you with Nitris DX, v5.5 brings another new option – the AVC-I codec module which is a bit of a misnomer since actually it only encodes – decode is still performed in software. This £2,000 (approx) hardware option for Composer Nitris DX (it’s a new standard feature on Symphony Nitris DX) enables you to capture baseband video using Panasonics AVC-I codec in a variety of frame sizes, frame rates and bit rates. Real-time AVC-I encoding normally requires very powerful multi-core CPUs but the addition of this module makes it possible with more modest CPUs, even with a 100Mbs data rate, which is only achievable when this module is installed. Note that for real time effects capability a powerful CPU is still required since effects processing requires both coding and decoding processes. The encoding module can be retro-fitted to existing Nitris DX boxes.
Support for 3rd Generation M-Box and Pro Tools Native and HD audio cards is now standard and Media Composer and Pro Tools can now co-reside on the same system. This means that Media Composer can use Pro Tools audio hardware for Monitoring, Audio Capture and Audio Punch in – eight channels at 48 KHz max.
Have you spotted a trend yet? All the enhancements listed so far provide support for – and ‘enable’ you – to make a further purchase!
It’s like I said at the outset, what do you add to a system that already does pretty much all that the majority of its users need it to do? Avid’s answer, it would appear, is to add features that are going to be a tremendous benefit to a limited number of users, but to make those features available as chargeable options. So does the v5.5 release bring any ‘out of the box’, ‘no additional purchase required’ benefits? Well yes it does, but they come further down the list of new features – well below the ones discussed so far which have been promoted by Avid as the ‘headline’ features of v5.5.
The Find tool is much improved and Phrase Find referred to earlier is an optional sub set of the new tool. Even with no bins open, you can now search for any text in Bin columns and / or Scripts within the current Project or you can search solely within the current Bin. You can search for text in Locators, Clip Names and the Timeline and you can subsequently filter search results, with multiple filters, to further refine search outcomes. You can watch a demo of the new Find tool and Phrase Find at http://www.avid.com/US/avid-tv/FindTool.
There are 20 new RTAS audio effect plugins by AIR – the same ones as are included in Pro Tools.
Customers buying new licences or the boxed version of the upgrade get latest versions of the third party applications that comprise Production Suite – Boris Continuum Complete v7 ( new ), Avid FX v 5.8.3 ( new ), Sorenson Squeeze v6.0.4, Avid DVD v6.1.1 and SmartSound Sonic Fire Pro v 5.5.2. Customers buying an upgrade via download from Avids web store and Support customers entitled to a free upgrade don’t receive the new version of Production Suite but can purchase it separately. There’s a 45 minute demonstration / tutorial on using Boris Continuum Complete available to view at http://www.borisfx.com/avid/
Additional formats are now supported by Matrox MXO2 – see the document I referred to earlier on I/O box comparisons for full details.
There’s new AMA support available for Sony HDCAM SR Lite so you can now natively edit that 220Mb format – media storage bandwidth permitting of course.
The Smart Tool UI and Productivity enhancements introduced in v5 have been further expanded. You can now change a transitions duration and position by clicking and dragging on the timeline with no need to open any effects tools.
AMA plugins are now installed independently of the Editing application so new improved versions can be more easily installed as soon as they become available from their respective providers, rather than having to wait for the next release of Media Composer.
The installer and installation now automatically default to the language of the installed OS, provided it’s a supported language – though this can be manually overridden if required. There are also improvements to International Character Set support.
There are numerous interoperability improvements which relate to Pro Tools, AirSpeed, DS and Interplay.
Computer qualification for v5.5 is the same as for v5 – though it should be noted that 4GB RAM is the new minimum requirement.
This is the final release that will support Adrenaline and 32 bit versions of the OS, which almost certainly heralds exciting news for the next major release.
New licenses of Media Composer Software now cost £1795 list price with boxed upgrades from v5 costing £295 and from earlier versions £595. Users with formal Avid support contracts can download v5.5 free of charge.