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Avid Media Composer 6.5

IBC saw Avid’s first major public showing of Media Composer v6.5 (together with the associated releases of Symphony v6.5 and Newscutter v10.5 ).  So, what’s new?

Well, in line with most of the recent releases, a lot of what’s new is only of benefit to certain users, or is an ‘enabling’ feature that introduces or improves interoperability with other Avid or third party products. As I’ve observed in previous editions, this is the reality for Avid when their product already fills the needs of the majority of users. That said, there are things in there that make life easier, so let’s take a look…..

The first is an ‘enabler’ – support for Interplay Sphere. This enables remote users to upload media to, and edit from, centralised storage over Wi-Fi or 4G. Media is streamed in real time for viewing in the field but is retained on the central storage. Clips are sent in real time as sequences are edited. This is only available on PC based systems and even then, only when working in an Interplay environment. I started with this, because it gives us a bit of a glimpse into the future. Several companies have been working on producing a viable ‘Remote Editing’ solution for years and now both Avid and Adobe have made announcements (see my other article which follows for an overview of ‘Adobe Anywhere’). Also check out Forbidden Technologies, they’ve had a workable cloud based system up and running for some time. ‘Remote’ and ‘Cloud based’ editing will one day become ‘the next big thing’. However, I digress.

Next, let’s take a look at something a bit more mainstream. Avid have made numerous improvements to Audio Keyframing. First there’s a new keyboard shortcut to create them, then there’s now the ability to cut and paste keyframes and their attributes, singly or en-masse, from track to track or up and down the timeline. You can ‘nudge’ the specified audio level of keyframe(s) up or down in 1db increments or move it up and down the timeline frame by frame. You can also lasso a range of keyframes and move these up and down the timeline or adjust their associated audio levels in unison. When audio tracks are trimmed or edited, you can end up with ‘hidden’ keyframes in the unseen handles of the clip. There’s now a facility to selectively remove ‘hidden’ keyframes.

The icon for the Audio Tool has changed, it now looks like this:

Still on audio related changes, there’s now the capability to monitor 64 ‘voices’ an increase from the previous 16. You’re still limited to 24 audio tracks, but a track can contain several ‘voices’ for example, a stereo track contains 2 voices, a 5.1 surround track contains 6 voices – you get the idea.

Finally on audio, Avid have enabled Audio Punch-in with both 3rd party hardware and also with the host computers own audio hardware. Note that the 3rd party element of this is dependent on those manufacturers incorporating this feature into their own drivers so if you’re using i/o hardware from AJA, Blackmagic, Matrox et al then the timescale for the introduction of this feature is now in their hands.

One new feature that is really useful is the ability to disable and re-enable your i/o hardware from a button on the timeline without having to quit and relaunch Avid. This means that you can for example ‘release’ the hardware to After Effects or some other application without quitting Avid, or utilise Full Screen playback on the computers monitor, a feature only available when running in software only mode. Again note however, that you are reliant on the 3rd party manufacturer supporting this feature in their driver software. For those of you with Avid i/o hardware, it works ‘out of the box’.

If you need to edit a title in the Timeline, you can now open the Title tool or Marquee with the title preloaded by right clicking the title in the Timeline and selecting ‘Edit Title’. It’s a simple addition, but it saves a few mouse clicks / keystrokes. Other Timeline changes include the ability to drag non-adjacent segments – the system would just beep at you if you ever tried this previously!

Next there’s a few AMA related improvements. Firstly, Avid have ‘enabled’ AMA write back which allows Media Composer to export sequences back to an AMA format. Previously, AMA was one way, you could create a sequence from AMA material, but you then had to transcode your finished program and/or output it through hardware. I say Avid have ‘enabled’ this, in reality you will only be able to perform these exports when the camera manufacturers complete their part of the task and provide update versions of their individual AMA plug-ins. Sony have already released such an updated AMA plug-in for HDCAM SR.

This is the first, expect others to follow soon.

With the introduction of v6.5, AMA Volume Management is now ‘always on’, but for those using pre AMA legacy workflows for P2 and XDCAM media, that is to say you import those media types, there is now an “Enable Legacy P2 and XDCAM” option in AMA settings.

The next AMA change relates to the auto creation of bins whenever a storage device containing media is connected to the system. Previously if you plugged a USB stick into the system while Avid was running to say transfer a Word file, or your Expenses claim or whatever, then Avid would automatically scan the USB stick for Media and make any it found available through AMA in a Bin – not the required outcome!

There is now an option to disable this Auto Linking.

When relinking to QuickTime AMA files, you can now relink a group of clips in a single operation rather than having to relink each one separately as was the case previously.

Finally, while we’re discussing AMA, although not a feature of v6.5, Sony have now introduced an AMA plug in for the F65 – the SRPA-10. It supports Lite and SQ bit rates for 4:2:2 files and SQ bit rates for 4:4:4 files and enables direct access to, and full native support of, Sony HDCAM SR Lite media and metadata and eliminates the need to transcode before starting to edit. It works with MC v5.5.3 or later – PC or Mac.

This rather conveniently brings us to the other improvements made to the relinking process. You can now relink media by any column in a bin, the Relink dialogue box having been redesigned to accommodate this.

So you could for example relink a master clip’s “Tape Name” to a media file’s “Reel Number”

Media Composer v6.5 and the rest of the family sees the introduction of and support for, some new codecs. First, there’s JPEG2000 support. Avid see this as a ‘Mezzanine’ codec, it’s a Variable Bit Rate ( VBR ) codec and it operates at 50Mb/s for SD and between 60Mb/s and 150Mb/s depending upon Frame size, Frame rate and Bit depth for HD. Also introduced is a new ‘family’ of DNxHD codecs that fill the previous gap between DNxHD 36 and DNxHD120. The new codecs include DNxHD100 and DNxHD85 which as you might expect operate at 85Mb/s or 100Mb/s, again dependant on Frame size, Frame rate and Bit depth.

AMWA the Advanced Media Workflow Association of whom Avid are Founder Members and count many industry ‘heavyweights’ amongst their number are an organisation that “strives for compatibility between AAF, BXF, MXF (AMWA is a co-creator) and XML” and look to give “Worldwide leadership in developing and advancing the use of media standards and technology that enable more effective networked media workflows”. One of their many ongoing projects has been the development of the AS-02 specification concerning “MXF program components stored in a way that allows different versions & inventories, for use in a multi-version, multi-lingual, multi-delivery media environment”. MC v6.5 supports the AS-02 specification and allows multiple versions of a program to be ‘intelligently’ exported as a bundle. The example Avid cite is say you have two sequences that contain the same video, but two different audio variants, say two different languages, then the AS-02 Export creates a bundle that contains one video element bundled with each of the two audio elements – it saves export time and disk space. It’s early days for the Associations work, but anything they achieve in harmonising the interchange of material between systems has to be commended.

The versions of 3rd Party software that now ship are:-

Avid FX v6.2
Sorenson Squeeze v8.1
Avid DVD v6.4.4 ( Windows only )
Boris Continuum Complete v8.1 ( Symphony only )

Upgrades and Crossgrades contain the 3rd Party elements as appropriate.
For those of you who use Phrase Find, you can now set the location to which the index files are written. This improves performance in shared storage environments. There’s also an option to stop indexing if it’s underway, it restarts only when you deselect the option.

Sequences can now be tagged with an Active Format Description, this inserts standard SMPTE codes into the sequence that indicates to other Applications and Devices the correct aspect ratio for the piece.

The Windows Installer has been modified so it can now be used to selectively uninstall related package elements.

Finally, a few words about what you don’t get with the v6.5 release – software! Avid have now stopped shipping physical media – you are required to download it. All you now get is a small Activation Card which contains a download code. You then register and log in at this login will then allow you to download the software and keep track of all your licences, serial numbers and activation codes both for Avid products and also the third party plug-ins to which you are entitled. The advantage for Avid is that they don’t have to press and ship disks, the advantage for the end user is that you’ll always get the latest point release, which is not the case if you’re relying on a DVD that’s had to go through a manufacturing process and the distribution channel. As the end user, you also have your Avid login giving you access to all your licences etc – no more disk labels and stickers to keep in a safe place. Just make sure you don’t forget your login details and password! However, if you really must have ‘hard copies’ of the installers, they can be purchased as an option. They come on a USB stick and cost an extra £69.
To end, I’ll just mention that Baselight – colour correction and grading, is now available as an AVX plug in, bringing the power of Baselight into the Avid UI. Currently only for Mac, but the PC version is supposed to be out by the end of the year. It’s not just for v6.5 – it also works with v6.0. List price is £636.33

Media Composer v6.5 is available now for £1,799 list. Upgrades are £359 for those with v6.0, £429 for those with v5.5 or earlier or Avid Xpress and free for those with Advantage (THE formal Avid Support contract )

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