Friday, September 29, 2006

Evolutionary: Avid Media Composer version 2.5

by Harry B. Miller III, A.C.E.

The Short Review

After seeing a couple of pre-release demos of Avid’s latest software, I was intrigued enough by promised new capabilities that I contacted Avid about doing a review for ACE. I’m glad I got this chance, because this software is very cool. I like it.

My testing was on a Macintosh G5, Dual 2.3 gig processors, 2.5 gigs of RAM, attached to a Fibreshare network. One monitor was a standard 19” flat panel, the other monitor was a 23” Cinema display. It thought it would be interesting to take the scenes I had cut for a TV series in Final Cut Pro 5, and cut them on the same system with Avid MC 2.5.

The program looked and felt like a standard Avid. Same arrangement of windows and screens. But it worked with NO OUTBOARD HARDWARE. No Mojo. No Adrenaline. No cards. Nothing.


The Longer Review
To do a complete software review the smart thing would be to take an organized, meticulous approach to dissecting the software’s operation. Blowing that off, I instead opted for the easy, ‘open the cool features’ approach.

Here’s what I found….

- FluidMotion: when editors create a 50% speed clip it normally prints each frame twice, as was always done with film. FluidMotion calculates the difference between frame 1 and frame 2 and mathematically creates the frame between. The render time for this effect is long - I calculated the ratio as 10:1 - but the result mimics real slow motion. And it includes tools to tweak and improve the effect. Impressive. There is also a ‘fit to fill’ feature, where the speed of a clip is determined by how much you want to use and how big a hole you have for it.

- Audio playback: initially I could only get two tracks of audio to play. But after a re-start, I could hear the music I cut into track 12, with 11 other tracks of dialogue playing. I ultimately got 16 tracks of audio to play. I have always wanted more than 8 tracks of audio. Not because I’m sloppy, but because I try to keep tracks extremely organized and its difficult with only eight.

- Mouse setting preferences. You can remap mouse clicks just as you can remap the keyboard. I use a trackball, so this didn’t help me.

- Open the last project on startup. The Avid has always opened with the ‘choose project / choose user’ screen. This isn’t a big fix to bypass that screen and open the project where you left off, but it sure makes more sense this way (i.e. it was always stupid to have to choose the same project you’ve worked on for the last three months). You can otherwise default to open as before.

- color individual master clips, and have those colored clips show up on the timeline. This is a feature predating this release, but it’s very nice.

- importing audio at different sample rates, being able to cut them into the same timeline, and they play at the correct pitch. Avid touts that it can play different picture resolutions in the same timeline, but that isn’t nearly as useful as being able to mix sound resolutions. This feature is wonderful. When you want to preview a bunch of music with the director you no longer have to convert everything on import with the long processing delay. Also, the importing is extremely fast. And if you want, you can set a preference where import converts the audio to the projects sample rate. Conversion while importing is also very fast. This version also supports 16 and 24 bit audio.

- 1 and 7 Band Audio Eq plugins. Instead of being confronted with obtuse controls, Avid has integrated Digidesign Eq’s with a graphical interface. You can actually mouse click/grab a range of sound frequencies (high end) and move it up or down to Eq the sound. This is soooo much more intuitive than any previous Eq I’ve worked with. You can actually draw the equalization you want.

- An outboard digital audio mixer (in my case a JL Cooper 3000) attached with very little effort and was an excellent interface improvement. Instead of having to mouse click / move to adjust the level of an audio clip, the mixer fader could be used to adjust the level without accessing the on screen mixer. And, it is simple to mix in real time, as the mixer will add keyframes as you adjust the faders. Or you can do a ‘live’ mix, where you can adjust the levels as you play without recording automation. Making any audio adjustments is vastly simplified with an external mixer.

- You can group up to nine clips. I only did seven, but they all played in the source window at the same time. The Avid still can switch between sound sources from each grouped clip, and once cut into the timeline the clip can be changed to another clip in the group by using up and down arrows.

- although it can be a software only Avid, I was surprised to find I could connect a DV deck through firewire to digitize and output. It is a big surprise to find you can cut an entire show without any Mojo or Adrenaline connected. A direct response to Final Cut Pro.

- motion tracking. You can target a specific object on the screen and have the motion tracked for the length of the shot. You can use the tracking to stabilize a shot, layer and move another object with the tracking, or use a motion track to add camera movement. Up to four motion tracks can be created. I didn’t explore this much, but it is potentially a really great feature. More than once I’ve needed to add extensive camera motion, but dreaded adding all the keyframes needed.

There were other, smaller changes in the software.
• The Timecode display window now can be resized by choosing from a list of sizes instead of adjusting the size of the window and hoping the timecode is onscreen and readable.
• Most effects played in real time, and those that needed to be rendered took real time to render (1:1 - the exception being Fluid Motion).
• The Superbin can be used to keep several music sound tracks bins open in one window, for example, while other bins can be kept open independent of the Superbin - making the Superbin actually useful.
• Boris Continuum has the ability to generate several items including fire, rain, snow, sparks, and stars - all of which I could have used in past shows.
• The default user has many default export settings (ProTools with media, Quicktime movie, etc.).

Finally, and very useful, you can digitize a 24 frame project at 1 to 1, rather than the previous highest resolution of 14 to 1. I do a lot of small project on-lines, and this is fantastic.

to be continued... (this is part 1 of a several part series)


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