An Old Pro Makes a Powerful Software-Only Debut

As the creator of the first nonlinear editing system on the scene, Avid has always had a unique place in media technology. From the beginning, Avid editing systems could be distinguished by two things: powerful, hardware-enhanced software and a huge house down payment-sized dent in your wallet. Owning a Media Composer system was a major business commitment, as the expensive custom hardware that drove these systems translated into high price tags. In an effort to win back the market share that Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro have recently gained, Avid announced at NAB 2006 its Avid Media Composer 2.5, the first software-only version of the Media Composer. This is a huge leap for Avid, as the entry-level price of a Media Composer system has now dropped to $5,000, from $25,000 for the Media Composer Adrenaline system. While not for everyone, this new Media Composer software provides nearly all the functionality of a hardware-based system, yet at a fraction of the cost.
My Computer or Yours?
Media Composer can now run on a variety of systems, including Mac and PC laptops. We tried version 2.5.3 on several systems, including a Windows XP workstation, a Mac G4 laptop and our Mac G5 dual-processor tower. While we had the typical Avid installation difficulties (hey, it wouldn’t be an Avid system if you didn’t suffer during installation), we were able to get everything up and running. Surprisingly, Avid supports more versions of Macintosh computers than it does PC, but Avid notes that will change shortly as more systems are qualified.
Compatibility and Performance
Like all Avid products, the software-only Media Composer also has a few quirks, namely in how it plays with others. While Media Composer works just fine with the Avid Mojo interfaces, it does not- and according to Avid will not- support any third-party video or audio digitizing hardware. Surprisingly on the Mac, Media Composer doesn’t currently support the Digidesign Digi 002 FireWire audio interface, although this is not a problem on the PC.
We found the Media Composer software a bit snappier on our PC workstation, although it had a less powerful processor than our G5. On our 1.67 GHz G4 laptop, the program’s speed was fine for cuts-only work at DV resolutions, but any higher resolutions and multiple tracks really need a computer with a faster set of CPUs. These speed issues on the Mac will likely be dealt with later this year, when Avid plans to release a Universal version of the software for Intel-based Macs.
Power Editing
The current version of Media Composer software continues a long tradition of solid and incredibly powerful editing features. There’s no way to cover all the features here, so suffice it to say that there are literally hundreds of features designed for the professional video editor. For color correction, Media Composer uses the same color correction algorithms as Avid’s Symphony finishing system. There are dozens of effects- from 3D transitions to the new SpectraMatte keying program- all of which process footage in 10-bit resolutions.
One big advantage of the Media Composer over other software systems is the ability to mix different video formats in the same timeline, which can be a huge time saver. You can also use the Avid DNxHD codec to reduce high-definition footage down to the same data rates as standard-definition footage.
Finally, Media Composer was engineered to work as part of a group workflow. As you’d expect, Media Composer software can work with Avid’s Unity networked storage system, as well as the new Avid Interplay group editing system. This means you could work with media digitized on another system as part of a group of editing stations, each working on separate parts of a production. The bigger the production (or tighter the deadline), the more critical this kind of workflow becomes.
To Avid or Not to Avid?
The question of whether or not to use an Avid system has become almost a religious issue on editing and post-production user groups. Final Cut Pro is very popular with the indie crowd, while many professional post houses still swear by their Avids. Deciding if the Media Composer software is right for you is actually pretty straightforward: it’s simply a matter of how you work your post. Do you need a system that does everything, or are you part of a post-production network, either internal or external?
If you need one solution for everything, then both Apple’s Final Cut Pro Studio and Adobe’s Creative Suite offer lower cost, but powerful, software packages that provide everything from editing to motion graphics to DVD production. These software suites are also more compatible with third-party hardware and software, so you’ll be able to customize your work environment.
Yet if you want to collaborate with other post houses, joining Club Avid is a good way to go. Avid’s Media Composer software gives you the ability to move back and forth seamlessly with different audio and video post houses. You can craft your program on your reasonably low-cost system, and then effortlessly load your edit onto a $1,000-an-hour DS Nitris suite for finishing. You won’t have the same options when it comes to related software programs or third party hardware, but you’ll have a system that can create timelines that will work on nearly any high-end Avid editing system around the country.
Finally, for current Avid post production houses, the Media Composer software is a complete home run, where a spare machine can be turned into another Avid offline editing station for clients, complete with Avid Unity compatibility with all the more expensive systems.
Make no mistake about it, the Avid Media Composer software is extremely complex and has a much steeper learning curve than FCP or other NLE systems. It can take weeks to get fully up to speed on all Media Composer features, some of which aren’t terribly intuitive. Still, the new software-only price finally puts these powerful features in the hands of smaller post shops and also offers a way for current Avid shops to cost-effectively add a new editing system. The bottom line: the Media Composer NLE is still the editing software to beat.