Today is the day when one of the bigger announcements from NAB 2010 hits the streets (at least it’s supposed to be up for download this afternoon)  Looks like the downloads are up: New purchases, upgrades and trial version. To call Avid Media Composer 5.0 a useful tools for editors is a bit of an understatement I suppose … kind of like calling a wrench and socket set merely useful for a mechanic. Those are essential tools when working on a car and a non-linear editing application (be it Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Vegas, whatever) is an essential tool for for editing moving picture content. Media Composer is that essential tool of choice for many and the 5.0 update brings a whole slew of changes to the application. It’ll be a big update for current Avid users as well as possibly bringing new users into the fold. Here’s 5 bullet points that describe the biggest new features of 5.0.

1. The Smart Tool – This addition to the Media Composer timeline is a new tool with several parts that can be turned totally on and off, or selectively on and off. The Smart Tool enables timeline interact that previously wasn’t possible in Media Composer which brings us to bullet point two …

2. Drag and Drop Timeline – This term drag and drop means that when the Smart Tool is enabled you can then click and drag and drop most all elements in the timeline. Clicking and dragging on edits will trim edit points. Click and dragging on an entire clip will allow you to drag and drop that clip elsewhere. That may seem rudimentary to a Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere editor but this hasn’t been possible in the past as Avid has used a different concept for its timeline interaction. With this upgrade that has changed, if you want it to.

3. Support for Matrox MXO2 Mini – Another paradigm that has changed is what many have seen to be an Achilles heel for Avid, very expensive hardware compared to the competition. The MXO2 Mini is a ?$449 box that allows for very inexpensive HD monitoring. With so much file based acquisition today it’s all many will need as there’s often no reason to capture or output to tape. Avid has announced a development kit for other hardware manufactures to write support for Avid products so there should be more to come.

4. New AMA support – AMA is Avid Media Access. This is an architecture that allows the direct, native support of many different formats without the need to transcode, rewrap or copy the media to the media drive where Avid’s media folder resides. You won’t get certain media management advantages but you will be near instant ingest of media. AMA has supported certain P2 and XDCAM (among a few less common others) formats for a while but the big announcement now is full QuickTime support, including Apple’s ProRes codec and H.264 from your DSLR. Also included is native RED R3D support. Performance for some of these “heavy” codecs may vary depending on your system specs and hard drive speed.

5. Mix and Match of media – “Add and edit practically any combination of PAL, NTSC, SD, and HD formats in real time — regardless of the resolution or frame rate — in the same timeline, without rendering or transcoding.” That quote is straight from Avid’s website. This mixing and matching isn’t new to 5.0 as it was added beginning a couple of versions ago. But it is worth noting as Avid didn’t support mixed formats until quite a while after Final Cut Pro did. But as is often the case with prickly features, Avid will take its time to make their implementation work right. I say prickly as mixing formats, and especially frame rates, is really a no-no in post but it happens all the time and an NLE that can’t do it will be left behind. Avid works its own special mojo when mixing formats and gives the editor some options in how it can handle that mixing after it has tried its own default settings. If you’re coming new to Media Composer 5.0 you’ll be glad that Mix and Match is there.

There certainly has been a lot said on the ‘net already about Media Composer 5.0 and there will be more. Check Avid’s site for a free 30 full featured demo to give it a test drive yourself. It may or may not become your own essential tool.