Avid announced a new “Media Composer family” today, with a fresh 64-bit code base underlying Media Composer 6, Symphony 6, and NewsCutter 10. Key features in this update include an expansion of Avid’s AMA, which now supports native AVCHD, native RED Epic, ProRes encode and decode, and a new DNxHD 4:4:4 codec. Support for Avid’s Artist Color hardware interface has been beefed up, and Pro Tools roundtripping is now complete – you can make changes to your mix in Media Composer and see them show up in Pro Tools 10. Media Composer 6 will be $2499, Nitris DX will be $5499, and Symphony 6 – available for the first time as a standalone software product, rather than a turnkey system – will start at $5999 in its software-only incarnation. Upgrades from Media Composer 5.5 to 6.0 are $299, while Symphony upgrades ring in at $599. All of the new products will be available worldwide on November 15.

Blackmagic Design, AJA, and More Third-Party Support

Answering users who have complained about a lack of flexible workflow options, Avid said it’s serious about third-party solutions, announcing a set of partners who plan to have products supporting Media Composer 6 on its November 15 launch through the Avid Open I/O initiative – Blackmagic Design, AJA, MOTU, Bluefish444, and existing partner Matrox. (Officials were quick to give Matrox credit for its MXO2 mini, which already works with Media Composer 5.) And Avid will be providing an open SDK for any third party who wants to extend their gear to work with Avid products, said Chris Gahagan, senior VP of products and solutions, during a press briefing introducing the new release earlier today. (Because Media Composer, Symphony, and NewsCutter are on the same code base, support generally extends across the entire software line for a given piece of third-party hardware.)

Blackmagic said it would support Media Composer 6 across its entire line of capture and playback cards, including Decklink, Intensity, Multibridge, and UltraStudio. (The latest version of Resolve will also support AAF round-tripping.) “We have been waiting to do this for years,” declared Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty in a very enthusiastic prepared statement. The functionality is enabled through a free download of Desktop Video 9.0, available now at Blackmagic’s website: www.blackmagic-design.com.

AJA announced Media Composer 6 support across its current KONA cards (KONA 3G, KONA 3, KONA LHi, and KONA Lhe Plus). AJA’s Io Express already supports Media Composer, and the forthcoming Io XT will bring Thunderbolt into the equation sometime before the end of the year. AJA is also working with Avid to support the DNxHD codec in the Ki Pro Mini. All of the functionality will be enabled via free firmware upgrades – the KONA firmware will be downloadable simultaneous with the release of Media Composer 6 this month, while the Ki Pro Mini upgrade will be available “soon.” Check for it here: www.aja.com.

MOTU said its HDX-SDI and HD Express products will enable uncompressed, full-raster HD and SD video IO to Media Composer 6, Symphony, and NewsCutter. New drivers for Mac and Windows will be available at the MOTU website: www.motu.com.

And Bluefish444 said Media Composer 6 would be integrated with its entire range of Epoch and Create video cards. The company said all customers who own an Epoch or Create card will be able to download the new Avid plug-ins for free from the Bluefish444 website: www.bluefish444.com.

Finally, Matrox announced that Media Composer 6 would be supported across the full range of MXO2 IO devices as well as the new Matrox Mojito MAX card, which shipped today ($995).

A Workable ProRes Workflow

Gahagan repeatedly stressed Avid’s “commitment to the professional,” an obvious shot at Apple, which is widely thought to have steered outside the pro market with Final Cut Pro X. “Lots of customers have cross-graded from Final Cut Pro to Media Composer,” Gahagan said. “This [ProRes encode and decode capability] allows us to address that market. You can move to Media Composer and keep your existing hardware investment and ProRes workflow.”

And Avid is connecting the NLE to the outside world with Avid Marketplace. The company worked with stock-footage provider Thought Equity on a system that allows editors to preview stock footage in a special browser built by Avid and Thought Equity. Users can drag watermarked versions into their timeline as if the clips were already in their bin. If a clip works in the edit, the user can purchase rights to the content without leaving Media Composer. “Like magic, it downloads the full-res clip in the background,” said David Colantuoni, director of product management.

Avid announced a new, lower-cost model for customer support called Avid Vantage. For $149/year, you get unlimited online support, with half-price Avid Support Codes providing discounted pay-as-you-go pricing for telephone support, plus a one-year license for five NewBlueFX plug-ins and a $99 coupon good for downloadable Avid software purchases to sweeten the deal. (Avid audio hardware can be added to the Vantage package for $29/year.) The Avid Standard Support package, which includes free software updates and patches, is available for $995/year.

Refining, But Not Transforming, the Interface

Avid stressed that the new version aims to refine Media Composer for experienced users, not overhaul the interface. “We’ve updated the look – modernized it, creating tab panels – but we haven’t changed the interaction model,” said Gahagan. “Our customers build muscle memory about interacting with Media Composer. All of the interaction models have remained the same, but it has a better look.”

Hiding Stereo-3D Tools Until You Need Them

That philosophy of staying true to the software’s longstanding interface informed the company’s approach to a stereoscopic workflow, Gahagan said, explaining that improved stereo tools are very much a part of the new version, but they’re kept hidden until an editor needs to dip into them. “We’ve tried to make 3D editing as easy as editing in 2D,” he said. “We hide the fact that there’s a left eye and a right eye, but the editor is surrounded by tools that help them understand if they’re making good decisions from a 3D standpoint. They can hop into 3D mode and make changes to depth of field and convergence. It lets them edit at a pace that makes sense, but be surrounded by tools that make the process much easier.”

According to Gahagan, beta customers who are currently working on major-studio film releases for 2012 say the new tools dramatically speed the process of editing stereo content. “The feedback we’re hearing is that we’re changing the speed they can work from days to minutes in terms of 3D content,” he claimed.

For more information: www.avid.com.