Avid Media Composer & Symphony 6.0 and You: New Features

We’ve got the purple kool-aid, and we’ve got the firehose: New. Avid. Releases.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I can share with you dear readers a comprehensive list of what is new and groovy inside the latest offering from Avid.  Like what you see?  Join me for a more in-depth webinar on all that is contained therein plus a huge helping of bonus material on November 22nd.  More details here.

Until then, let’s whet your appetite, shall we?

Announced today, Media Composer 6, Symphony 6, and NewsCutter 10 will begin to ship November 15th.  Lots of good stuff in this release, so in order to more easily digest them, I’ve organized them thusly:

  1. Supported, Not Supported and End of Life
  2. Top New Features
  3. Other New Features
  4. Pricing
    
    

Supported, Not Supported and End of Life

OS:  Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit is supported, as is Mac OS 10.7 in a 64bit kernel.  However, early betas worked in 10.6.8, and the last beta I worked with recommends during the install process to move to a supported 10.7 OS, but the application will install under 10.6.8.  My performance, however, has been very poor.  I do not recommend it.  As always, stick with recommended configs.

CPU: specs have not changed much from what is already current with 5.5: the only difference is a 64bit OS, and of course, more RAM is recommended.  Avid has an up-to-date listing of what is current and is probably one my most visited sites: http://www.avid.com/US/products/Media-Composer/system-requirements

Storage: Fibre based Unity clients are supported with client versions v5.4 (Windows) and 5.5(Mac).  Ethernet Port Server clients are no longer supported.

End of Life: Nitris Classic, Media Composer & Newscutter with Adrenaline or Mojo SDI, as well as 32bit Media Composer, Symphony, and NewsCutter are EOL.  They will no longer be developed for.  MC 5.5 will be sold for a limited time to give users time to move to a 64bit OS and to possibly squeeze some last life out of the above products.

 

Top New Features

By far, the biggest news is the open I/O architecture.  From day 1, virtually every release of Media Composer has relied on Avid branded I/O.  And while this closed eco-system allowed for a high level of tight interoperability and thus increased performance, the sometimes hefty pricetag left many users out in the cold – or making sacrifices.  Incorporating 3rd party hardware has also been the #1 user requested feature to Avid.  Couple these factors with a large FCP user base with currently no I/O in FCP X, and you now have a perfect storm.

Avid’s response:  Build in an open architecture and release an SDK for Media Composer which allows 3rd party companies to write plug-ins for Avid which allow their hardware to work in conjunction with Media Composer for ingest and output.

Those early adopters to the program are the usual suspects you’d come to find in the NLE realm:  AJA and Blackmagic.  Matrox, MOTU and Bluefish444 round out the group.

Each manufacturer is writing drivers for their own devices.  The list (as of now – check with Avid or the manufacturers for updates) includes:

Open I/O in Media Composer 6: AJA Kona 3 and it's Control Panel

Open I/O in Media Composer 6: AJA Kona 3 and it's Control Panel (Click to enlarge)

AJA: Kona LHi, Kona 3, Kona 3G, IO Express

Blackmagic: UltraStudio 3D, Decklink, Multibridge, Intensity, H.264 Pro Recorder

MOTU: HDX-SDI, HD Express

Bluefish444: Create 3D Ultra, Symmetry (as of this writing, PC only)

Matrox: MXO2 Rack Max, MXO2 Mini & MXO2 Mini Max, MXO2 LE & MXO2 LE Max, MXO2 & MXO2 Max, Mojito Max (new!)

Again, I stress you consult with a reseller, I/O manufacturer or Avid to ensure your device is supported.

As many of you know, some of these I/O cards have typically required the user to access a control panel or separate app to further “instruct” the card what to do.  Avid has incorporated some of this functionality into the Avid capture tool with a gear icon which launches the hardware’s I/O config.  I understand that this is further being developed by the 3rd party device manufacturers to minimize as much outside app intervention as possible.

Each device has their caveats and gotchas – especially with this first version, so I strongly suggest research prior to making an I/O decision.  I can say that the fine folks at Bluefish let me kick the tires with their Create Ultra 3D card, and the image quality was fantastic.  Their cards are really workhorses.

ProRes capture available on Media Composer 6 (Mac Only)

ProRes capture available on Media Composer 6 (Mac Only) (Click to enlarge)

While we’re on the subject of capture, another huge feature is the ability to capture into ProRes.  Yes, ProRes.  Proxy, LT, 422, 422 HQ and 4444.  And not only ProRes, but ProRes within an MXF wrapper. This allows the user to have the codec they dig, but also the enhanced media and metadata management ability of the Avid MXF wrapper.  However, this appears to be Mac only.  Preliminary documentation doesn’t explicitly state this, but my PC version does NOT show ProRes as an available option for media creation or capture.  As a side note, those of you who rely on fast import to get DNxHD media into Media Composer quickly will rejoice in that I’ve found ProRes can be fast imported into Avid – just like it’s DNxHD cousin.  No more lengthy transcodes on import or potential snafus with AMA.  Awesome.

It should be noted that the Avid Codec Engine (ACE) – the low level software which allows Avid to playback media (and thus not relying on the monster that is Quicktime) – is still hard coded to utilize DNxHD much better than any other codec you can throw at it.  Capturing (and playing back) ProRes is still using Quicktime as an intermediary gateway for encode / decode.  What does this mean?  DNxHD will still perform more efficiently within Avid than any other non-Avid based codec.

While on the subject of codecs, Avid has also introduced a DNxHD444 RGB codec for use within HD projects.  No longer is uncompressed RGB the only option.   This saves a ton of drive space and does not require nearly as much throughput.

Epic 5K files can now be used within Avid.  I can’t say I’ve tried this (no Epic footage at my disposal) but I understand that currently the HDRx resolution is not supported.  While we discuss RED, Avid has added additional RED Source Settings. REDColor2, REDGamma2, REDLogFilm & White Balance are now available.  Yes, RED is the only codec that supports these source side features only.  Media Composer & Symphony are still locked to SD or HD frame sizes (no 2K, 4K, etc.) and thus the ability to reframe the HD frame size within the RED file frame size is still intact.

AVCHD – the tightly compressed HD codec – which was previously only available by (a very long) import process, can now be linked via AMA.  While this will be a great addition for some users, it should be noted that AVCHD is very CPU intensive.  Older CPUs will have some issues during playback. AVCHD is just a tough nut to crack.

Next, Avid has rewritten a good chunk of the software to the point where the application has now been ported over to function in a 64bit OS.  This means: more RAM is available for the application.  I’ve also noticed that Avid is now better utilizing multi core machines.  All my cores are lighting up significantly higher during playback.  During a difficult sequence, I saw my XW8600 hit 60% usage across all 8 cores, and comparable results on my MacPro 12 core.  This means less sit-and-wait edit sessions.  More power is never a bad thing, eh?

Next, a topic close to my heart: Stereoscopic.  Avid was the first NLE to have a complete 3D workflow.  Although it was somewhat kluge, it worked.

Creation of a stereoscopic project inside Media Composer 6

Creation of a stereoscopic project inside Media Composer 6 (Click to enlarge)

With 6.0, Avid has finally made 3D editorial in a single application a reality.  If you were at the Avid Technology preview at NAB 2011 (or watched the bonus material of my ‘Stereo 3D Editing with Media Composer’ webinar) you may have seen many of these new features.  In a nutshell, these features include:

  1. Creation of a Stereoscopic project, along with the type of camera rig, is available when you start a new project – or, these settings can be invoked at any point within a 2D project.  As a bonus, stereoscopic video can be viewed in software only mode (via the NVIDIA graphics card) or via Avid I/O or  3rd party I/O.
  2. Creating a stereoscopic clip from 2 AMA'd files (left eye & right eye)

    Creating a stereoscopic clip from left and right AMA'd files (Click to enlarge)

    3D editing is now (almost) as easy as 2D editing.  This includes mixing and matching of 2D, 3D and different frame rates in the same project.

  3. Ability to take ‘mono’ files (single eyes) and ‘gang’ them within Media Composer in the form of a special clip pairing (think of it like a grouped clip) .  This can be done with any Quicktime AMA’d file, or with Avid MXF files – no longer a need for Metafuze for this process.  This is all dynamic – clips can be linked and relinked easily.
  4. Stereo aware effects and titles in Media Composer 6

    Stereo aware effects and titles in Media Composer 6 (Click to enlarge)

    Stereoscopic aware text and effects.  When text or certain effects are placed on stereoscopic footage, MC applies these to each individual eye.  Spatial, temporal, color, depth and alignment adjustments are also available.

  5. Viewing options of stereoscopic footage in Media Composer 6

    Viewing options of stereoscopic footage in Media Composer 6 (Click to enlarge)

    On the fly changing of the layout of the 2 eyes (SbS, O/U, etc) in the composer window AND on the output of your I/O device.  As a bonus, the Nitris DX allows for full frame ingest and output – full raster of each eye on discreet SDI spigots (dual HD-SDI). Be careful, other I/O each have their own Stereoscopic I/O restrictions.

  6. The ability to purchase the new Avid Nitris DX Option card that gives the Nitris DX another channel of DNxHD acceleration to pair with the exiting built in channel.  These 2 cards when used in tandem allow for the aforementioned Dual HDSDI stereo capture.
  7. Metafuze does still exist (It’s code base comes from DS…DS is still around, isn’t it?) and can be used for to transcode formats that Avid does not understand natively or via AMA – into DNxHD MXF files.

 

Further adopting the (former) Euphonix line of panels, the EUCON protocol for the Avid Artist Series Color panel is now available inside Media Composer & Symphony v6.  No more mouse dragging on the color wheel –you now have controls much more akin to the color grade surfaces you’d find in a color bay. Those of you who are using a Tangent WAVE panel may want to look into the COLOR panel – it blows the WAVE away. Plus, it looks cool.

Avid has also unveiled a new way of purchasing stock footage, audio & video plug-ins, acquiring support and training and even purchasing other Avid products: The Avid Marketplace.  From inside the Media Composer or Symphony v6 application, all of these items can be browsed and purchased with no need for a separate application.  If a user is interested in stock footage, users can download a proxy which they can work with, and Avid will automatically link to the high res media when it has been purchased and downloaded. Equity Motion and ITN Source provide the media content for the video libraries – and Flash 11 is required.

Media Composer 6 Interface

Media Composer 6 Interface (Click to enlarge)

The UI has also received a much-needed facelift.  Changing layouts in any application has always been a sticky situation for a manufacturer.  Update it and you run the risk of alienating the veterans.  Leave it as it and your look becomes dated.  Avid has made a leap into the (current) new millennium, while retaining the same muscle memory needed to appease the dyed-ion-the-wool editors.

Changes include a sleeker grey color scheme and interface, along with some slightly redesigned icons, and colorful close / minimize / grow buttons on each window. AMA clips are no longer displayed as yellow, but rather appear as locked icon for audio and video.  Tabs are also dockable to their parent window.  Premiere and After Effects (among others) have done this for years, and helps to eliminate the space taken up by having dozens of bins open.  This is aided by the new ability to drag tools onto a single tab window.

 

Other New Features

This is by no means a complete list, but they include:

Symphony can now be run in software only mode.  Previously, a Nitris DX was needed to launch the application.  Now, Symphony can go with you on the road…for all of you that need secondary color correction when you’re on a plane.

Geeks rejoice: Windows UNC paths are now supported!  This means all you AMA users who move your AMA bins and media around between Macs and PCs will now have less of a headache!   This, of course, goes on the assumption everyone remembers the limitations of FAT/NTFS/HFS/exFAT, eh?

The title tool is now a standalone app – however, it is launched WITHIN the Avid application.  It is a separate process.

XML Site settings.  As you launch or quit a project, the user settings have historically been stored into an AVS file.  Now, they are saved to an XML file.  While on the surface this means very little for the user (the only difference is the XML file takes a little bit longer to save) I like seeing Avid starting to use more XML – even in this limited fashion.

Relinking is now interchangeable between tape and file based media – which has been a bane for many of us that either work with legacy media and/or offline media which originate from tape.

Audio: 5.1 and 7.1 Surround capturing and importing (with a new surround panner) via baseband or import / AMA – which translate to Pro Tools.  Also, many other interoperability enhancements with Pro Tools, including Dolby E encode & decode plugins, and enhancements with AAF (or legacy OMF) exports.  Audio mapping via AMA has also been added.

True P Output mode via HDMI:  the Nitris and Mojo DX have never pushed out true progressive frame rates.  This meant a real time cross conversion, or a conversion device.  This is no longer neccessary.

Pricing:

Some massive price drops and new bundles:

  1. Media Composer 6 and Mojo DX bundle = $4499
  2. Media Composer 6 and Nitris DX  = $6999
  3. Mojo DX standalone = $2999 (new)
  4. Nitris DX standalone = $5499 (new)
  5. Symphony Software = $5999
  6. New Symphony Artist Package (Symphony software, Nitris DX, Avid Artist Color panel) = $13999
  7. Media Composer 6 – Educational (4 years of free upgrades) =  $295
  8. FCP v1-v7 Crossgrade is $1499 (now permanent)
  9. A brand spankin’ new version of Media Composer 6 is still $2499
  10. Media Compose upgrade from Media Composer X.X is TBD (at least to me) at this time.  There will be tiered pricing (i.e. older versions pay more to upgrade than more recent versions of Media Composer)
  11. And finally, there is now Volume licensing for EDU.

Over the past few years, Avid’s releases have been timely, well thought out, and chocked full o’ stuff that the industry has been clamoring for.  This release is no exception.  I expect after 6.0 has been out in the wild, and the first release hiccups (after all, this is a partly rewritten application with new open architecture – that’s a lot to bite off in 1 release) have been remedied, this will be a fantastic tool to your arsenal.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you Michael. To bad Avid didnt just post this at their webcast instead of burying us in PR bullshit. Nice job.

  2. Jeppe Svendsen:

    I just listened to you in the Buzz podcast and could not get my arms down (big problem since I was driving ;) ), because I got the impression that third party UI was now fully supported. Like colorista has its 3-way color corrector inside Premiere Pro. Did I misunderstand something?

    • Thanks for listening!

      3rd party I/O is supported – not UI. You can launch the UI of the I/O control panel from Media Composer…but that’s about it – no other UI that I am aware of.

      Hopefully something wasn’t lost via the phone connection!

      ~MIchael

  3. Ed Marx:

    thank you a thousand times over!
    yesterday’s avid webisode was so sales aggressive, it seems they forgot that us owner types just want the info.

    more, more more please.

  4. Peter:

    Thank you very much, great and very informative article!

    Seems like some of my biggest wishes seem to not have come true: background importing/exporting, sample-accurate audio editing, playback not being stopped by every single UI action (eg. bringing the markers window to the foreground), a real color grading solution and workflow rather than the limited built-in color corrector (something like Apple Color used to be, but with a more efficient interface like Lustre or Baselight), or a move away from the rigid format requirements (like support for totally arbitrary sizes and frame rates up to 4K for both the editing software als well as the DNxHD codecs). But it still looks like a great update that is certainly moving in the right direction.

    • Thanks Peter!

      I think a big takeaway is that Avid has just crossed the 64bit threshold. This will NOW enable Avid to possibly develop for 2K, 4K, 5K +, (e.g. resolution agnostic) background rendering, etc. Crawl before you walk, eh?

      Avid has the 800lb Gorilla: Pro Tools. What is the hurry to cannibalize their audio product by giving sample accurate editing in MC? Companies routinely cannibalize from their other products – but they tend to do it slowly to get as much life (and money) out of them as possible.

      What Avid has done from 5.5 to 6 is massive. All your points are on my wish list, but I’m satisfied with the featureset in this release. My only concern is that the amount of work poured into 3D may be for naught if an easier distribution and viewing method isn’t done soon…3D will be another fad…again!

      • Peter:

        I very much agree, they are laying a foundation for the future. Modernizing old codebases that have grown over such a long time is a huge undertaking that most users severely underestimate, and I applaud Avid for making it such a seamless experience.

        I’d argue that surround mixing and the RTAS plugins do more in the way of cannibalizing the ProTools market than sample-accurate editing would. I’d just like to be able to fine-tune sync better (always enabling the “Film” option by default to have perf-slipping available is just ridiculous) and have the option to seamlessly blend audio recordings for the same shot from that were recorded on different recording devices with different microphones and stuff like that.

        I completely agree about 3D, those features definitely seem like a marketing thing to me. As long as the Media Composer-based systems are not better suited as finishing tools, editing everything in 3D is just a luxury and a potential waste of space and disk bandwidth. At the end of the process everything is conformed in another application anyway. And from what I have heard a good 2D cut usually only needs a few minor adjustments for 3D (never had to do it myself, though). So even if 3D stays, I don’t think the toolset was really needed that desperately, at least in this release and at this point in time.

        A big feature for me would have been a scripting interface, which none of the NLEs currently on the market seems to offer. Being able to have a bunch of Python scripts manipulate the media database, fix metadata problems, build timelines in an automated way (for creating dailies and exporting them to different delivery formats, simple repetitive greenscreen composites and slap comps for VFX shots, creating lower thirds based on metadata/markers/databases etc.), adding bindings for external databases of information (like notes entered into a FileMaker database on location), asset tracking and versioning systems (be it inhouse solutions or off-the-shelf), customized reports and statistics, exchanging color information via CDLs etc. and automating repetitive tasks in general and getting data in and out of the application would most likely have been quite useful to a lot of people. But maybe next time.

        Anyway, I completely agree, Version 6 looks like a great release and I am very happy that Avid is getting so much attention back with the whole Final Cut X debacle. Having a nice, fast and responsive GPU accelerated application that renders things instantly (Premiere Pro, Final Cut X) is one thing, but that is all completely worthless if the software doesn’t let you work fast in terms of ergonomics. Version 6 of Media Composer shows that Avid, unlike other manufacturers, is definitely committed to both these things.

  5. Marc:

    Michael,
    I’m going to be starting a film shooting Alexa ProRes LogC files. As of now, the DIT is going to send editorial ProResHQ media to import into the Avid, to sync audio etc…

    Since I’m currently working on MC4 and haven’t worked in MC5 or 6 before, I’m unfamiliar with the new option to work in ProResHQ. Once the files are fast-imported and rewrapped as an MXF file, are there any bugs or issues that have come up with just normal editing, playback or exporting? In the new release of MC6 is it still better to then transcode the “fast-imported” ProRes files into real DNxHD36 media? Is this now unecessary?

    Also, does the data rate diminish when the ProRes files is rewrapped or does the file size stay the same? I’m trying figure out the amount of storage I’ll need.

    When the DI turnovers happen at picture lock, in theory the original cameral media (ProRes LogC) should link up, correct?

    Thanks
    Marc

    • HI Marc:

      The Avid ProRes native workflow is still new. I have not heard of any glaring issues when doing a fast import and subsequent editing and export of the media. (I would like to hear if you encounter any, especially with exporting QT References or AAFs). It should work fine. (Famous last words, eh?). Avid Media Composer still accesses DNxHD MXF media directly instead of some kind of abstraction layer (like Quicktime), so performance is STILL going to be better with DNxHD MXF files….although that performance gap is no longer as wide. Also, keep in mind, transcoding ProRes to DNxHD will result in a slight quality hit and potential gamma shift.

      Data rate is the same. Just keep in mind you’ll have 2 copies: the original, and the copied media in the Avid MediaFiles folder.

      Provided your tape names and other metadata transfer over (as it should), your relink should be fine. Are you onlining in Media Composer or elsewhere? Do a small scale test and check…you may have to manually enter metadata in Avid.

      I run into your situation often. Are you (or DIT) baking in any LUTs from set? I’m finding that’s a huge issue – no LUT support in MC, so DP’s throw a fit, and Post has to scramble to accomplish this AND still be able to link back to the original media….all in the matter of minutes, of course!

      Good Luck!

  6. Marc:

    Thanks Michael.

    When fast-importing media, it becomes a MXF file? But since it’s not Native MXF as it would be if transcoded, it’s not as stable? Still better than true AMA linking though?

    The DIT will supply a LUT Baked in PRoResHQ file for us to use.

    • Let’s make sure we don’t confuse a wrapper with the essence.

      MXF is the wrapper. ProRes is the codec – the essence within thee wrapper. MXF details what additional Metadata the Codec has.

      Avid is known for it’s metadata management – formerly due to OMF, and now the next stage – MXF. With v6.0, Avid sees ProRes (.mov wrapper), understands what it is, and makes a copy of it WITHIN an MXF wrapper, into the Avid MediaFiles folder. The essence is still the same – the wrapper is just different. Avid can do the same with DNxHD.mov. It CAN’T with others, which is why you need to do the slow import, or use AMA.

      And yes, anything with Avid MXF wrapper will perform better in Avid than AMA.

      Hope this helps!

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  8. Anthony Ceddia:

    “Avid was the first NLE to have a complete 3D workflow.”
    3D work flow? What is this? Until you can import MTS files directly then you can’t claim 3D or stereoscopic capability. There are 3D camcorders on the market and they have been around for quite some time. Currently the ONLY software that can make any claim to 3D editing is Sony Vegas Pro.

  9. Hi Anthony:

    Let’s be careful here: I said 3D WORKFLOW. Not 3D editing. The process of editing is only one step in a chain of events in a post production workflow.

    However, to address your point of editing (not workflow)

    I would be very cautious to relegate the ability to do 3D to the ability of understanding a codec. MTS (usually AVCHD) was not the first way to encode 3D, and really isn’t the best way, given quality and horsepower constraints. It’s consumer oriented and thus has some shortcomings to fill the market. If I’m not mistaken, Sony was able to understand it’s OWN 3D encoding.

    As of 6.0, Avid does support MTS (AVCHD) files, so that point is now moot.

    I would invite you to look at the list of 3D films that have been released in the last several years: how many of them were cut on Vegas? How many were cut on Avid? Avid, clearly, has the marketshare in this realm. If Vegas was really the ONLY solution, I would imagine it would have been used, yes?

    Have you tired 3D editing inside Avid? I can’t imagine the claim of ” currently the ONLY software that can make any claim to 3D editing is Sony Vegas Pro” would hold any weight after using 6.0. In all honesty, their 3D toolset for editing and finishing is pretty complete.

    Thanks for the feedback and discussion.

    ~Michael

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