Avid’s Road Show

Avid’s NAB road show event last night, co-hosted by Creative Media Partners at a small sound stage in Hollywood, was well produced and informative but also offered several stark contrasts to Apple’s event last week.

Three technologies were featured: DNxHD 36, Interplay and ScriptSync. All have been discussed on this site before (here and here) so I won’t focus on the technical details. The seminar was only about an hour long and there wasn’t too much time for specifics. The presentation, ably handled by Michael Krulik and Steve Holyhead from Avid Burbank with an assist from Mina Savet of CMP, attempted to show how these technologies might interact in a real-world workflow on the show “Lost.”

The audience was small — less than 60 people. Avid has chosen to partner with its resellers for this demo and the seminar that Keycode gave recently (covered here), but somehow they don’t have the ability to bring out big crowds anymore. Apple got 400 people to the DGA and spent five hours covering new features.

There was lots of equipment on stage: Media Composer Adrenaline on PC, Unity with Interplay, Symphony Nitris. Macintosh systems got scant attention — a Mac Pro setup was available only for people to play with after the demo was completed. Contrast this with Apple’s event that featured nothing but a Quad-core Mac Pro and you begin to see how the companies are differentiating themselves.

Apple is serving independents, editors who would like to do everything in one cutting room at the lowest possible cost. Avid doesn’t want to lose this market but seems mostly focused on big installations: TV stations, newsrooms, reality shows and effects-heavy TV series, where lots of people need to share lots of media. Interplay piggybacks on Unity or Isis and offers them the ability to hand files and sequences back and forth, keep track of versions and tame some of the chaos that such environments inevitably create.

But Interplay doesn’t offer much to an independent feature or even a smaller studio film where a few people work on a single show. It also doesn’t do much in a work environment where sound, visual effects and editing are located miles apart. For that, you’re looking at something like DigiDelivery, Digidesign’s easy-to-use encrypted ftp appliance. And Interplay feels pretty darn geeky to me. You spend most of your time with a Windows-style file browser where the options and choices (and the look and feel) would only appeal to a true nerd. I’ve seen it demoed three times now and I still find the choices intimidating.

Apple is focused on empowering creative individuals. Avid is focused on empowering the workgroup. Avid’s innovations have to do with plumbing, Apple is building tools. DNx36 doesn’t change anything except storage and bandwidth. Don’t get me wrong — we’re going to use it and we’re going to like it. But it doesn’t help you expand creatively. Avid’s script-based editing tools haven’t changed for a decade. What’s new is that your script now gets lined automatically. Again, it’s a plumbing improvement.

The Avid presenters did a good job trying to inspire the crowd, but it’s not easy to get people fired up over plumbing. We saw much the same thing when Meridien was rolled out. The main improvement was better video quality. Over and over again I saw Avid folks gamely trying to convince editors that they should turn in all their current equipment for a small bump in video quality — but four years later people here were still using their old ABVB machines. Adrenaline has seen much the same fate.

DNx36 will probably get a better reception because HD really is better than SD. And that should motivate people to move to Adrenaline. ScriptSync will probably get more people to try out script-based editing. And Interplay will be adopted at many facilities. But Avid has got to start inspiring editors. Final Cut may not work as well for editors and assistants on long-form TV and features, but the 400 people at the DGA represent a tide that is rapidly becoming unstoppable.

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One Comment on “Avid’s Road Show”

  1. L.R. Pebler Says:

    Interplay – an even bigger snore than I imagined.

    ScriptSync – a neat party trick, and probably quite handy for re-cutting, but I found the Avid flacks trying to exite me on assembling a sequence from the script to be, frankly, patronizing.

    Best was a chance to see DNx36 in the flesh. Looked great! Makes me wish Apple was doing a similar “low-end” version of ProRes. When offline can look this good, why waste space?

    The true highlight, however – Avid’s delicious DNxSC (shrimp cocktail). Though I’m not sure whether it’s included with MCSoft, or whether I need to go for the whole Symphony Nitris to get some more…

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