Stopping on a Dime?

A friend of mine, a longtime Media Composer editor, is cutting his first feature with Final Cut Pro 5, and yesterday I spent an hour with him. He’s having a good time and has become a strong advocate of the program, but when we got into the nitty gritty, he admitted to having some problems. He hates trim mode, finds it buggy and unpredictable and, as a result, is inclined to use it less than he did on the Avid. He finds cutting one sequence into another awkward. He doesn’t like the fact that he has to create many different projects — having everything in one project slows the system down too much.

There were some bugs visible, even in a brief demo — we often saw progress bars when making trivial trims and, at one point, video flickered horribly until the sequence was reloaded into the canvas.

He does like some of the effects capabilities. And he’s working at 1080p (via a BlackMagic card) and loved that a lot. He also likes the fact that you can load many sequences into the timeline and instantly switch between them.

I played with the system briefly and was struck by how responsive timeline scrolling is. Drag your cursor off the screen to the left or right and the timeline instantly scrolls with you.

But I also noticed that, at least in trim mode, the machine doesn’t stop instantly. When you hit pause there’s a palpable, several frame delay before it stops.

Media Composer version 2.7 has a similar, but less severe, problem. When you hit pause it stops instantly, but you hear a couple of frames of audio beyond the stop point. You have to set up a careful test to catch this, but it’s definitely there.

Once upon a time such problems were considered totally unacceptable. You can’t cut precisely if the machine won’t stop precisely. But maybe things are different now. Have we gotten to a point where responsive play control is no longer important — or are the manufacturers just getting sloppy? A 1950s-era Moviola stopped a lot more precisely than Final Cut Pro did yesterday.

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16 Comments on “Stopping on a Dime?”

  1. Liam Says:

    Hey Steve what were the specs of the machine your friend was using? FCP is very reliant on the machine and between machines responsiveness and bugs are more apparent.

  2. Steve Says:

    Liam — it was a Quad G5 (last model Apple made), BlackMagic card, 1080-24P DVCPRO media.

  3. L.R. Pebler Says:

    To answer the above question – a bit of both, I’d say.

    It’s funny; there seems to be a bit of a generation gap. I once had a very funny run-in with a blustery professor @ USC, who was having this problem an old Avid Xpress system. He simply could not accept that he couldn’t make frame-accurate trims during realtime playback, citing the same analogue – “the Moviola could do it, why can’t this?”

    For me, having spent my whole life on digital NLEs (and mostly “prosumer” ones), the paradigm of arrowing back and forth, frame by frame, to make fine edits has always been perfectly fine. I would suspect the same is true of most people my age.

    Which means don’t hold your breath for it to be fixed any time soon.

  4. Steve Says:

    Well, I do that too, of course (hitting the one frame button repeatedly). But you can get very obsessive that way, and very literal. Sometimes a cut feels right but you may not be able to find it by identifying an individual frame — you feel it when video is moving. Part of this has to do with the value of working with live video; part of it has to do with what gives you the most bandwidth to your nervous system. More bandwidth tends to make a tool faster and using it more ‘instinctive.’ For me, part of the toolkit has to be: press stop, know you were on the frame you wanted, make your edit. The Moviola used a physical, hand-operated brake. It ought to be pretty easy to make a digital system work as well. Heck, a decade-old ABVB Avid was very precise, with far less sophisticated hardware.

  5. Norman Says:

    The other thing that drives me insane about the Adrenaline product line is the long lag time (even on a G5 — I haven’t worked on a MacIntel yet) between pressing PLAY and having the cut start up. Of course, this is on a shared storage system with tons of objects and a not inconsiderable number of stations. But it still drives me insane. The old ABVB machines didn’t do that.

    And, by the way, I don’t think that I’m the “blustery professor” that Luke mentioned, though I can expostulate wildly in class — including much throwing up of hands and waving of arms.

  6. L.R. Pebler Says:

    Don’t get me wrong, fellas– I agree that frame-accurate real-time trimming would be nice and /should/ be a priority. And, I bet if your buddy were cutting that show in 20Mbit DV instead of 100Mbit DVCPRO HD, that system would be able to manage it. That’s the rub – video bandwidth requirements have far outstripped most hardware set-ups.

    There’s only a finite amount of storage/bandwidth in any system. And, sadly, there’s only a finite amount of development resources Avid and Apple have. Given a choice between “make Avid stop and start on a dime” and “make Avid support sexy-sounding new HD codec X”, you know what they’ll choose every time. You could argue Apple’s even worse on this front – I doubt there are many Macbook users out there that will have very rewarding ProRes editing experiences (nevermind grading with Color).

    Norm, rest easy. My charming anecdote wasn’t about you. Though I have seen you bluster on occasion ;)

  7. Loren Says:

    Interesting discussion.

    To the complaint about latency in the Avid timeline– we get that in FCP too, in very complex or long sequences. But isn’t that an Avid Playlength setting issue?

    I must say, having sat down for a short assignment using MC software edition 2.7 and watching the BPI stutter through the timelineon on a peppy G5, I was not feeling nostalgic for Avid…

    To the FCP stop-on-a-dime issue. I solved this to my satisfaction before version 4, by using Add Marker (M key), which you can do “live” and then backset to cut.

    Live cutting is now supported (Control-V keys and like all, remappable to whatever you like) and operates much the same way, and you can select which tracks receive the blade by enabling or disabling track AutoSelect toggles.

    Someday the Playhead will stop on a dime, but editing tools are there now to work the way you want.

    To the idea of cutting full high rez on these systems– for me, not for anything short of 16-core machine. I would choose to work in DVCAM or DVCPro 50 at the most, and uprez after lock. It’s just a smoother life and less taxing on CPU and storage.

  8. Bill Says:

    I have spent my whole editing life since moving from film to Avid in 1992 working on Avid – Love at first sight.

    The most significant tip I have picked up for Avid was an asymmetric trim tip in a book by Steve. Thank you Steve! and thank you for this great blog. I could not look at FCP seriously until this feature was added in 4.5 (?) but now I am almost as happy in this mode on FCP as I am with Avid.

    As for stopping on a dime – I never take seriously any spot my computer (or flatbed for that matter) stops as my thought travel from my brain down to my hand and through a machine. Different latency on different days there.

    As far as I’m concerned that kind of stop is just the starting point. From there it is play it again, rock and roll a frame at a time and put it into TRIM mode – where you can see both sides of the cut. This is the important bit in FCP, you must double click the trim point on the vision so you can SEE the trim happening on both sides, as in Avid. That way no frame is loosely chosen.

    I learned to cut on reversal film where a false splice was deadly in the telecine. No frame was randomly chosen. Now with computers and non distructive edits and multi versions it is much easier.

    I live in trim mode and my MacBook Pro has no obvious latency on the stop when cutting in DV (or HDV) – yes Loren OFFLINE/ONLINE, why push all that bandwidth and suffer insufferable latency. Redig and relink.

    I am looking forward to cutting my first long form project on FCP in a few months time, my first real move from Avid.

  9. Steve Says:

    Bill — it’s very nice to hear that my book made it down to Australia. That’s great. Nice to have you here.

    I think this is a very useful discussion — we’re talking about the most basic things. They get overlooked too often.

    Of course we all use lots of tools for finding the right cut point. We wouldn’t be editors if we didn’t. And I agree with Luke that there probably is a bit of a generational issue here. But I don’t think we should let the manufacturers off the hook. Stopping precisely isn’t all that hard. Not if you compare it to the difficulty of playing six streams of HD with various effects. As long as we don’t focus on this, they won’t either. It’s basic and it’s essential.

    Play latency — the time it takes to start — is fundamental, too. I remember when we were first testing MediaShare — we got two systems side by side and had two people press play on the same sequence simultaneously, and we observed how long they took to start playing. If it was more than a beat, it was no good. Avid was very focused on getting it right — and they did. Now that discipline seems to have weakened — on both sides of the aisle.

    Regarding asymmetrical trimming — it seems much more awkward on FCP. And regarding making a roll edit (trim rollers on both sides) — Avid wins here, too, because you can see both sides of the cut play together. In FCP you can only do that by dragging.

  10. editblog Says:

    This is a good discussion. I think the one thing that Avid needs to address most is the inability to have even the smallest interaction with the timeline while playing. This is my biggest frustration when working on Avid these days, You really take for granted all the moving, clicking and re-sizing you can do without stopping playback on FCP….

  11. Mark Burton Says:

    This is a pure video hardware issue on Avid – turn off the DNA box and you will get frame accurate stopping and a very responsive play start. Turn the DNA box back on and it all goes to pot. The DNA hardware use a firewire interface, a connection standard well known for its transfer ‘lag’. This is where the problem lies – change to a suitable connection standard and the delays/inacuracies go away.

  12. Steve Says:

    That may be part of it, but in my case there’s no DNA hardware present. Just MC-software on a 1.5 Ghz G4 laptop.

  13. Lu Nelson Says:

    I can confirm this too, even on a latest generation Quad 2.55GHz Mac Pro. FCP slows down with long sequences and big project files.

    I think that even at version 6, FCP still has not quite shed the heritage of having been built up from very modest beginnings, from a product that originally had no hopes of ever cutting a feature film.

    However I’m surprised to hear Avid has this problem sometimes too. This was something Avid editors always told me, that the basic cutting on Avids was fast and rock solid.

    The best FCP editors can hope for right now is that when we have OS X 10.5 Leopard next year and FCP all in 64-bit throughout, we might finally get away from those little lags. They are basically memory and bandwidth issues (or bloated program issues, depending how you look at it) and even the fastest new processors can’t quite get past them, but a 64-bit data path just might do the trick.

  14. justin Says:

    He should switch to FCP Studio 2, (FCP v6) some of those bugs are worked out.

  15. MikeyD Says:

    It is my understanding that the lag on the avid is due to the newer media composers being software driven. Tha same as final cut. The Meridians and even the AVBVs had the composer programming on a card hardwired to the IO Box, or stored in memory. Any lag there was much shorter than a frame, so it stopped on a dime. I have been on Avids since “91 (came on 4 floppies!) and I always found the steenbeck quick response to be of major importance. After all this time on the MCs editing is almost a reflex for me, especially when triming or cutting music. I am astounded that Avid or apple would make machines designed to edit timings that have delays in response time.

    To this day I use a meridian for editing and maintain a software only 2.7 machine for renders and imports. I’m dreading the day when the meridians will be incompatible with the newer unity systems. I can only hope that Avid and Apple will realize how important timing is and how much time is wasted tweaking edits and make these machines react as they should, on a dime.

  16. Steve Says:

    The “it’s software-only so it’s slow” defense doesn’t really hold up for me. All we’re asking is that it stop precisely and start relatively quickly. The old ABVB machines were faster and they were running on 40 Mhz processors (or less). Yes, they were driven with dedicated hardware, but that was a long time ago.

    Another big issue is the fact that MC now runs on Windows and Mac. There’s a lot of code in there that allows the thing to be ported from one OS to the other and that adds to “latency”–how fast your command actually gets to the code that does something.

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