Fixing Segment Mode

Avid added segment mode to the Media Composer long before Final Cut was conceived, and even then, it was apparent then that editing in the timeline was an essential feature in any non-linear editing application. Working from the DS playbook, Final Cut made segment mode its primary editing mode and arguably made the application more intuitive to newbies who grew up with the desktop publishing metaphor — rearranging moving video by dragging little rectangles around on the screen.

I’ve never been a believer in the primacy of that metaphor. I think that the best editorial decisions are made by manipulating the video itself. That’s where the Media Composer excels, and for me, anything else is a shortcut that makes it harder to produce fluid editorial decisions. But there are still plenty of situations where dragging things in the timeline is the best way to quickly arrange a bunch of clips, and in this, Final Cut seems to have the edge.

The question for Avid is how to enhance its segment mode to better compete with FCP’s — without destroying the MC’s slickness and precision.

For me, it comes down to a handful of relatively simple fixes:

1. Don’t make clicking in a time track turn off segment mode. Unlike in the MC, in Xpress Pro stays on until you explicitly turn it off. When I first tried it, I thought this was a disadvantage. So I ended up mapping the red and yellow segment mode buttons to the keyboard. And boy did I like having them there. Now I find that having segment mode switch off every time I drag the cursor pretty frustrating. Allowing segment mode to stay on as long as you want it to would be the best and most flexible compromise with FCP’s “on all the time” approach.

2. Add a feature that lets me select “everything to the right.” This is a big win for FCP because it makes it easy to open up space in the middle of a complex, overlapped timeline. It would be trivially simple to add to the MC — it doesn’t even need its own button. You’d just select a clip while holding down a modifier key, and everything to the right would be highlighted. Do the same thing to each track and then drag to the right to open up space, as needed. I’d kill to have this seemingly small change.

3. In red segment mode, make it possible to select two non-adjacent clips in the same track and move them together without selecting all the clips in between.

4. Make it possible to select and move two audio clips (ie. a stereo pair) up or down one track at a time.

5. Offer a simple way to clone a clip and place it in another track. Great for trying musical alternates, or copying sound effects.

There are a few other minor issues, but for the most part, that’s it. Avid has just about everything else — cut and paste works fine, the four-headed display when dragging a segment is better than FCP’s. Dragging while snapping to the beginning — or the ending — of nearby clips works better, too.

But maybe I’m missing something. So I’ll put this to those of you who are proficient in both programs: What else is missing from Avid’s segment mode?

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11 Comments on “Fixing Segment Mode”

  1. Shane Ross Says:

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you that the FCP segment workflow is a poor one and one that attracted the “desktop publishing” newbies. I’ll wager 2% of the FCP users…LOWER…ever touched a desktop publisher. The fact that FCP was cheap and was easily piratable (no dongle) made it popular. Avid is priced VERY high…so high that many editors did not own their own machines. But when FCP hit the scene, every, well, nearly every, editor I knew had a copy of FCP at home. That is what made it more available to the masses, and the ease of working in the always active “segment mode” just made it easier.

    I grew up editing on Avid. My film school had one my final year there, v5.5 back in 1994. I knew that machine well. And when I started with FCP, that always active segment mode threw me, but now I find it VERY powerful, and makes me a much faster editor. I feel crippled when I land on an Avid and have to move a couple thigns.

    And that manipulation of the video on the timeline is something FCP does as well. You don’t need to just drag things about to edit. I barely use that feature. I edit the video I put on the timeline. But when the time comes where the producer looks at the index cards on the wall and starts moving them all over the place, being able to do the same in your NLE is pretty much essential. And moving everything to the right with a couple clicks to make a hole is BIG. This is still a pain on the Avid.

    I use and like both NLEs. And I can tell that you use both as well, and also want the segment mode on Avid to be the same as FCP.

    Sorry, but it seemed that you were taking a swipe at FCP for being so simple that it catered to the unwashed masses, yet you still wanted these features available in an Avid.

  2. Steve Says:

    Okay, fair enough — no offense intended. I did not mean to denigrate people who use and love FCP.

    My question was about the relative strengths of the two forms of segment mode. Besides “select to the right”, what else about FCP’s segment mode would you wish for in your Media Composer?


  3. Oded Farber Says:

    i couldn’t agree more.
    the only question is how do we (Avid clients) makes it happen.
    skipping NAB, survey, CEO changes – will it help in improoving the MC?

    few months ago it looked like you and Editblog and few others had joined forces, did you get any response from Avid?
    maybe apetition will help?


  4. editblog Says:

    I’ve always felt the FCP segment mode concept came more from the Premiere way of thinking … in that the next generation of NLEs (meaning anything other than Avid!) was going to have to do so much more than just cut picture and dialog. This was Avid’s original purpose so they really didn’t need segment mode. It feels like it was just tacked on later. When the DV format rolled around and everyone was shooting video for everything the need to do so much more happened. Graphics, animation, alpha channels, compositing, layering, tons of audio, freeze frames, speed ramps, a million plugins of filters and transitions … to me all these things make the full-time-segment-mode a must have for the next generation. And so they have.

    Personally, I think what Avid should do is take the idea from the DS where you can turn segment mode on or off totally. There are times when I don’t want segment mode and don’t like having to click and drag in the small space on a FCP timeline. I want to move as fast as possible and that Avid timeline is a much bigger target. If you can how the best of both worlds why not do that?

    As for Oded’s question, we didn’t join forces but Steve and I have both been critical of Avid lately. I didn’t necessarily get a response directly saying “you’re right and we are wrong” but I do think they have been listening. Time will tell as it looks like it might be a big (make or break maybe?) year for Avid.

  5. Steve Says:

    Yes, that’s my point — segment mode on or off using the red or yellow arrow buttons. It would not turn off when you click in a time track. And probably this ought to be implemented as a preference, so people who like it the way it is aren’t frustrated.


  6. Luke Pebler Says:

    Great, thoughtful post!

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, Steve – the most useful single change would be adding a preference to keep segment mode on while clicking in the TC track.

    Also, adding a cut/paste with user-controllable track destination’s a great idea. I’ve been wishing for that in FCP as well as Avid!

  7. Steve Says:


    That’s a great idea. I assume the you mean that one would select tracks in the timeline and your clip would go to the tracks selected. If nothing was selected the paste would go to the same tracks it came from.


  8. Steve Says:

    I’d add that there ought to be a keyboard shortcut to make paste act as an overwrite rather than an insert. You’d hit, say, command-option-v for overwrite, and option-v for insert. You can do this now, by selecting the red segment mode arrow before the paste, but that’s so counterintuitive that I know very few people who use it.

  9. Bert Says:

    I have been working with FCP since version 4.5, not only for family movies but jobs with clients. Since I’m working as a freelance editor now I had to learn Avid. It didn’t took me a long time, but I really miss the track selection tools like in FCP. I really like the Avid, cutting and trimming are very fast, but when you have to make corrections on a show than the Avid is much slower than FCP. In FCP you select everything forward (tttt) and deselct a music track underneath, make the correction, close the gap and done.

    Cut and paste with controllable track destination is possible in FCP by the way. Just copy the clip, then turn the auto select off on the tracks where you don’t want the destination. The first track with auto select on will be the destination. With all auto selects on the clip will be pasted on the same track. Command-V for overwrite, Shift-V for insert. I use the Alt-C on the Avid for these kind of tasks.

  10. Shane Ross Says:

    One thing that I HATE about FCPs segment mode, is CLIP COLLISION. I KNOW I will be overwriting the next track…I WANT TO. I can drag the clip with the mouse, but I cannot move it via the keyboard. I didn’t know that the DS allowed for open segment mode, never been on a DS, only MC and older Symphony’s. The ability to shift everything to the right or everything to the left is useful.

  11. phil Says:

    My biggest issue with Avid is the fact that they have most of the tools that most editors are requesting in their higher end products. Unfortunately, it seems like Avid would like to sell you
    that Symphony Nitris or that DS Nitris, rather than improve the editor functions on the Media Composer family. I can appreciate that this is a business decision and this is what they need
    to do. Over the years FCP editors complained about what FCP did not do compared DIRECTLY
    to what Avid did. And, one by one (multicam, programmable keyboard, film EDL’s, HD etc),
    FCP fixed it. This was also a business decision that Apple needed to do for FCP to survive and excell. Now Avid seems to be lacking on some of the features that FCP has, but they
    have not realized that implementing these functions is a business decision that is essential for their survival. Why, because Avid needs to be better, period. Why, because the price difference
    says so. In the past, Avid was know as the ‘industry standard’ and FCP was known as ‘not quite ready for prime time’. Both of these perceptions are fading fast. If the functions of both these apps are similar, why pay twice as much?

    I was on a Media Composer for eight years. Started on FCP at version 4.5 I am now at a FCP only post house.

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