Quicktime Native?

Should Avid make the Media Composer “Quicktime Native”? It’s a big question (and not a new one, of course) so let me focus on just two key issues: first, the ability to open and edit any Quicktime file without conversion, and second, the ability to put material in a bin without actually copying them to a centralized media folder. These are separate, of course, but in FCP, they work together to make the program seem more accessible to newbies. And they can be helpful for more sophisticated users, too, given the right circumstances.

The subject came up for me recently because I’ve got a box of home videos that I need to digitize. They should be on a big hard drive if I ever want to do anything with them. But what format to choose? Avid would encode DV as MXF files, Final Cut as Quicktimes. Which is safer? Which will be usable ten or twenty years from now?

In the early ’90s I telecined an old student project I’d shot on film to the best tape source we had then — one inch. Right now, that tape is almost useless. A few years ago, I found somebody to transfer it for me (and not well, unfortunately), so today I’ve got a DV, a DVD and a Digi-Beta. I figured I had covered my butt. But times change. Today, I’d like to have HD, and the best way to make that is to do another transfer — from film.

These are exactly the kinds of questions every producer will soon have to answer about every piece of media they produce.

And that brings me back to the MC and Quicktime. What format do I trust to have the longest life? MXF is an open standard, not owned by Avid. But will it be readable down the line? Right now Quicktime can be played on just about any computer. But its future is entirely dependent on Apple.

In general, and it may surprise you, but I think Avid might do well making the Media Composer operate on Quicktime files directly. Depending on your point of view, that could arguably make the MC the best QT editing application available.

It’s a big question, and maybe not the most important one for Avid, especially given how much work it might take. But it needs to be asked. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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18 Comments on “Quicktime Native?”

  1. DKG Says:

    Unfortunately the “QuicktimeNative” nature of Final Cut Pro makes Media Management an absolute NIGHTMARE!

    “and second, the ability to put material in a bin without actually copying them to a centralized media folder.” This is the exact thing that we Don’t want!


  2. Scott Says:

    Both sides of that argument is good. Media management works so well because Avid converts and tracks everything but it has to do that, convert. I think we’ll be safe with any Avid media as long as Avid is around.

  3. Frank Reynolds Says:

    It’s strange, the more I think about it, the more I see of both plusses and minuses of the Avid/Quicktime issue.

    I generally do like the fact that FCP’s media is Quicktime…obviously it’s much easier and faster to make Quicktime movies of a sequence, and if I have to I can watch clips in the Quicktime Player. And while I do agree that FCP not having a central media folder can be a recipe for organizational disaster if one is not organized, if you *are* very organized, there are advantages. For instance, having separate media folders for just music and sound effect media, etc. Generally, I’ve found it very useful to have a media folder that holds non-timecode, non-digitized media (imported music, FX, etc.) that I could copy just in case I have to switch systems. About five years ago, I was editing a feature in Africa on Avid, and the edit moved to L.A. to finish (renting a different Avid and different media drives in L.A.) It was a pain to go into the OMFI Media folder and cherry-pick all the non-timecode media and back it up for transport (the timecode media we just re-digitized in L.A.).

    And I bring up another issue. Trying to find all that non-timecode media in the OMFI was a pain partly because I couldn’t create a separate media folder on the Avid, but also because I had to read those complex media file names to make sure I had everything I needed (generally, if the filename didn’t begin with V01, A01, or A02, it was something I had to take with me). It would have been a lot easier if the media file name was the same as the clip name, as it is on FCP. But actually, I’m of two minds about Avid’s complex media file names. The one thing I do like about Avid’s complex media file names is that on Avid, I think nothing of changing the name of a clip if I want to, since the name of the media file has no visual reference to the name of the clip file. However, in FCP I’m hesitant to do this, because if I do change the name of an FCP clip, then the media file is the name of what the clip *was* and not the name of what the clip is now. It just makes me nervous to do that. (If I *really* want to change the name of the clip in FCP, I will also change the name of the media file to the exact same thing and re-link it back to the clip, but it’s a pain…especially if Cinema Tools databases are also involved!)

    The last issue I’m going to bring up is: if Avid does go Quicktime, does that mean that I could just simply import an Avid QT media file into a *different* project from the one it was created in, bringing all of the bin data of that clip with it? Last I checked, Avid couldn’t do this with its own media files (but last time I checked was several versions ago).

  4. Tim Says:

    Avids media management is exactly why i like it over anything. But mostly for tape. The Media is there, its not going to go anywhere unless you move it, and if you do, (in the right way) avid will surely find it soon enough. I would be more friendly towards FCP if it had this sort of media management.

    If anything material should be mastered at its source format. I have all my DV projects backed up in PAL DV format and onto miniDV tape. I also have very little trust for quicktime which has tricked me from time to time. Ill be happy when FCP has native support for Avid created MXF files.

  5. Robin Buday Says:

    Tough questions indeed. I would use QuickTime personally simply because I can’t send my friends an MXF and expect them to know what to do with it. Most people have the QuickTime player because of its inclusion with iTunes.

    As far as the student film is concerned I would telecine it to the highest resolution uncompressed QuickTime movie the film will allow. Obviously this is expensive and probably overkill but the prices for “beyond HD” resolution will go down and at least you will know that you will have a digital replica of the film negative that you can downconvert to any type of media available.

  6. Mat Says:

    Why is it so hard for people to media manage in FCP? You’re just lazy! Learn the application just like you did with Avid. If you disagree, what problems have you had with FCP and media management?

    Besides a system that managed the media for you (i.e. copied the media into its own directory and kept a database) would be entirely possible even when QT native, it’d just simply duplicate the QT file to the folder that stores all your media, it just wouldn’t have to transcode it at the same time.

    And no, I use both Avid or FCP.

  7. Peter Says:

    Well, being QT native would certainly make it easier to use footage from a Red on an Avid, and I think overall Avid users would only benefit if direct QuickTime access were added as an option.

    But in any case, neither MXF nor QuickTime are suitable formats for archiving. If archiving were a concern, I’d go for 2K or 4K DPX or EXR sequences for film (but keep in mind that the archival costs for files are still much higher than storing celluloid copies), and TGA sequences for 8-bit broatcast media in their original resolution. In a few years, you’ll easily be able to convert these files to Adobe’s Cinema DNG if need be, and even in 20 years time it won’t be too hard to write a simple conversion porgram that converts these fomats to whatever video format is going to be common, without any loss of quality. But good luck trying to write a QT or MXF converter that supports all possible codecs, or even just DV. And it’s pretty safe to assume that neither QuickTime nor MXF are going to be standard or even easily readable in 20 years.

    I’d never let my editing system determine my archiving format. MXF and QT are both valid choices, and the ability to use existing QuickTime files directly is nice, but neither is a very fortunate choice when it comes to keeping the files safe for the future.

  8. Steve,

    What a great post as I was just thinking about this exact topic the other day. This is undeniably one of my greatest joys of working in FCP and biggest frustrations about working in the Avid. It’s kind of ironic that this feature, (actually a proprietary Avid file system) really shields users from having to get into the “bowels” of file management. Avid has gotten deserved praise for making the intricacies of this work pretty much invisible to the editor. FCP on the other hand puts it right in your face, there are a lot of decisions to be made in terms of file formats, workflow (you’re favorite word) and media management. You can use the “easy setups” but in most situations you end up having to customize those also.

    I think part of Avid’s problem is that there is a new generation of filmmakers and editors who have always worked with computers and file level management is very familiar to them and they are quite comfortable with it. I can honestly say that not being able to manage clips on a familiar file system level is a drag for me personally.

    On the archiving question. QuickTime has been around for almost 20 years, it is the most stable an consistent standard in the widespread adoption of digital video, essentially replacing the Kodak model of the 50’s-70’s. Why are you worried about the format not being around forever? It seems likely that a high-grade digital master would be transfer/codeable to many formats well into the future.


  9. Mark Raudonis Says:

    Putting aside all of the technical arguments, if Avid could handle native QT files, it would present a great marketing opportunity… for Final Cut!

    “Now all your media is instantly compatible with Avid. No more “cross platform” hassles. ”

    On a pure technical level it may make sense. Strategically, it’s raising a white flag, making it even easier for fence straddlers to move to the other camp.


  10. Shane Ross Says:

    I would say Avid needs to stick with MXF. Because there are a lot of MXF tapeless formats (well, two) that are popular and work natively in Avid.

    If you want to capture your home videos and have them accessable in the future on any NLE, I’d use FCP and QT. I have Quicktime movies from 1996 that still work. But all that Avid footage in the old OMFI format? Can’t see that.

  11. Loren Says:

    Steve and others thinking outside the boxes!

    I would welcome QuickTime native support in Avid systems.

    I would welcome full OMF and MXF support in FCP– as an option.

    I realize that will put Wes Plate out of business. Whoops.

    Imagine the possibilities. Imagine how many Premiere Pro and Media 100 users would migrate to one or the other system offering that kind of flexibility.

    Now imagine if Adobe offered it! Because I think that more likely.

    – Loren

  12. Frank Capria Says:

    Once again you spur a wonderful discussion. Being on “the other side of the fence” from Mark, I see it differently. Should Avid work natively with QuickTime, and MXF, the advantage is Avid’s as the more open system.

    Respectfully, I disagree with your assertion that virtually every computer can open a QuickTime file. That’s not quite true — Apple’s own pro video QT codec, ProRes 422, is unreadable on more than 95% of the world’s computers because it’s Mac-only.

    QuickTime is a wrapper, a very good and flexible wrapper. But that means you can wrap lots of proprietary stuff in it. Being QuickTime doesn’t assure universal accessibility.

  13. Dylan Reeve Says:

    It’s not as simple as MXF or Quicktime. There’s also the matter of codecs. DNxHD can exist as a Quicktime or MXF.

    Personally I find Avid’s more closed approach beneficial – it ensures a certain level of performance. Native Avid media in Avid just works – I can mix any frame-rate compatible Avid media in a timeline and get realtime playback, even software-only. In FCP I’ve found that to not be nearly as true.

    Open quicktime support is a Pandora’s box really – it adds a massive number of variables for the developers – the processor requirements for playing H.264 video vs. Animation, or Cinepak are huge. Performance can’t be guaranteed or managed.

    I am a huge fan of Avid’s media management system, and I have no problem with filesystem file management at all, but I don’t want to have to worry about that.

    There certainly could be improvements to Avid’s system, but I don’t think dropping the centralised media and opening up to all QT variants would be beneficial at all.

  14. ROn Says:

    avids media managment is its great plus and greatest weakness. Unless Avid switches to a more file based input system they will be out of business within five years.

  15. Bernd Says:

    Hi all,

    great post indeed. Have you seen this: http://mxf4mac.com/

  16. Helmut Says:

    as far I understood mxf4mac is only a choice if you edit your video-data with Final Cut? it is not compatible with avid?

  17. Bernd Says:

    Hi Helmut.

    MXF4mac integrates also Avid MXF support into Quicktime

    Version 1.5 of MXF4QT Import supports the following compression types:
    Avid OP-Atom IMX30/40/50
    Avid OP-Atom DV25, DVCPRO25/50 and DVCPRO HD formats
    Avid OP1a and OP-Atom DNxHD formats
    Avid OP-Atom 1:1 HD 8 bit formats

  18. Peter Says:

    Bernd, his question was not conceirning Avid MXF Files but Avid as a workstation…

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