Posted tagged ‘video’

The Ground Shifts

April 12, 2009

As we move into NAB time (the show starts Saturday), it seems to me that the Apple/Avid competitive landscape has shifted significantly. Final Cut hasn’t delivered a major upgrade in two years and won’t have a booth in Vegas. But Avid has been busy modernizing their feature set and doing serious work on reliability and performance. Two years ago Final Cut seemed almost unbeatable, and many people were predicting the end of Avid. Today, things look a bit more balanced. I participated in John Flowers’ “That Post Show” podcast recently and the consensus of the participants was that Media Composer’s new “Advanced Media Architecture” (AMA) is a big win for Avid. (The show isn’t online yet. I’ll post a link here when it is.)

You can work with just about any Quicktime media in FCP, and you can do it without conversion. That used to look like an important advantage. But today, many file-based cameras don’t shoot in QT formats. You can usually convert (“rewrap”) your media to QT — but if your format is supported by AMA, MC doesn’t ask you to do any conversion at all. You just grab the media and start cutting. Avid’s Achilles heal, the fact that it forced you to convert everything to its native formats, has morphed into a big advantage. And, strange as it may seem, the fact that Final Cut is tied so strongly to Quicktime begins to look like a limitation.

MC 3.0 brought big performance and stability improvements that were long overdue. I was able to work for three months with version 3.05 and could count the number of crashes I had on one hand. Final Cut isn’t nearly that stable. Version 3.5 brought additional improvements. And MC still beats FCP hands down for precise and complex trimming, something that many long-form editors, myself included, can’t live without.

It would be foolish to assume that Apple has been standing still these last two years, and I expect we’ll hear more from them soon. But in the meantime, MC is looking better and better.

Your Avid on the Mixing Stage

March 6, 2009

It’s rare to see an Avid on a dubbing stage. The conventional wisdom is that it’s not needed because everything has been turned over to sound and you’re (hopefully) not planning on any picture changes. The sound effects editors are going to bring an OMF copy of your cut and that’s supposed to be sufficient. In the past, it’s also been difficult to move your Avid, and that, more than anything, has ensured that we picture editors don’t come to the stage equipped with our gear.

But with the advent of MC software and big, inexpensive drives, that equation has changed. You can bring your entire project and all your media with you, and it turns out that this can have some significant advantages, namely access to your original cut, and to your track layout. So if you hear dialog that doesn’t sound right, or if a sound is missing, you can quickly figure out what went wrong.

Editors, producers and directors all fall victim to what we call “temp love” at some point. The mix you did in the Media Composer has been evolving for months and it’s inevitable that there will be some things that people will want to preserve. But recreating those things usually stops the mix cold and frustrates everybody. Being able to identify exactly what you want and where it is can be a big win for all involved.

Here are some tips:

  • You’ll create a drive with all your media on it. And it’s going to take many hours to do, even with Firewire 800. Don’t wait till the last minute.
  • Be sure to quit your Media Composer while you’re copying — otherwise the MC will see all that duplicate media, which is likely to cause problems.
  • If you’re running from Unity with many partitions, it’s probably a good idea to format your portable drive to mirror the Unity partitions. That makes it easier to confirm that you’ve got everything. It also makes it possible to let your portable drive double as a full media backup.
  • To confirm that you’ve got everything, you’ll want to use some kind of software comparator. A good and inexpensive solution is Compare Folders. You simply point the application at two folders and it tells you whether they match, and if not, what’s different. Sure beats the heck out of trying to do it by hand.
  • Unity creates individual folders for each user on every partition. But Media Composer software can’t see OMF media in those subfolders. This is a real pain and something Avid ought to deal with (MXF media works differently, which is one advantage of that format). The solution is to copy each partition with the subfolders intact, then color-code each folder and all the files within, and only then pull all the media out of the subfolders. You should also trash the indexes — the .pmr and .mdb files. Sort by “kind” to find them.
  • Once you’ve got your media copied properly, you’ll want to “flight test” it on your laptop. Be sure to allow time for this. Copy your project to the laptop, connect the drive and start up the MC. Each partition will be indexed. This can take several hours.
  • If all goes well, your entire project should be on line. To confirm it, select Clip Color > Offline in the timeline popup menu. (And turn off everything else in that submenu — different coloring options can interfere with each other. See this post for details.) Then open each sequence of your cut show. You should not see any red clips.
  • If you have two copies of your project, make sure you know which one you’re working from. If you copied your project partition to the portable drive, you’ll have one there, and probably should use it. But you also may have one on the laptop’s internal drive. Changes in one won’t be reflected in the other.

That’s way too many potholes for something that ought to be simple and routine, and Avid really needs to take another look at simplifying media copying (more at this post). But even with all the hassle, having your Avid on the stage can be a big advantage and well worth the effort.

Media Composer 3.5

March 2, 2009

Avid is releasing Media Composer 3.5 today (with parallel updates to Symphony and Newscutter). It’s a big release and should have something for everybody.

Here’s an overview, based on an Avid conference call, Friday. There are some revolutionary changes, and some more pedestrian improvements, as well.

  • The End of the Dongle. Yes, it’s true. 3.5 will allow you to license your software over the net and get rid of that pesky little piece of plastic. (You can still use your dongle with this version if you prefer, but over time Avid plans to phase it out.) The software will give you 14 days to register, which results in a 14-day free trial period.
  • Avid Media Access (AMA). This is Avid’s new plug-in architecture for diverse media types. Initially it will support Sony XDCAM and Panasonic P2 flash media, allowing editors to work with these files on the flash card or on any drive that they’re copied to. You won’t have to import any longer — the MC will work the media in it’s native form. And you can store and work with this media anywhere you like — no need to keep it in a MediaFiles folder. This breaks one of our longest standing traditions, namely that your Media Composer takes care of organizing your media. The new approach is easier and faster, but it makes it easier to lose your media. Avid will encourage camera manufacturers to write plug-ins for AMA themselves, speeding development and improving compatibility with new media types.
  • Support for 3D Cinema. Avid is now offering simultaneous tracking of both cameras. You can work on either one or see them displayed together, one over the other.
  • Keyframeable Color Correction. You’ll finally be able to ramp corrections within a shot.
  • Fluid Stabilizer. A new, more intelligent motion tracker.
  • Media Composer and Pro Tools on the same workstation. You won’t be able to run them at the same time, but you can put them on the same CPU without problems.
  • 12 Channels of audio I/O via HD-SDI.
  • Simultaneous output of SD and HD. In Symphony, with frame accuracy.
  • Audio Improvements. The ability to set clip gain on import, and to change clip gain on a group of clips all at once, which should save a lot of keystrokes for some people. And the inclusion of several new AudioSuite plug-ins.
  • Improvements to the Timecode Burn-In Tool. You’ll now be able to display the contents of any bin column, live over video, without rendering. Clipname, ink number, audio timecode, whatever you like.

That represents a whole lotta work for Avid’s engineers and I applaud them for it. It modernizes the application in some important ways. Dumping the dongle is a big win in my book. The little thing is a hassle and I’m always afraid of losing it. AMA is a big win for people in documentaries and reality TV, and over time it will probably affect all of us. The same is true of the new tools for 3D — you probably don’t need it now, but you might in the future. The Fluid Stabilizer and keyframable color correction are nice features that I’ll be happy to use from time to time.

For details, see Avid’s press release, or the Media Composer product pages. Strangely, the home page just offers a small link to the press release.