The FCP X update

Apple launched into February with an eagerly awaited free update to Final Cut Pro X. Apple uses the Mac OS X numbering scheme, so the official update is 10.0.3, which would be equivalent to a version 1.3 release in other products. Don’t let the numbers fool you, though, as this is a huge release that adds major features, as well as some enhancements. The FCP X update was accompanied by corresponding free updates to Compressor 4 and Motion 5.

Multicam editing

The addition of multicam editing and broadcast monitoring fulfills an earlier promise to restore a number of features needed by professional users. The multicam editor is fully-featured and an improvement over FCP 7. You can cut with up to 64 camera angles of mixed formats and frame rates. Simply select the desired sources in the Event and combine these into a multicam clip. When you do this, a dialogue box opens to select a synchronization method. The options include timecode and markers, but also a sophisticated method to sync by audio waveforms, like that used by PluralEyes. You can open this multicam clip in its own timeline and make adjustments to the order of cameras, add effects and add more cameras.

Simply edit the multicam clip to your Project (edited sequence) and pick the angle to use for audio and video. To cut between camera angles, Apple has added a new Angle Viewer to display a matrix of camera angles ganged in sync with the Project timeline and viewer. The Angle Viewer can display up to 16 angles per bank. If you have more that 16 cameras, then switch the Angle Viewer between banks as needed. Angles are mapped by default to the number row on the keyboard, so cutting cameras is as easy as playing and switching “live” between angles by hitting the appropriate number key.

I tested this with two cameras and a 4-channel audio file with matching timecode. The audio file consisted of four iso mics – a separate track for each person in the group on camera. Cutting camera images was easy and fun, but not the audio. FCP X has a very convoluted method for working with multichannel audio from a single source, thanks to the trackless timeline. The usual menu options to “detach the audio” or “break apart items” appear to be disabled for multicam editing; therefore, it’s impossible to edit or mix the four individual mics within the Project timeline. This could be done by separately editing the audio to the timeline again as a connected clip or doing that work in the original multicam source clip. Multicam is nicely implemented for picture, but until the audio side is fixed, it’s unusable for some projects, like reality TV shows.

Broadcast monitoring

FCP X 10.0.3 adds the ability to properly monitor the audio/video signals through a range of PCIe cards and Thunderbolt units from vendors like AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox. It’s obvious why Apple considers this feature as still in beta development. I tested this with a Decklink HD Extreme 3D card and new, beta drivers from Blackmagic Design. The video quality was accurate, but the card tended to momentarily drop to black as I moved between sources and timeline playback within FCP X. In fact, it was hard to keep the signal up on the external monitor all the time when I wasn’t playing the timeline. However, when I did get it to stay, then it tracked the images during skimming without issue.

There are no controls to change viewing format as in FCP 7. You have to set the card’s default format using the System Preference pane to match the Project you are working on. This requires that you to quit FCP X and relaunch every time you make a change in settings. There is no pulldown insertion, so if you are working on a 23.98fps project, you will need a broadcast monitor that supports 24fps viewing. I found that the playback intermittently dropped frames, which was most obvious on pans and tilts. Colleagues testing AJA KONA cards reported similar issues.

Since the various card manufacturers are still in the process of releasing updated beta drivers, some of these issues may have been fixed or changed by the time you read this. It is clear, however, that this new broadcast monitoring capability is just that – for monitoring. Apple does not intend to add any VTR ingest or output-to-tape functionality (using the cards) back into FCP X as part of this feature.

Other marquee features

Motion 5 introduced a very powerful green/blue-screen keyer with both “one-step” and advanced controls. The simple version of that keyer was in FCP X. With this update, the full range of advanced controls has been exposed inside the FCP X interface and new features, like light wrap have been added. This gives FCP X one of the nicest keyers in any NLE and certainly on par with Avid’s Spectramatte or Adobe’s Ultra. Whether are not you think it’s comparable to Keylight or some keyer is a matter of taste and difficulty of your shot, since not all keyers will yield equal results.

The best new feature for me is Relink, which enables viable offline-to-online workflows within FCP X. Simply highlight the clips in a Project and relink the media in these clips. FCP X will also import those new clips into an Event. For example, in a ALEXA or RED project, you may opt to cut with low-resolution dailies generated by the lab or the DIT on set. When the cut is locked, create a new Event, duplicate the Project and associate it with that new Event. Now relink to the original high-resolution, camera files (or ProRes conversions in the case of RED) and your Project will show up with the corresponding clips ready for color grading and finishing.

A number of other changes have been made throughout, including a change to the way Photoshop files are imported. In the first version, files were imported and flattened. Now layered Photoshop files are imported as a Compound clip with the layers in tact, allowing you to adjust the elements within the FCP X timeline. Any Photoshop layer effects, like drop shadows or embossing, have to be merged and text or shapes rasterized first in Photoshop to show up correctly in FCP X. Some users have noted issues with Photoshop files. These include the inability to save modifications and have links maintains. Also layer scale and position value may or may not be correctly represented in FCP X, so assume that you will need to reposition layers once inside FCP X. (Click here for Apple’s “best practices” paper.)

Expanding the ecosystem

The depth of vendors surrounding Final Cut Pro X has been quickly rebuilding, adding effects and filters, but also filling in workflow gaps. The biggest news with this update is the release by Intelligent Assistance of the 7toX application (available at the Mac App Store), which I mentioned in the post on FCP X roundtrips. You can finally migrate Final Cut Pro 7 projects and/or sequences into Final Cut Pro X. Check their site for the list of what works and doesn’t, but in its first iteration, a rich amount of data is brought over from FCP 7 to FCP X. The big caveat is that you must have media connected to the FCP 7 project when you export that XML, in order for the translation and linking to work properly.

FCP X 10.0.3 changed the XML format slightly, so if you’ve been using DaVinci Resolve for grading roundtrips, make sure you update Resolve, as well. Other new workflow applications that are compatible with FCP X include Boris Soundbite and Singular Software’s PluralEyes. Soundbite uses speech analysis as a search tool to locate words or phrases by phonetic matches and the results can be imported into FCP X. Although FCP X offers audio synchronization and multicam, another option is PluralEyes. It may be used as an alternate method to synchronize multiple cameras and/or sync camera audio audio tracks in double-system productions.

Filters galore

Most of the effects/plug-in vendors have been getting up to speed with new tools for FCP X. These now include popular packages from Noise Industries (FxFactory), MotionVFX, CHV, Crumplepop and CoreMelt. Recent additions to the party have included Pomfort, Digieffects, Digital Heaven and Nattress. The biggest plug-in news is the compatibility with Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks 2 and GenArts’ Sapphire Edge. Changes in this update (and corresponding updated versions for Looks 2 and Edge) make it possible to use them with FCP X. If you are familiar with Magic Bullet Looks 2 and Sapphire Edge from other host applications, then the functionality will be the same.

One thing to bear in mind, is that filters inside FCP X are Motion 5 templates. Individual users can easily create their own custom filters in Motion 5 and then “publish” those to FCP X, where they show up as an effect, transition or generator. A number of enterprising editors have developed their own and offer them for free on the web. Several prolific developers include Simon Ubsdell, Alex Gollner and Brendan Gibbons.

This growth offers new visual styles and techniques, but heavy-duty filters impact performance. The built-in FCP X filters seem very efficient and some of the lighter-weight plug-ins, like those from Digital Heaven or Nattress play smoothly without rendering. Others, like Magic Bullet Looks 2 or Sapphire Edge require a bit more horsepower and ultimately have to be rendered for smooth playback. In spite of other improvements in this FCP X update, overall rendering performance for the application seems slow to me, even with 64-bit and OpenCL optimization. In fact, when I ran direct render tests comparing FCP X, FCP 7, Premiere Pro and Media Composer with the same MB Looks preset, as well as comparable built-in filters (presumably optimized for each NLE), FCP X was consistently the slowest to render.

Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of articles taking a deeper look into some of the third-party software options available to users to enhance their FCP X effects capabilities and workflows.

FCP X 10.0.3 isn’t going to change many minds in the ongoing heated discussions that surround this product. I believe 10.0.3 represents the version that Apple had originally intended to release last year, but some features simply weren’t stable or ready at that time. Multicam may sway a few that have been on the edge, but those who were hoping that updates would make FCP X more like the “legacy” versions of Final Cut aren’t going to be happy. It’s pretty clear that FCP X, with its new approach to editing, is Apple’s intended direction. For some, this is a freeing experience. Those users make up the segment that will test the waters professionally with FCP X and continue to be excited in how it evolves.

Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media, LLC). Updated for this blog entry.

©2012 Oliver Peters

A RED post production workflow

When you work with RED Digital Cinema’s cameras, part of the post production workflow is a “processing” step, not unlike the lab and transfer phase of film post. The RED One, EPIC and SCARLET cameras record raw images using Bayer-pattern light filtering to the sensor. The resulting sensor data is compressed with the proprietary REDCODE codec and stored to CF cards or hard drives. In post, these files have to be decompressed and converted into RGB picture information, much the same as if you had shot camera raw still photography with a Nikon or Canon DSLR.

RED has been pushing the concept of working natively with the .r3d media (skipping any interim conversion steps) and has made an SDK (software development kit) available to NLE manufacturers. This permits REDCODE raw images to be converted and adjusted right inside the editing interface. Although each vendor’s implementation varies, the raw module enables control over the metadata for color temperature, tint, color space, gamma space, ISO and other settings. You also have access to the various quality increments available to “de-Bayer” the image (data-to-RGB interpolation). The downside to working natively, is that even with a fast machine, performance can be sluggish. This is magnified when dealing with a large quantity of footage, such as a feature film or other long-form projects. The native clips in your editing project are encumbered by the overhead of 4K compressed camera files.

For these and other reasons, I still advocate an offline-online procedure, rather than native editing, when working on complex RED projects. You could convert to a high-quality format like ProRes 4444 or 10-bit uncompressed at the beginning and never touch the RED files again, but the following workflow is one designed to give you the best of all worlds – easy editing, plus grading to get the best out of the raw files. There are many possible RED workflows, but I’ve used a variation of these steps quite successfully on a recent indie feature film – cut on Final Cut Pro 7 and graded in Apple Color. My intent here is to describe an easy workflow for projects mastering at 2K and HD sizes, which are destined for film festivals, TV and Blu-ray.

Conversion for offline editing

When you receive media from the studio or location, start by backing up and verifying all files. Make sure your camera-original media is safe. Then move on to RED’s REDCINE-X PRO. There is no need yet to change color metadata. Simply accept what was shot and set up a batch to convert the .r3d files into editing media, such as Avid DNxHD36 or Apple ProRes LT or ProRes Proxy. 1920×1080 or 1280×720 are the preferred sizes for lightweight editing media.

With a RED ROCKET accelerator card installed, conversion time will be about real-time. Without it, adjust the de-Bayer resolution settings to 1/2, 1/4 or 1/8 for faster rendering. The quality of these dailies only needs to be sufficient for making effective editing decisions. The advantage to using REDCINE-X PRO and not the internal conversion tools of the NLE (like FCP 7’s Log and Transfer) is faster conversion, which can be done on any machine and isn’t dependent on the specific requirements of a given editing application.

Creative (offline) editing

Import the media into your NLE. In the case of Final Cut Pro 7, simply drag the converted QuickTime files into a bin. Import any double-system audio and merge the clips. Edit until the picture cut is locked. Break the final sequence into reels of approximately ten minutes in length each. Export audio as OMF files for your sound designer/mixer. Duplicate the reels as video-only timelines, remove any effects, extend the length of shots with dissolves and restore all shots with speed changes to full length. Export an XML file for each of these reels.

REDCINE-X PRO primary grading pass

This is a two-step color grading process: Step 1 in REDCINE-X PRO and Step 2 in Apple Color. The advantage of REDCINE-X PRO is direct access to the raw files without the abstraction layer of an SDK. By adjusting the source settings panel within Color, Resolve, Media Composer, Premiere Pro and others, you are adjusting the raw controls; but, any further color adjustments (like curves and lift/gamma/gain “color wheels”) are made downstream of the internally-converted RGB image. This is functionally no different than rendering a high-quality, raw-adjusted RGB file from one application and then doing further corrections to it in another. That’s the philosophy here.

Import the XML file for each reel as a timeline into REDCINE-X PRO. This conforms the .r3d files into an edited sequence corresponding to your cut in FCP. Adjust the raw settings for all shots in the timeline. First, set color space to RedColor2. (You may temporarily set gamma space to RedGamma2 and increase saturation to better see the affect of your adjustments.) Remember, this is a primary grading pass, so match all shots and get the most consistent look to the entire timeline.

You can definitely do very extensive color correction in REDCINE-X PRO and never need another grading tool. That’s not the process here, though, so a neutral, plain look tends to be better for the next stage. The point is to create an evenly matched timeline that is within boundaries for more subjective and aggressive grading once you move to Color. When you are ready to export, return saturation to normal, set color/gamma space to RedColor2/RedLogFilm and the de-Bayer quality to full resolution. Export (render) the timeline using Apple ProRes 4444 at either a 2K or 1920×1080 size. Make sure the export preset is configured to create unique file names and an accompanying FCP XML. Repeat this process for each reel.

Sending to Color and FCP completion

Import the REDCINE-X PRO-generated XML for each reel into Final Cut. Reconnect media if needed. Remove any filters that REDCINE-X PRO may have inadvertently added. Double-check the sequence against your rough cut to verify accuracy and then send the new timeline to Color. Each reel becomes a separate Color project file. Grade for your desired look and render the final result as ProRes HQ or ProRes 4444. Lastly, send the project back to Final Cut Pro to complete the roundtrip.

Once the graded timelines are back in FCP, rebuild any visual effects, speed effects and transitions, including dissolves. Combine the video-only sequences with the mixed audio and add any finishing touches necessary to complete your master file and deliverables.

Written for DV Magazine (NewBay Media LLC)

©2012 Oliver Peters

Final Cut Pro X roundtrips

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) has become a common method of data interchange between post production applications. Standard XML variations are like Romance languages – one version is as different from another, as German is from French; thus, translation software is required. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X was updated to include XML interchange, but this new version of XML (labeled FCP XML) is completely different from the XML format used in FCP 7. Stretching the language analogy, FCP 7’s XML is as different from FCP X’s XML as English is from Russian.

The underlying editing structure of Final Cut Pro 7 is based on the relationship of clips against time and tracks. FCP X links one object to another in a trackless parent-child connection, so there is no easy and direct translation of complex projects between the two versions. Some interchange between Final Cut Pro X and 7 has been achieved by CatDV, DaVinci Resolve and Assisted Editing’s Xto7 for Final Cut Pro and 7toX for Final Cut Pro . These offer migration of edited sequences when you stay within the parameters that FCP XML currently exposes to developers. I’ll concentrate on Resolve, Xto7 and 7toX – as these have the most direct application for editors.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve offers an exchange in both directions between Resolve and Final Cut Pro 7 or X. (It also allows Avid roundtrips using AAF and MXF media.) This is intended as a color-correction roundtrip, so you can go from FCP 7 or FCP X to Resolve and back; but, you can also go from X to Resolve to 7 and the other way around. (Note: With the FCP X 10.0.3 update, you will also need to update your version of Resolve, as the XML format was also enhanced with this release.)  For this article, let’s stick with Resolve’s position as a professional grading tool that can augment FCP X.

1. Start by cutting your project in FCP X. Avoid compound clips and speed ramps and remember that effects are not passed through FCP XML at this time. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

2. Launch DaVinci Resolve and make sure Media Storage includes the location of your source media files. Import the FCP XML file, which will link to these clips. Check your configuration settings to make sure the frame rate matches. I have noticed that 23.98 sequences are often identified as 24fps. Reset these to 23.98. Proceed to color grade the timeline.

3. Open the Render module and select FCP XML roundtrip from the Easy Set-up pulldown menu and assign the handle length. Individual new clips with modified file names will be rendered to an assigned folder, using Resolve’s source-mode rendering. These correspond to the timeline.

4. From the Conform tab, export an FCP X XML file.

5. Return to Final Cut Pro X and import the FCP XML file from Resolve. The graded clips will automatically be imported into a new Event and this will complete the roundtrip. The new, imported project will be video-only. As a safe step, I recommend that you copy-and-paste all of the clips from this project (the “from Resolve” timeline) into a new, fresh project.

6. Take the audio mix from the original (before Resolve) project – using either a mixdown or a compound clip – and edit it as a connected clip to the new timeline containing the graded clips. Lastly, re-apply any effects, such as transforms, crops, filters, speed ramps or stabilization.


Assisted Editing Xto7 for Final Cut  Pro / 7toX for Final Cut Pro

When Final Cut Pro X was launched, the biggest shock was the fact that you couldn’t migrate sequences from previous versions into the new application. Intelligent Assistance / Assisted Editing developed two translation apps as conduits between the two formats of XML. Xto7 for Final Cut Pro translates sequences (Projects) from FCP X to FCP 7, whereas 7toX for Final Cut Pro translates complete projects, bins and/or sequences from FCP 7 to FCP X. Both are available on the Mac App Store, but check the info on the Intelligent Assistance website for limitations and restrictions in what comes across in these translations.

First, let’s look at Xto7. At first blush, one might ask, “What good is going from FCP X to FCP 7?”  In reality, it’s a very useful tool, because it empowers FCP X users with a whole range of post production solutions. FCP X is a closed application that as yet offers none of the versatility of Final Cut Studio (FCP 7) or Adobe Creative Suite. With Xto7, an editor can perform the creative cut in FCP X and then use Color, Soundtrack Pro, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Audition, ProTools, Smoke and other applications for finishing. In fact, since Automatic Duck has made its plug-ins available for free, this path also enables an editor to move from FCP X to Avid Media Composer by way of FCP 7 and Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP.

1. Start in FCP X. Cut your project, but avoid a few known issues, like speed ramps and compound clips. (Check with Assisted Editing for more specifics.) Also, don’t apply effects, as they won’t translate. Highlight the project in the project browser and export an FCP XML file.

2. Launch Xto7 and navigate to the FCP XML file.

3. You have two choices: Send to Final Cut Pro 7 or Save Sequence XML. The first option opens the timeline as a new FCP 7 project. The second saves an XML file that can later be imported into FCP 7, but also Adobe Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke.

4. Once inside FCP 7, you have access to all the usual effect filters and roundtrip tools. This includes creating an EDL for grading or an OMF file for a Pro Tools mixer. Or sending to Color for a grading roundtrip or to Soundtrack Pro for a mix. Likewise, if you opened the XML into Premiere Pro, you could send the audio to Audition for a mix or to After Effects for effects, grading and compositing using Dynamic Link.

If you want to got in the other direction, from legacy Final Cut projects or sequences to Final Cut Pro X, then 7toX for Final Cut Pro is the tool to use. Again, check the website for translation limitations.

1. Open your project in FCP 7 and make sure your media all properly connects.

2. Highlight the project, bin or sequence you’d like to export. Then export an XML file.

3. Launch 7toX and select the exported XML file to open. Then choose the option to “open in FCP X”.

FCP X will launch, import the items into a new Event and relink to the media. Edited FCP 7 sequences will show up in the Event as a Compound clip and will be located in a Keyword Collection labeled FCP 7 Sequences.

None of these processes is perfect yet, but these are just some examples of how a new ecosystem is growing up around Apple Final Cut Pro X. This controversial editing tool may not be right for everyone, but solutions like DaVinci Resolve and Xto7 / 7toX for Final Cut Pro mean you aren’t stranded on an island.

Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media LLC)

©2012 Oliver Peters

Avid Media Composer goes 64-bit

Avid made the jump to 64-bit in November with its mainstream Media Composer 6, Symphony 6 and NewsCutter 10 software. This highly anticipated new release includes ten cornerstone features: 64-bit code, Open IO, ProRes integration (Mac only), Avid Marketplace, AMA support for AVCHD, a new DNxHD444 codec, expanded stereo 3D tools, 5.1/7.1 surround mixing, Avid Artist Color control surface support and a modernized user interface. Avid has made significant architectural changes to the product without altering the behavior and interaction that veteran users rely on. A few hoped-for features, like resolution independence and background rendering, had to be left on the backburner, but are still slated for some future release.

Installation

I installed Symphony 6 on my two-year-old Mac Pro, along with a simultaneous upgrade to Lion (Mac OS 10.7.2 recommended) and the installation of a Blackmagic Design Decklink HD Extreme 3D card. Symphony is now available as software, so without Avid hardware, there’s little functional difference between Media Composer and it. Symphony offers a more complete color corrector (more on that later), but for the purpose of this review, the evaluation is the same.

Avid was swamped by the demand on day one of the launch. This settled down in a few days, so my download was fast with no activation issues.  Some older software may not be compatible with Lion, including Pro Tools 9 and all of the 32-bit Avid AVX filters. I had to reinstall the latest drivers for my Avid Mbox2 Mini, which I use as a core audio interface. The unit would only work if these drivers were installed last.

The software installers include all the third-party products (Avid FX, Sorenson Squeeze and Avid DVD), but the Boris Continuum Complete filters only come with Symphony and not Media Composer. You’ll need to update any third-party AVX effects when upgrading from previous Media Composer versions. Digital Film Tools and Tiffen offer free updates for their most recent versions, but BorisFX and GenArts require paid updates to BCC8 and Sapphire AVX version 6. Magic Bullet Looks is now compatible with the free 11.2 update to Looks 2 or Magic Bullet Suite 11. In addition, Avid only supplies the AMA plug-in for QuickTime. Plug-ins for the various native camera formats (Panasonic, Sony, RED, Canon, etc.) are downloadable directly from those manufacturers, although in some cases, aren’t available until January.

This is a brand new application and as such is remarkably stable, however, not without a few bugs. Hopefully these will have been fixed by the time you read this review. For example, I run dual displays with the top menu bar on the right-hand monitor. This causes Symphony/Media Composer to open will all the interface windows off the screen and inaccessible. The short-term solution is to move the menu bar to the left-hand monitor (System Preferences – Displays) before launching the application.

New features

The biggest new features for me are Open IO and native Apple ProRes integration. Open IO means Avid hardware as well as one of many solutions from AJA, Blackmagic Design, Bluefish444, Matrox and MOTU may be used. I tested with a loaner Blackmagic Decklink card and it couldn’t have been simpler. If you’ve used this card with Final Cut Pro, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the lack of a dizzying array of view options. Simply set your Avid format and the card knows what to do. Other editors running AJA cards have expressed a similar satisfaction. This same card will run Media Composer, After Effects, Final Cut Pro 7, Color, Resolve and other applications.

The Decklink (or other) hardware is a full-featured analog and digital I/O solution, but Avid’s Nitris DX hardware (reduced to $5499) still offers a few advantages, specific to Avid software. These include thin raster support, hardware codec support (DNxHD and AVC-Intra), stereo 3D and audio punch-in. When Avid detects the card, all I/O is routed through the card. In my case, this means audio goes through the Decklink card while I’m in the Avid interface and not through my Mbox2 Mini. When I pull the card out and run in a software-only mode, then audio passes through the core audio system of the computer, using my Mbox2.

One known bug is the presence of digital interference on some of the channels of the Decklink card. It supports sixteen channels of audio I/O over SDI and the internal meters of the Avid Audio Tool display some sort of pegged digital signal on channels nine and thirteen. Since I can’t monitor SDI audio on my system, I don’t know if this is actually in the audio or merely a UI issue. Regardless, the analog stereo signal that I monitor sounds clean.

Avid has licensed the ProRes codec from Apple, so the editing applications can now read and write all flavors of ProRes media without transcoding (a Mac-only feature). This works perfectly if you use AMA linking or Fast Import. The latter means that when all codec settings match, media files are simply copied and rewrapped from MOV to MXF format. Exported files will also have proper levels. In my testing, a “round-tripped” file was completely transparent to the original. If for some reason you don’t get a Fast Import (such as a 24fps file into a 23.976fps project), Avid has to decode it through QuickTime, which results in the dreaded QuickTime gamma shift. Normally this shouldn’t be the case. ProRes support is huge for ARRI ALEXA projects and for shops that bounce among QuickTime-compliant applications like Final Cut and After Effects.

New interface

Version 6 completes the modernization of the user interface. It uses design elements reminiscent of Autodesk Smoke, Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Pro Tools and others and sports simplified controls for the brightness of backgrounds and text. The user interaction features, like track-based audio filters and contextual timeline editing via Smart Tool, are all there. One welcome feature is the ability to organize bins as tabs within a single window. I do miss some of the eye candy of older versions and even Final Cut Pro X, but it’s a clean design that screams “professional” and “no-nonsense”.

Avid Marketplace is a web portal built into the Media Composer interface, not unlike Apple’s App Store inside Mac OS. It’s a resource to buy plug-ins and media, but the plans are to expand upon this. The first such use is the integration of Thought Equity, a stock video footage supplier.

To start, launch Avid Marketplace from Media Composer’s top menu, set up a free Thought Equity account and then browse for stock footage. The search speed to locate footage with broadband Internet access is very responsive. Selected shots are placed into a shopping cart and from there you can download watermarked, low-res comps for editing. These H.264 clips end up in an Avid DownloadFiles folder on your media drive and are automatically imported into a bin as linked AMA files. Once you’ve locked the cut and know which stock clips to buy, simply complete the purchase to download and replace the clips with high-res versions.

Symphony versus Media Composer

Symphony is Avid’s flagship finishing solution within the Media Composer family. Avid DS or Autodesk Smoke editors might balk at calling Symphony a finishing solution, but in the world of television program post production, Symphony systems continue to deliver hundreds of hours of content annually. It was originally introduced as Avid’s uncompressed system. With the addition of a color correction mode, Symphony quickly became the ideal online editing companion for shows that were offline-edited using Media Composer stations working with low-res, compressed media.

Over the past decade, most of the Symphony features were added to Media Composer, so now color correction and Universal Mastering are the only differentiators. The latter means you can cut in a 23.976 project and deliver 59.94i and 50i masters for broadcast when Avid Nitris DX is used. Its color corrector includes a few more controls than Media Composer’s, along with source-based correction, an additional program track layer of correction and six-vector secondary color correction.

Unfortunately over the past decade, more advanced desktop color correctors, such as Apple Color and Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, have come to market. The only new color correction feature in the version 6 software is the integration with the Avid Artist Color control surface. With Media Composer at $2499 and Symphony at $5999, will enough buyers find value in Symphony’s more advanced color correction tools and the BCC8 filters? Integration in a single interface is a big selling point, but I just don’t know if it’s enough to warrant the bump in price. Nevertheless, it’s less expensive than Avid DS or Autodesk Smoke and is a cross-platform solution.

Performance

Symphony version 6 performed well on my system. It’s fast, efficient and completely natural to anyone who uses Avid applications. Don’t expect blazingly faster speeds because of the 64-bit rewrite. This has largely removed some RAM roadblocks, but media handling functions and scrubbing on the timeline will feel about the same as with Media Composer 5.5. Performance and responsiveness was generally the same with and without the Decklink card. Other functions, like imports, exports, transcodes and mixdowns seem to be faster with the 64-bit rewrite.

Avid Media Composer 6, Symphony 6 and NewsCutter 10 are the real deal for professional editors who need a powerful application that can tackle every level of post. It’s not an attempt to “re-imagine” 100 years of editing. It’s a product designed to let you be instantly productive with a skillset honed through experience. Film and documentary editors will appreciate that the optional ScriptSync and PhraseFind modules can still be used. SAN support is still the best in the business,  whether you are running stations on Avid ISIS or a third-party solution, like Facilis Technology Terrablock.

Avid systems are more open than ever before. The company made the Final Cut Pro crossgrade promotion (not including FCP X) permanent at $1499 and hopes to grow with new, old and returning customers. With 6.0 as solid as it appears to be, I can’t wait to see what new features will make it into the software in the coming years.

Written for DV Magazine (NewBay Media LLC)

©2012 Oliver Peters