Avid Technology entered 2015 with a bang. The company closed out 2014 with the release of its Media Composer version 8.3 software, the first to enable higher-resolution editing, including 2K, UHD and 4K projects. On January 16 of this year, Avid celebrated its relisting on the NASDAQ stock exchange by ringing the opening bell. Finally, this year’s Academy Award nominees field was dominated by films that used Media Composer and/or Pro Tools during the postproduction process.
In a software landscape quickly shifting to rental (subscription) business models, Avid now offers the most flexible price model. Media Composer | Software may be purchased, rented, or managed through floating licensing. If you purchase a perpetual license (you own the software), then an annually renewed support contract gives you phone support and continued software updates. Opt out of the contract and you’ll still own the software you bought—you just lose the ability to update to newer software.
You can purchase optional add-ons, like Symphony for advanced color correction. Unfortunately, there’s still no resolution to the impasse between Avid and Nexidia. If you previously purchased ScriptSync or PhraseFind, which rely on intellectual property from Nexidia, you won’t be able to use them if you upgrade to Avid version 8 software.
Media Composer 8.3 features more than just 4K support. It works with a wide range of new sizes, frame rates and color spaces.
On the other hand, if you own an older version, such as Media Composer 7, and need to edit a project that requires a higher version, you can simply pick up a software subscription to the latest version for the few months necessary to finish your project.
The jump from Media Composer | Software 8.2 to 8.3 might seem minor, but in fact this was a huge update for Avid editors. It ushered in new high-resolution project settings and capabilities, and it added a resolution-independent Avid codec: DNxHR.
In addition to adding the ability to edit 4K footage, the update addresses most of the different 4K options that cover the TV and cinema variations, as well as new color spaces and frame rates. Need to edit 4K DCI Flat (3996 x 2160) at 48 fps in DCI-P3 color space? Version 8.3 makes it possible. Although Avid introduced high-resolution editing in its flagship software much later than its competitors, it comes to the table with a well designed upgrade that attempts to address the nuances of modern post.
NewBlueFX Titler Pro is bundled with Media Composer for titling. It presents more options than the legacy Avid Title Tool and can be used with any format. It is Avid’s designated choice for standard 4K titling.
Another new feature is LUT support. Media Composer has allowed users to add LUTs to source media for a while now, but 8.3 adds a new LUT filter. Apply this to a top video track on your timeline and you can then add a user-supplied film emulation (or any other type) look to all of your footage. There’s a new Proxy setting designed for work with high-resolution media. For example, switch your project settings to 1/4 or 1/16 resolution for better performance while editing with large files. Switch Proxy off and you are ready to render and output at full quality. As Media Composer becomes more capable of functioning as a finishing system, it has gained DPX image sequence file export via the Avid Image Sequencer, as well as export to Apple ProRes 4444 (Mac only).
This new high-resolution architecture requires that the software increasingly divest itself of any remaining 32-bit parts in order to be compatible with modern versions of the Mac and Windows operating systems. Avid’s Title Tool still exists for legacy SD and HD projects, but higher resolutions will use NewBlueFX Titler Pro, which is included with Media Composer. It can, of course, also be used for all other titling.
Third-party LUTs can be imported and applied to footage in the source settings interface. It is also possible to stack multiple color management filters to create a desired look.
There are plenty of new, but smaller features for the editor, such as a “quick filter” in the bin. Use it to quickly filter items to match the bin view to correspond with your filter text entry. The Avid “helper” applications of EDL Manager and FilmScribe have now been integrated in Media Composer as the List Tool, which may be used to generate EDLs, cut lists and change lists.
Avid also makes video I/O hardware: Mojo DX and Nitris DX. While these devices are capable of monitoring higher-resolution projects as downscaled HD, they won’t be updated to display native 4K output, for instance. Avid has qualified AJA and Blackmagic Design hardware for use as 4K I/O. It is currently also qualifying Bluefish444. If you work with a 4K computer display connected to your workstation, then the full-screen mode enables 4K preview monitoring.
Avid Media Composer includes a full-screen mode, when your system doesn’t include external monitoring. This is especially useful on dual-display workstations.
Avid Media Composer | Software version 8.3 is just the first step in Avid’s entry into the niche market of high-resolution postproduction. Updates throughout 2015 will enhance these new capabilities and expand high-resolution functionality to other Avid products and solutions. Initial user feedback is that 8.3 is reasonably stable and performs well, which is good news for the high-end film and television world that continues to rely on Avid for postproduction tools and solutions.
Full disclosure: I have participated in the Avid Customer Association and chaired the Video Subcommittee of the Products and Solutions Council. This council provides user feedback to Avid product management to aid in future product development.
Pros: Solid move into 4K that covers the wide range of sizes, color spaces and frame rates. New optimization to allow good performance with 4K media on existing systems.
Cons: Relinking of media is inconsistent and unreliable with media outside of Avid-managed media locations.
Bottom Line: This is a solid upgrade for existing Avid Media Composer editors, but it needs greater media flexibility to really appeal to new users.
MSRP: Perpetual license starts at $1,299. Subscription is $49.99/month (annual)