Media Composer 5 is the most significant upgrade to Avid’s marquee product since its release as a software-only package.
by Wayne Cole
There are clear indications that this update resulted from reorganizing, rewriting and modernizing major portions of the underlying code.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
At first glance, the user interface may appear to have changed little from previous versions of Media Composer. However, a closer examination reveals the addition of some new tools, and updated functionality in older ones. The new “Smart Tool” pane in the Timeline window is the most obvious addition. In it sit the segment and trim overwrite/ insert mode tools. Moving one step closer to “modeless” context-sensitive editing, Media Composer 5 allows the editor to enable insert and overwrite segment modes at the same time. Then by click-dragging at the top of the segments track, you can execute a lift/overwrite edit. A click-drag on the lower part of a segment’s track will allow you to do an extract/insert (ripple) edit. If you are in the trim state with the Smart Tool enabled, the same location-sensitive clicking applies to single-sided trims: Clicking high on the track will perform an overwrite trim, and clicking low on the track results in a ripple trim. Sync-locking of tracks in the timeline has also been simplified to a single button. Formerly, you had to tick each track that you wanted to move or keep in sync, and activate them in order to do a synced track edit. Now, a single button syncs all tracks that are active, which makes much more operational sense and improves productivity in multi-layered timelines significantly.
Media Composer 5’s overall interface may not look very different from earlier versions, but looks can be deceiving. Avid also added a “Track Control Panel” which is not visible by default, but can be shown by checking it in the timeline fast menu. Its main focus is to aid in editing audio tracks. When activated, the track control panel adds buttons for each audio track to toggle waveform display, to control the clip/gain/auto-gain and auto-pan parameters, and to solo or mute the track. The button that appears to be a volume control knob calls up a list of RTAS (real-time AudioSuite) plug-ins applied to the selected track and allows you to access the control panel for that plug-in much more conveniently than the previous method.
Early upgraders to MC 5 have complained about the removal of many of the color settings from the Interface settings dialog. A posting on an Avid user forum by an Avid employee indicated that this may be a temporary situation as they are retooling the user interface customization from the ground up. As it is, Avid did add color control for imparting functional information as opposed to the Interface settings which were just for aesthetics. For example, in a timeline you can now elect to have clips colored by frame rate, or format (SD/HD), with a special color for offline media clips. In addition, you can make those color selections apply only to the “local” (currently open sequence) or global timeline settings.
MORE FOR LESS
Avid also dropped in a load of new features that users have been clamoring for. You can now use multiple frame-rate media on the same timeline. If, for example, you are working in a 23.976 fps project, and decide to use a 59.94 fps clip, Media Composer automatically drops a real-time motion effect on the clip when it is moved to the timeline so that it plays back with the proper real-time duration—no transcoding required.
The new timeline tool palette and audio timeline control panel appear at the left side of Media Composer 5’s timeline window. AMA, “Avid Media Access,” first introduced in MC 4, has been improved to allow linking directly to QuickTime CODECs (including ProRes) as well as GFCAM, XDCAM, and P2 media. From a Media Composer bin, you can link to clips in any of these formats on their native media and immediately begin editing. The clips are not copied to Avid’s managed media data store, so no importing or transcoding needs to be done. However, if the media on which those clips reside is un-mounted from the system or network, you will see a “media offline” clip in their place in the bin or sequence to which they were added. To avoid this, you can use the standard import (transcode) operation that places a copy of the media in the Avid managed media storage location. Even here Avid has added some DNxHD bit-rates, AVC-Intra and 35 mbps XDCAM support.
Effects handling has been changed as well. They are now automatically promoted to “Advanced Key Frame” effects with a show/hide key frame button replacing the manual promotion button. One downside to effects processing changes is that older projects that have used AvidFX or other third-party software non-real-time effects may require those effects to be re-rendered when legacy projects are opened in Media Composer 5.
The most startling new feature is MC 5’s compatibility with the Matrox MX02 for monitoring HD via HDMI. In the past, Avid has steadfastly refused to support third-party hardware for I/O and monitoring. Because their I/O hardware sales were not of a mass-market scale, their prices were considered unreasonable when compared to other vendors whose equipment supported lower-cost editing software like Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas. With the current state of file-based acquisition, the I/O question has been supplanted more by the question of adequate HD monitoring, which, at $495 list, the MX02 address quite economically. When asked about future compatibility with Blackmagic Design or AJA I/O hardware, Avid representatives simply say “no comment”, but with a coy smile.
A NEW BEGINNING
These are just a few of the changes that appear in Media Composer 5. While Avid will not comment on future plans or development strategies, it appears that the Media Composer development effort has been re-invigorated and that MC 5 represents the first release in a major re-design and software rewrite effort. The updates also seem to be driven by input from a broader spectrum of Avid users and partners than previous Media Composer releases.
Hands-on time with Media Composer 5 has convinced me that Media Composer is poised to become the undisputed bang-for-buck leader. It seems clear from comments and face-to-face time with Avid personnel that MC 5 is a new beginning for the venerable NLE, and not simply a facelift and code tweaking exercise.