Media Composer 6: Avid kept their promise.
COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro X Debates : Walter Biscardi : Media Composer 6: Avid kept their promise.
Avid kept their promise. I'll explain that statement shortly. And before we go any further, this is NOT a full early review of Media Composer 6. These are some of my "Avid from a Final Cut Pro" point of notes. If you want to read an outstanding, indepth early review, check out my buddy Shane Ross', "The More Open Avid Media Composer."
First I'll let you know that yes, I have been beta testing Media Composer. That might sound weird because quite honestly, the last time I used Avid for a full project was in 1995 at CNN. I was one of the first group of editors to be introduced to this "new technology" in '93 I believe and I flat out LOVED the concept of computer based editing. Then Media 100 for 6 years, and of course most recently, Final Cut Pro for almost 11 years.
I've told this story before, but I was not able to tell the "rest of the story" until now. This past April while at NAB in Las Vegas, I was invited to an Avid breakfast event. It was ironically the Tuesday morning that the SuperMeet was held. What I expected was several dozen to 100 folks at some sort of a marketing presentation. What I got was 25 minutes at a small table for 10 with CEO Gary Greenfield, Senior VP Ron Greenberg, CTO Tim Claman, Senior VP Chris Gahagan, Executive VP Ken Sexton, VP Christine Viera and Sales Manager Luke Smith and a few others. That got my attention. In all my years running Final Cut Pro I never even had a one on one meeting with anyone on the FCP team.
Mr. Greenfield started by saying nothing was off the table, ask the team anything I want. Naturally, the first request was "Open up the Avid to my AJA Kona boards." Over the course of the 25 minutes, all of the Avid executives basically tip toed around giving me a straight answer on the Kona boards and re-iterated "we're listening to our users." It was clear the product would be more open and almost certainly support AJA projects since the two companies have a long history together but nobody would come out and say it directly.
Then as the meeting ended and we were shaking hands, Mr. Greenberg leaned to me and said, "We'll have you in an Avid before the end of the year." Now mind you, I'm the guy who spent 10 years telling the editing world you DON'T need to use Avid. Save money and use Final Cut Pro! And here is the CEO of Avid telling me straight out, my AJA Kona board will be working with the next version of Media Composer AND it will be out before the end of 2011. Of course I could not say anything publicly about this until now. But Mr. Greenberg and Avid kept their promise.
We're a Mac shop and Avid has primarily designed Media Composer to run with Mac OS 10.7, Lion. However, our primary testing system is an older model Mac Pro 4 core machine with a Kona 3 still running Mac OS 10.6.8 because we're just not ready to upgrade to Lion yet. If you want to run Snow Leopard with MC6 you MUST have 10.6.8. It will not even install if you have 10.6.7 or earlier.
Now our entire facility is set up to run 6 Final Cut Pro workstations in a shared environment. We have nothing proprietary obviously because Final Cut was designed as a pretty open NLE that supported just about everything out there. One of the things I discussed with the Avid team out at Las Vegas was to open up the product to ALL of my hardware so all I had to do was change the software. Early indications are that they have done just that and have exceeded what most of us thought they would do.
AJA Kona Support
We've tested with the AJA Kona 3 so far in our shop because I kept the testing system limited to just two machines. I can report that the AJA Kona 3 works better with Media Composer 6 than it ever did with Final Cut Pro. What I mean by that, is especially when it comes to VTR control and tape capture, the card performs flawlessly and the controls are more snappy than what I'm used to in FCP. Really shouldn't be a surprise since Avid has been around for so long, but new to me.
This was a different experience than the current sluggishness issues inherent in Adobe CS 5.5 with the AJA Kona boards. I fully expect that sluggishness to improve when Adobe CS 6 is released, but at the moment, the Kona boards are running as if they've always been in operation with Media Composer. Performance is simply outstanding.
One other pleasant surprise has been the performance of MC6 / Kona on the older system. When we tried to run Adobe CS 5.5 in this same 4 core machine, it kept stuttering during playback of ProRes files. After investigating with AJA, we found that 8 core was the minimum configuration that would support CS 5.5 with ProRes and the Kona board. We're not seeing any stuttering or any playback / editing issues with the DNxHD codec so far. We haven't pushed the system hard yet, but so far, we can edit with MC6 on these older machines.
I have not tested with BlackMagic or Matrox products, but I'm told that they are working with Media Composer 6 as well.
This was the make or break decision maker for me and Avid. Avid has traditionally been very closed with their storage solutions. You used Avid Storage or nothing at all. That has been changing slowly over the past few years but in our case, we're running a Small Tree Communications Ethernet based shared storage system. 48TB shared to up to 12 workstations all connected via ethernet with no management software controlling the SAN.
When we first started testing I just had a local drive connected to the Mac Pro mainly because when you're beta testing, you expect instability in a system. That's why we test, to help the manufacturer not only figure out cool new features, but what causes a system to get unstable. So I kept the testing system off the SAN during early testing.
This past week we brought the SAN into play and initially we thought it didn't work. As I'm new again to Avid, there was a miscommunication between what the engineers were asking me to do and what we thought they wanted us to do. We could link to the SAN using the "Link to AMA Volume" command, but could not select the SAN in the Media Creation Panel for capture / render. Once we got our communication solved, we got the SAN active as a media drive. There's a command you have to enter that will trip folks coming from Final Cut Pro so I'll tell you what we had to do in case you find yourself not able to connect to the media drives you want to use.
Here you can see that while my 4 SAN partitions are sitting on the desktop of the Mac, they are not available in the Media Creation Tool. It doesn't acknowledge that the drives are there.
So to correct this, you have to go to the Console via Tools > Console or shortcut Command 6.
Now we go back to the Media Creation panel and voilà, the SAN is now active and ready to be captured to.
We just got this figured out a few days ago and have not pushed the system at all yet. That will come this week, but the fact that our ethernet SAN is available at all is a huge step forward for Avid opening up the software to many more storage solutions. The way Avid manages their video elements is a bit different than what we're all used to with Final Cut Pro and we need to test with multiple systems accessing the SAN to ensure it's all going to work as expected, but early indications are promising.
So where does all of this leave us? Initially I thought Adobe was in the catbird seat for the Final Cut Pro market because all of our third party hardware works with CS 5.5 already and CS 6 will almost certainly improve that compatibility.
Well I have to say Avid delivered a much more open Media Composer 6 than I expected. With this release, Avid is definitely a valid choice for the Final Cut Pro user / facility that is looking to move away from that platform while still utilizing their third party solutions.
In other words if you've been waiting to see "what going to happen next" for your Final Cut Pro 7 shop, you've got two excellent options available to you now. Adobe Creative Suite and Avid Media Composer.
Which one should you buy? Well, download the 30 day free trial for both and decide for yourself. Consider which application fits your editing style best and also network with the other Final Cut Pro editors / post houses in your area. You need to consider what everyone else in your are is doing so you don't become an island that is not compatible with other folks in your immediate area.
If you're a freelancer, I would HIGHLY recommend learning both apps. Certainly concentrate on one of them, but at least have a working knowledge of the other. What are we doing? Well we got a bit more testing to do with the SAN and Avid before we finalize our plans. I can tell you we will support Final Cut Pro 7, Adobe Creative Suite and Avid Media Composer in our shop because we're an independent Post House and it makes sense to support all of them. As to what will be our primary editing tool, we'll make that decision in another week or so after more testing with the SAN.
Yep, we'll report back right here on this same channel in the near future. Let me just say thank you to Avid for allowing me to participate in the program. It's been a great experience and we hope to be able to help them more in the future.