Best Nonlinear Editing System Report
COW Library : Broadcast Video : Walter Biscardi : Best Nonlinear Editing System Report
The 2010 NAB Convention had the Post Production world buzzing about the Three A's of the Industry: Apple, Adobe, and Avid. Well, really more Adobe and Avid since they were actually at the show and had something to demonstrate.
Adobe brought their CS5 Creative Suite to the show with some incredible announcements -- not the least of which to me is the ease of integration with other NLEs like Final Cut Pro and Avid. Adobe has decided to "play nice" with with their competitors to make it easier for Post Houses like mine to get projects into and out of After Effects, and other programs.
Premiere has taken a huge step forward with their 64 bit-enabled Mercury Engine. Much more realtime functionality and you can see in their online demos 4k and 2k material scrubbing and playing back in the same timeline. You will have to install CS5 in a 64 bit system to run, and run an Adobe Certified graphics board in order to take full advantage of the Mercury Engine functionality. That aside, the functionality of Premiere is very much on par to what Final Cut Pro based facilities are used to and the real-time functionality of the CS5 package simply blows FCP out of the water.
Avid brought us Media Composer 5, excellent in itself, but what really got the show buzzing was their support of Quicktime -- more specifically, Apple's ProRes codec. So now there is the very real possibility of Avid working right alongside Final Cut Pro in the same facility or for sharing projects across facilities. Not only that, Avid's H.264 native editing support refutes everything we've been saying about that codec and Final Cut Pro for the past few years. Whenever someone said they could not get H.264 to edit well in FCP (such as from a DSLR), we would inform them that it was not a proper editing codec, it was a finishing / delivery codec -- transcode it to something else like ProRes. Avid (and Adobe for that matter) is now showing that assumption to be false. Take the H.264 and start editing right away in realtime!
Like Adobe, Avid has a much more seamless P2 / tapeless workflow that does not require transcoding, wrapping to be able to edit with this material. Simply bring it in and start working almost instantaneously. Now the one thing Avid has not done is open up the platform to third party hardware. At this point, you can use the Matrox MXO2 Mini for display only. This means that you can watch your project on a monitor and do a crash record to a VTR or DVD Recorder, but that's pretty much it. There is no support for the AJA Kona Boards or the BlackMagic boards at this time, and Avid was very vague on whether that would come in the future. "The MXO2 Mini is the first step," was their evasive reply during a meeting.
What I would ideally like to do in our situation is install the Avid Media Composer 5 software to work on our AJA Kona 3 based systems. This would allow me to hire any freelancer -- whether they want to work with FCP or Avid -- and we could work in one universal codec, ProRes, so any system could access the media. This is going to be a "wait and see" with Avid to see how willing they are to open up the software to third parties. Right now, to really use the Media Composer software fully, you still need the Mojo hardware and I'm not going to spring for that.
So that leaves us with Apple. (sigh) Apple's lone appearance was at the Supermeet. Note I said Supermeet and not FCPUG Supermeet. That's because the FCPUG part of it was dropped -- and in this case, for good reason. Apple sent up Steve Bayes, Sr. Product Manager for Final Cut Studio, to give a presentation. Mind you, this followed the two jaw dropping presentations from Adobe and Avid.
Steve captured our attention for a moment with a mysterious "I've got a secret", but we quickly lost interest when he proceeded to tell us really nothing at all about Final Cut Pro. There was no secret, just more marketing buzzwords about how wonderful Studio is and how many production partners are using Studio or something along those lines. See? I can't even remember much about what he said because it was basically meaningless. Your two strongest competitors take the stage in what used to be the Final Cut Pro Users Group Supermeet, completely knock it out of the park, and all you can do is whiff? I would like to say we heard crickets in the room, but that would be a disservice to the Rio Hotel, so it was more or less silence that greeted this earth shattering "secret" from Apple.
Well, now we are all kind of laughing again. Apple's notorious silence allowed Avid and Adobe to completely leapfrog all discussion about Final Cut Studio and left the post-production community wondering whether Apple can keep up. When your competitors can work with your very own codec (H.264) better than your own product -- that's a problem. When your competitors can work with tapeless workflow better than your own product -- that's a problem. When your competitors can work with more realtime functionality using your very own hardware -- that's a problem. Basically, Apple sent up Steve as a sacrificial lamb and really should not even have bothered.
The integration of the entire Adobe Suite has been much tighter than the Final Cut Studio suite for a few years now, but there really wasn't anything to get me to even consider dumping FCP for Premiere. In fact, despite the fact that many of us like to defend Final Cut Pro versus pretty much any NLE out there by saying that it's the artist that makes the difference, not the tool, I never really considered Premiere as a viable alternative for editing. It just never felt like a "professional editing tool". This is probably just a personal bias -- but I just don't hear of very many "pro users" that base their facilities around Premiere.
CS5 AS A PROMISING ALTERNATIVE
With CS5, the Adobe suite suddenly looks very promising as an alternative. Even more so since it runs with all of our existing infrastructure we have in place for Studio. The only change would be to replace our ATI graphics cards with the proper nVidia cards to support the Mercury engine. If Avid opens up their software to all third party hardware, especially the AJA Kona boards, well then, that certainly becomes a very viable alternative as well.
That's one of the beauties of what Apple has actually created -- a very strong third party hardware market that is software agnostic. By concentrating on just the software and computer hardware, Apple opened up the audio / video hardware to multiple independent companies like AJA and BlackMagic who designed their products to work with multiple NLEs out there. And as we all know, FCP / Premiere / Avid all work essentially the same way so if you know one, you can switch to another one pretty darn quickly.
Will I make the switch? I'm not doing anything immediately, although I have upgraded all our systems to CS5 after its release. We ran CS4 on all of our systems as we're very heavy After Effects and Photoshop users -- so we have the Production Premium Suite. When the CS5 bundle gets here you better believe I'll be poking around in Premiere to see how it operates, and just how well it "plays with Final Cut Pro" and how it compares to working with Final Cut Pro. No, I'm going to wait to see what Apple has to show us, whenever that is. They not only have to hit a home run, but knock it completely out of the park.
I want to see a realtime alternative to Adobe's Mercury Engine. I want to see the ease of use of H.264 and other tapeless formats that don't require Log and Transfer with a re-wrapping. I want to see very tight integration between the apps in the suite like CS5. And I would really like to see Apple open up an "ease of use" path for working back and forth with Premiere and Avid systems.
So right now, my feeling, and what I heard very often on the show floor, at the Supermeet and my various meetings with people, is that it's time for Apple to put up or shut up. They set the bar high for a full featured non-linear editing system at a very low price. Adobe and Avid just blew right by them using the same hardware that is available to FCP facilities. Is Apple going to move the Studio suite forward and really improve the workflow for professional editors as the other A's have done, or are they simply going to maintain the status quo with a few updates to just continue to sell Mac hardware? At the moment, Apple's silence is deafening. I'm reminded of the NFL Playoffs commercial campaign a few years ago, "Show Me Something." ... Anything.
Once I can see what Apple has to show us, then we'll make the decision on where we go from there. We're about to grow from 4 to 9 edit suites in the next few months so what we see revealed from Apple will make the decision on where our company goes from here. I'm hoping they hit it out of the park so we don't have to change anything, but it's easy enough to make the switch if that's better for our company.
Of course, the one thing Apple still has going for it is Color. Adobe and Avid still don't have anything to match that. Oh that's right, DaVinci took care of that for them, but that's another blog entry!