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Avid Media Composer 6 is everything they said it would be…

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John DeMaio on January 9, 2012 - 1:38 am in Product Reviews

When I first heard the news about Media Composer 6, I was genuinely excited. It has been a long time since an NLE has given me a reason to look forward to its release. After the release of FCP X, I realized (along with everyone else in the professional film and video world) that I would have to start working with a new system at some point. It was just a matter of time…

After working on two major projects using Media Composer, I was back on board. It worked the way that I expected it to. I didn’t have to learn anything new to do my job. I could open old projects from past versions…and the media management was flawless. However, I still faced a huge problem; what do I do about hardware? I still needed to capture from tape and lay back to tape but I couldn’t support the large expense of a piece of Avid hardware. So now what? Avid Media Composer 6 is the answer.

What’s new in version 6?

Avid has given the software a whole new look and feel. It’s still the same old Media Composer where it counts – so you can jump in and start editing right away. However, if you’re migrating from other platforms like I am, you’ll see some changes that will make you feel right at home.

Interface

MC6 has a new look…it’s much more streamlined.

MC6's New Look

The interface still has customizable options, but they are limited. As you can see in the pic above – I like to keep my interface a little darker and I use green to highlight things.

Tabbed Bins

Tabbed Bins

Avid has finally done something that should have been done years ago…tabbed bins! There was the SuperBin, which was alright, I guess. But the ability to create tabs for open bins is simply heaven for me. In the past, there were bins everywhere. It was a giant mess. Even with the SuperBin, I had trouble keeping track of everything. Not anymore. Now I can organize everything and actually see where all of my bins are!

64 Bit Architecture

I’m not going to pretend to know anything about the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit architecture. You can probably find a blog out there that can tell you intricate details. However, I will tell you what it does for my editing experience… I worked on a project last month on Avid that was HUGE! By the end of the project, it was taking a long time to open, even longer to navigate some of the timelines or even just move around the system. This is where the 64 bit architecture will make all of the difference. By being able to access RAM in a different way, the same project that was taking a long time to open, is now way more manageable. I can only assume that future versions of the software will be able to really harness this power in different ways, but for me, I’m happy with being able to manage a large project without the wait.

3D Editing

Now this is something else that I have been waiting for since NAB. I was able to see a preview of 3D editing at NAB last year from Avid but they didn’t want me to talk about it too much until they made the official announcement. I’m happy to say that I gave it a pretty good test and so far, I’m impressed with what it can do.

From the beginning of your project settings, Media Composer gives you the stereoscopic options necessary to start.

Stereoscopic options at start-up

Within the project, editing in 3D is almost exactly the same as editing in 2D. You have to set up your clips to be stereo pairs – which I was able to figure out how to do with the help of this website – and after your set-up is complete, you can start editing just like normal. There are different types of viewing options, like side-by-side, over-under, anaglyph, black and white anaglyph and so on. Changing the options is as easy as a right-click in the preview or program window.

Viewing Options

You can also make fine-tune adjustments to the stereoscopic elements of the video from within the interface as well.

I/O Changes

AMA is still one of my favorite features in Avid. I have had my share of issues with AMA and re-linking, but for the most part, I love the feature. It seems as though the 64 bit code has helped working with AMA quite a bit. I have only tested it with P2 media and h.264 media from a Canon 7D, but I am very happy with the results. The 7D material did bog down a slight amount but I never used h.264 material natively in the past anyway. I always converted to ProRes when working in FCP so I don’t expect my workflow to change too much. Oh, and speaking of ProRes…it seems as though you can encode to any flavor of ProRes that you would like as well as capture to ProRes from tape. (Mac only at this point)

Capture Tool

However, the biggest change so far is the ability to use third-party hardware. This is the biggest news for me because it means that I can re-purpose my existing Kona 3 card and not have to pay a single dime to upgrade my hardware. So that’s exactly what I did. I downloaded the drivers from AJA and like magic, it was working perfectly. I put it through my normal workload…up-converting from Beta (ok, that doesn’t really happen too often but I did it anyway), down-converting, cross-converting from 720 to 1080 – everything worked as well as it does in FCP.

The AJA Utility also gets a shiny new upgraded look

This is by far the most important feature of MC6 and it puts me back in the game – picking up where FCP left off.

Avid Marketplace

This is another addition to MC6 that I think is a great idea – the Avid Marketplace. Think of it like an app store for things like plugins and utilities. Currently, it isn’t populated with a great deal of items – and the one’s that are there are a little pricey – but I think that if Avid does this correctly, it will be a huge advantage. The one thing that made FCP so great was the fact that people were able to write plugins and distribute them for next to nothing. I would like to see more of this on the Avid side…now, hopefully I will.

One final upgrade that you may have missed…

It may seem silly to you, but this was something that I really thought was neat. Perhaps it’s my love for the simplicity of things (one of my favorite parts of FCP was simplicity) but this is something that I really like – and it seems to be glossed over by other reviews. It’s called the “Transition Manipulation” tool and it exists on the Smart Tool palette. Now, I know that most “old school” Avid editors out there don’t exactly love the Smart Tool but I do. I don’t use it all the time, but when I need it, it’s really helpful to me.

Transition Manipulation Tool

When the tool is active, the transitions have handles that you can grab and manipulate. Hover over the handles and you can extend the front or back of the transition. Hover over the transition icon and a hand appears that allows you to move the entire transition back and forth. I know, I know, I’m easily amused…but I still think this is a cool addition.

The cons

I will say that I did jump through a few hoops to get MC6 up and running. After downloading the upgrade, I realized that I couldn’t install MC6 on my Mac Pro because I was still running Snow Leopard – a change that I didn’t want to make just yet. So I decided to install it on my Macbook Pro. It installed just fine, however, I only have 2 gigs of RAM installed on my laptop and MC6 requires at least 4 gigs of RAM. It worked, but it was painfully slow to open. Once it opened however, it was quite responsive. I couldn’t see using it without upgrading the RAM – it took a good 10-15 minutes just to open. I will upgrade my RAM and update this post when I do.

I then decided to upgrade my Mac Pro to Lion by installing a new hard drive to do a dual boot. I couldn’t believe how easy that was! And it was just as easy to move all of my programs over to the new drive. Everything was flawless including the install of MC6. Within the hour, I had MC6 up and running and I was editing without any issues.

Now, I wouldn’t consider the above a “con” per se – but it is something to think about before you go jumping in. Make sure that you have a proper system – you can find all of the system requirements here – and make sure that you have all of the proper drivers for your hardware before you get started.

Bottom line

Apple forced us FCP’ers to make a change. In the professional world, there is no way that FCP X can handle what I do on a daily basis. Avid has made the decision a lot easier. It’s a tried and true system, it has the BEST media management out there and it’s compatible with existing hardware. I still have FCP 7 on my system because I suspect that I will be working on some legacy projects in the future – both mine and my clients. However, MC6 now has a home on my Mac and will probably be the system that I go to in the future for more of my work.

If you want to edit for fun, choose an edit system that’s right for you. However, if you want to edit for a living and work on major motion pictures and television shows…you have to learn how to use Avid. I don’t care what anyone says…Avid is the industry standard and they will continue to rise. Especially after this release.

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