by Craig Tollis
On July 20, 2006, Avid's Creative Access Tour 2006
threw a little to-do at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Co-hosted by
local reseller CTG, the event attracted a mix of Avid editors, boutique
production companies, high-end post houses, and intrigued members
of the production community.
What did you get for taking a couple of hours out of your evening?
First off, Avid has regained some of its swagger, but not quite
the cockiness from the pre-Final Cut Pro years. Read what you will
into the Tour's tag line, "the best editor on the planet just
got better," but the company seems to have accepted that it
won't be wiping FCP off the face of the Earth. It's also found a
level of comfort with that. Some of Avid's product updates even
include better interoperability with third-party products like Final
Cut Pro and popular software from makers such as Adobe.
While the classy presentation at the Fox ostensibly represented
this renewed confidence (fancy catered hors d'oeuvres with real
plates, an open bar, and free parking at the Georgian Terrace),
there was also a palpable subtext: a plea for current Avid users
to give the old relationship one more chance.
Avid presented updates to its high-end conform and finishing products,
Symphony Nitris and DS Nitris. A surprising number
of these are convenience and money saving features, showing a customer
responsiveness the company hasn't had in years.
Also rolled out was Avid Interplay. Confusingly billed as
a "nonlinear workflow engine," Interplay is a sophisticated
shared media management system for collaborative work environments.
It addresses some of the weaknesses in Unity, Avid's basic
media sharing system, and will be of interest mainly to organizations
with large project groups and complex work flows.
Avid XPress Pro now does HD on both Mac and PC, plus some
new third-party plug-ins and other improvements are bundled in that
bring it closer to capabilities Final Cut Pro has had for a while.
The feature event of the evening, however, was the release of the
software-only version of Avid's flagship edit system, Media Composer.
This is a revolutionary change for Avid, whose products have always
been based on expensive proprietary hardware. Going software-only
means more flexibility, more power, and easier upgrade paths for
Avid users, as well as substantial cost savings.
Actually, the focus on Media Composer is itself a conceptual
shift. Avid's attitude in previous years had been to up-sell as
much as possible towards Symphony, almost to the extent of
disparaging Media Composer as a second-tier solution. Competition
with FCP seems to have brought things back to the basics of editing.
Plus, previously Symphony-only tools like motion tracking,
stabilization, and improved color correction have been added to
Media Composer. Bundles even include Boris Continuum
plug-ins for more graphics and compositing options.
As software-only, Media Composer works with a variety of
standard definition and high definition formats over firewire. Moreover,
you can now mix formats in the same timeline. To capture from other
sources you'll need one of Avid's breakout boxes, which also act
as accelerators to improve real-time performance. These include
analog and digital versions of the slim-line Mojo box for
composite, component, s-video and serial digital SD sources, or
the more fully featured Adrenaline systems which interface
with popular HD formats.
There's nothing here that will entice Final Cut Pro editors
to switch, but then, that's not Avid's purpose. Avid is happy to
see FCP as a niche product and itself as serving a premium market:
with lower-than-ever but still premium prices. The Tour self-consciously
pitches Avid as a "professional" solution, embodied in
its pumped-up, feel-good introductory video, featuring such Hollywood
names as Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids). The
pitch: you're buying into that world, and the right to take that
swagger back to the edit suite with you.
What Avid has really achieved is to give its current user base
a compelling reason not to bail out to FCP. Editors with years of
experience on Avid systems with be glad to see an affordable basic
edit system, and facilities with an investment in technology and
workflow will be relieved to finally have a sensible upgrade path
to a compatible product. The new emphasis on software means Avid
will also be able to provide better, quicker and more powerful updates
to its product line.
The upshot? Avid thinks it has a handle again on the shape of things
to come in non-linear editing. It's prepared for more diversity,
like Final Cut Pro, because it believes it can hold on to large
facilities and dominate the professional market with a comprehensive
set of workflow products: from editing, to conform and finish, to
complex media sharing environments. Avid has realized that it has
to compete more on the level of basic edit systems with Media
Composer, and will tolerate Xpress Pro as a "trickle
down" product to prevent user defections on the lower end of
This rethinking of Avid's conceptual approach, and restructuring
of its products won't change the NLE world, but it does make Avid
competitive again. For the first time in years, instead of feeling
trapped in a baggage laden habitual relationship, you might actually
find yourself being excited again about an Avid system.
Craig Tollis is an Atlanta-based freelance editor and filmmaker.
His freelance editor web site is: Level2Media.com.
He is also working on feature development with Joe Binford's Chicken
Filters at ChickenFilters.com.