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Avid's Creative Access Tour 2006


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 the market.

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.