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April 2014
Issue: December 1, 2009

REVIEW: AVID MEDIA COMPOSER V.4.0

By: Jonathan Moser
PRODUCT: Avid Media Composer 4 (software only)

WEBSITE: www.avid.com

PRICE: $2,295, software only, includes bundled third-party software. Academic pricing is $295.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: XP, Vista Business, OSX 10.57 (Intel Mac only)
- Mix and Match formats with no transcoding
- Customizable clip color choices, and ability to see mixed rate clips by eye

Since last month’s comprehensive review of Media Composer V.3.5 by AlphaDogs’ Terrence Curren (see postmagazine.com) is still fresh, I’ll just touch on the newest features of 4.0, which are pretty significant.
I’d also like to extend my thanks to Mr. Curren and AlphaDogs, who have been beta testers on 4.0 for several months, for providing additional feedback for this review.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Avid’s new 4.0 release, which runs on Mac and PC, isn’t in the feature set…it’s in the price. At $2,295, it’s $200 cheaper than the previous version (but still almost $1,300 more than its chief competitor, Final Cut, which runs only on Macs).
With new Media Composer releases occurring about every six months, it’s clear Avid is aggressive about regaining not just market share but the marketplace. V.4 is the most dynamic release in years.

MIX AND MATCH

First, the big news: With this release, Media Composer finally catches up (and surpasses in some respects) something FCP editors have been familiar with for some time — the ability to mix different frame rates, formats and resolutions thanks to a feature called Mix and Match, all without transcoding. Avid’s implementation of this is quite different than FCP’s, offering wider control over the way fields and frames are handled. Plus, rendering is not required to play back mixed material. Play back is smooth, not jittery. Plus, MC4’s handling of the 2:3 pull-down in 24-frame material is true 2:3, not 4+1, eliminating mastering problems.
Motion Adapter Parameters are automatically applied to the clips, which are viewed in full quality, and the ability to change the overall sequence frame rate allows for tremendous flexibility.
In practice, Mix and Match works great within the Avid timeline itself, where no online workflow is necessary, but not so great in an offline/online environment where unconverted 24- and 30-frame source material doesn’t translate to the changes. But the fact this is all done in software-only is a deft technological feat.

CLIP COLOR

Tied in with Mix and Match are enhancements to the Clip Color feature in the timeline. This ability to customize and color clips has always been a powerful feature of Media Composer over the competition, and its implementation with Mix and Match only ups the ante. Now, in addition to the standard array of customizable clip color choices, you are able to see your mixed rate clips by eye. This is extremely handy when sorting out a complicated build with looming deadlines.

TRANSITION PRESERVATION

This could also be called “Sanity Preservation.” For some frustrated users, transition preservation alone might be the biggest reason for upgrading to 4.0 and has been a long time coming. No longer are you faced with error messages when trying to edit a sequence containing a transition into another sequence; you are free to cut where you need to. Also, transitions in the timeline will follow the segment as you move it into filler, instead of disappearing, Also, when splicing or overwriting a sequence onto another sequence, transitions in the source are kept intact, Additionally, you can now trim past the limits of a transition effect up to the cut. There’s more, but trust me, explaining this doesn’t do it justice… once you’ve used it you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Lesser, but vital enhancements include:

- Improved keyboard support for switching multicam using the numeric keypad and mouse — much more intuitive than the F keys.
- From the Final Cut world: 100 levels of Undo! (but here you actually get to see what you’re undoing or redoing).
- A new AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) Edit protocol (for bridging different editing systems) which supplies useful metadata information.
- The ability to replace multicamera grouped clips with their original master clip (saving bandwidth on some systems) using one click.
- 1080p/24 SD/HD downconversion and crossconversion in multiple formats.
- Auto-Zoom for motion tracking and stabilization — really handy at removing black edges for tracked images.
- Support for Ikegami GFCAM using AMA to edit directly from Ikegami GFPAKs.
- A 16-track mixer display.
- Improved 3D source handling.
- The ability to integrate with Pro Tools using Video Satellite.

WHAT IT NEEDS

There are many more upgrade features, but let’s talk about what Media Composer 4 doesn’t have (that users are waiting for) but needs to compete:
- Support for third-party hardware solutions. (Even the ability to monitor in HD without spending $7,500 for Avid hardware vs. $200 for a BlackMagic card in FCP would be a major step forward). Yes, it’s a tough engineering feat, but it’s Avid’s major weakness.
- XML, XML, XML. Avid has to open up Media Composer to truly compete. With so many other platforms going with XML, Avid is still shooting itself in the foot with its semi-open AAF implementation. It’s time to change to keep themselves in true competition.
- They need a powerful, interactive suite of usable, dynamic tools to compete with Apple’s Final Cut Studio. You have the ancillary companies for audio with
- Digidesign, but Avid FX, Avid DVD, Sonicfire and Marquee can’t compete with Motion, Soundtrack Pro, LiveType, DVD Studio Pro and Color. Sorenson is on a par with Compressor. Convergence of various apps is a key to the future.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Those complaints notwithstanding, MC4 is a knockout. Well thought-out, it’s a flexible, sophisticated, solidly-performing workhorse. These new implementations place it firmly back in the game. As it continues to evolve, the decision to choose between the competing platforms is getting harder and harder to make.”

Jonathan Moser is a Freelance Video Editor, based in New York. He can be reached at Flashcut Productions (flashcutter@yahoo.com).