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October 2014
Issue: November 1, 2009

REVIEW: AVID MEDIA COMPOSER V.3.5

By: Terence Curren
PRODUCT: Avid Media Composer 3.5 (Stay tuned for a V.4 review soon!)

WEBSITE: www.avid.com

PRICE: $2,495.00 software only. Includes bundled third-party software.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: XP, Vista Business, OSX 10.57 (Intel Mac only)

Those of us who have been editing for a while, remember Avid becoming the “product we love and the company we hate,” starting around the new millennium. With two aggressive leadership changes in the last few years, those days appear to be over. With the release of V.3.5 of Media Composer and Symphony, the revamped company is showing that it really cares what we think again.

There are a lot of bug fixes, new features and a paradigm shifting change in this version. The first immediately noticeable difference is the new software activation mode. Whether you like the dongle or hate it, it is on its death bed. This version allows you the choice of getting rid of your dongle now with a promise of a dongle-free V.4.0 in the near future. The new “software activation” can be cool, but you really need to rethink how you move between multiple computers. If you are one of those users who is used to taking your dongle from your desktop to your laptop to travel for instance, you now have to make sure you deactivate your desktop software before you can activate your laptop.

In the effects area, some nice interface changes have taken place, for example adjusting nested effects is now streamlined. Instead of “stepping into” effects to adjust nested effect parameters, they now show up in the top effect. This means that entering the top effect, allows you to adjust every effect in a nested stack.

The color correction effect now takes advantage of the advanced keyframe engine. You can adjust individual parameters with fine control and “elastic” smoothing. This is handy for shots with iris changes, or creating a light dimming effect for example. It would be nice if in a future release they enabled the other advanced keyframe controls like Bezier curves for even more precise adjustments.

The new FluidStabilizer tracking feature makes easier work of fixing shaky camera shots. My testing has shown that it can be really good, or useless, depending upon the shot. It will become another of those tools in your set that might save your bacon in a bad situation.

Avid has also added “CPU/GPU” acceleration to more of their effects. This gives real speed boosts in RT performance and in rendering speeds, when needed. (One of the advantages of Avid’s editors is the ability to mix and match different codecs and still be able to output to tape without rendering everything.) They also brought down some higher quality rendering options from Symphony to the MC software to improve effect quality.

One of Avid’s weakest areas has been its handling of non-tape based materials. The folks at Avid obviously recognized that the entire market is heading away from using tape. Their first step in handling this area was including support for metadata such as timecode in imported and exported files. The next step, which I believe is the biggest game-changing feature to come from Avid in a long time, is Avid Media Access, or AMA.

With AMA you can now mount any drive with P2 or XDCAM on your computer, then open them directly into Media Composer. You choose between having all clips in one bin, or creating a separate bin for each folder of clips. Then you are ready to start editing in an instant. No more painful import or transcoding time required. Looking down the road a bit, I see Avid enabling AMA to handle many more codecs. This will be a real paradigm shift for file-based editing, giving Avid a solid footing in the new tapeless world.

Another new feature is the ability to edit and display in 3D. If you buy into the popular hype that this time 3D is going to stick, then this feature means a lot. If however, you are skeptical like me, and see this as another 20-year anniversary of trying to sell 3D, then it is a waste of valuable resources. Unfortunately Avid has no choice but to provide support in case I’m wrong. At any rate, this is a feature you have to see demonstrated in the proper setup to truly appreciate.

On the audio side of things, audio levels can be adjusted on import, which is very welcome news to longtime Avid users. There is also added support for Digidesign plug-ins, giving more control over fixing audio issues. Media Composer is still not a great application for working with audio. Avid still seems to assume you will do your heavier audio work in Pro Tools.

If you master from or to HDCAM SR, and find yourself utilizing all 12 channels of audio as we do, then you will be happy to hear that Avid now supports 16 channels in and out.

Also included with the Media Composer package are: Avid DVD by Sonic (PC only); Boris Continuum Complete, which is a powerhouse effects package that sells for $1,995 by itself; Sorenson Squeeze, a full compression package; SmartSound SonicFire Pro for creating your own music; and Avid FX, which is a rebranded version of Boris’ FX package. That is like a having a stripped down After Effects program right in your timeline. The combination of these applications alone would cost more than the entire purchase price of Media Composer.

In all, these are impressive upgrades on a .5 release. This shows Avid as a company is responding to our needs. I’m looking forward to what 4.0 brings.

Terence Curren is the principal of Alpha Dogs (www.alphadogs.tv) in Burbank, CA.