PRODUCT: Media Composer 8.5.2
PRICE: $1,299 perpetual license with annual upgrade plan ($34.97 monthly subscription w/three-year agreement)
- New Timeline Mode allows more efficiency in editing
- 64 tracks of audio
- New grouping by audio waveform syncs clips
For a company that’s been facing turbulent times, both financially and competitively, Avid sure is constantly updating its venerable flagship editing program (with 19 releases since May 2014). With the constant comparison between NLEs, some will see many of these changes as Avid still trying to play catch-up, while others will appreciate the new implementations. Media Composer 8.5.2 has been out for several months and you can bet that by the time this review hits print, a newer version will probably be available.
This version is a significant upgrade in some features, and still wanting in others. The rhyme and reason of how Media Composer is evolving (or not), is a topic of debate in some editing circles and a complete mystery to others. The editing wars are still going strong between the three As, and Media Composer’s future is dependent on whether it can stay relevant and facile in the face of ongoing innovation by its competitors. Version 8.5.2 is at least addressing some of its weaknesses, but I can’t say whether it’s enough to overcome the marauding horde. (I hope so, it’s my bread and butter — I use it every day.)
A quick overview shows attention to HDR color spaces and custom resolutions up to 8K, new timeline features, new media linking options, 64 tracks of audio (!), a new video frame cache to speed up response time and sluggish playback, allowing adjustable RAM size, as well as the ability to ramp up video memory for more fluid playback. This is making a huge difference in stuttery playback. Well done!
Keyboard junkies will delight in a number of enhancements to quickly find effects and settings just by typing the first letter of the effect or setting you want.
There was also a lot of housekeeping done to put commands and selections in a more logical order called Menu Simplification (although this editor would question that title). Also, Waveform Grouping brings the world of Premiere and FCPX to the native MC world — sort of. Everything from the Effect Palette to the Audio Mixer has had big and little additions. New enhancements to the bin interface now allow greater flexibility and user friendliness.
I’ll go through most of the changes in a moment, but probably the biggest change you’ll see is in the user interface with timeline trimming and top-to-bottom menu simplification.
HIGH VISIBILITY TIMELINE EDITING
This is probably the most apparent change to the program. Now, when dragging in segment or trim mode, the moving clip becomes transparent, allowing you to see whatever is underneath, including effect icons and waveforms (which will stay on during dragging operations, allowing for precise alignment). Gone are the outlines we used to see, unless you want to turn them back on. Clip boundaries also light up. Dragging in splice mode will visually show you how other clips are affected. There are also handy one-frame tick marks that now appear when trimming for precision. Be aware that dupe colors will turn off during these operations. Another great feature is an end-of-clip indicator that pops up red on your clip when you’ve reached the end of your media. In all, it’s useful, looks pretty cool and helps brings MC into this century.
Another welcome addition (and also long overdue) is the ability to add new tracks (audio and video) simply by dragging clips up or down.
TRIMMING WITH SYNC LOCKS ON
If you’re like me, you edit with sync locks ‘on,’ which has made some trimming operations difficult to visualize their effect on the timeline (with MC beeping at you to let you know when you can’t do what you want). Now, this new improvement allows you to see visually in the timeline how your trim is affecting everything else. It’s a conceptual jump but one that I’m warming up to as I see how easy it is.
We editors spent a lot of years remembering where stuff was located in MC. Well, prepare to readjust: everywhere you look there are changes.
Avid has really rethought placement of items, organizing them into more logical categories, such as input items which now include everything from EDL ingest, AMA linking, ingest via tape or file.
To give some idea how much has changed in the menu structure, four full pages (85 items) under “What’s New” are dedicated to listing where things were and where they are now. That’s a lot of change, but I picked up on the logic pretty fast. It makes sense, but prepare to gripe.
GROUP BY AUDIO WAVEFORM
I’m sorry, but this long-awaited implementation goes timidly where others have gone before. I’m assuming that this is just a first iteration of this feature, especially in light of PluralEyes dropping further Avid support. There’s no ability to select or change tracks or adjust variables, it works in the foreground and, (like my nemesis, autosave), locks you out of Composer while it’s working. But, all in all it has worked fairly well. Here’s hoping Avid continues developing this major and welcome tool.
64 AUDIO TRACKS
Well, sort of. It gets a little confusing. There are 64 mono tracks, or ten 5.1 tracks plus four mono tracks, which equals 64, or eight 7.1 tracks, which equals 64 voices. (Sorry, I was terrible at math). But a lot more than we had.
Creating your own columns in bins has always been available, but it was kind of hit-or-miss, and not highly known. This new convention allows easy creation of multiple columns and conveniently places them to the right of any highlighted column (not randomly, as before).
Another welcome change, especially for older editors, is in the interface display in the project window. In addition to changing project window, bin and timeline colors, you can now override all bin and project fonts and font sizes universally with one click. Better late than never.
Even the effects palette has been transformed a bit. Finally, transitions have their own home, and audio filters are now easily accessible from the palette. All effects can be displayed on the right side panel. Any effects templates you create will also display there as long as that bin is open.
AUDIO MIXER OPTIONS
The audio mixer has also received some surgery. Meme jokes about the billboard-sized panel can’t be made any more since it’s now easy to downsize both tracks and controls. (But it still can’t be variably resized with the mouse; something often requested.)
These are the major changes and features. There are many more.
Anyone who’s been on MC for even a few years knows that while it’s a stable, solid and dependable workhorse, there are cracks in its decades-old structure that still haven’t been addressed, despite 8.5.2’s many new features and updates. This begs the question: why not address well-known, long-standing deficits before adding new whiz-bang features? Avid hasn’t touched the Title Tool since the mid-‘90s (you still can’t even see fonts in the drop-down) and there’s still no background saving even after 20 years of requests. You still cannot match frame to effects without resorting to an arcane console command, loading a sequence into the source monitor requires dragging, there’s no audio dupe detection, error messages are still indecipherable, auto-saving locked bins stops everything, requiring mouse clicks and, the elephant in the room, is the loss of Scriptsync and Phrasefind. How could Avid let that happen? There are too many more to mention. Let’s fix what’s broken before adding the new.
Once you get past some of the reorganization and implementations learning curve, there’s a lot in 8.5.2 to speed up editing. Contextual shortcuts for settings and effects, new memory utilization, greater flexibility in handling new formats, even ways of looking at the interface, all make this version more efficient and definitely faster. I don’t hesitate to recommend this upgrade.
In the bigger picture, Media Composer’s future viability depends not on just “catching up” with the competition, but superceding it with innovation and creativity. MC still lacks “suite-ability,” being able to talk to other programs with the same flexibility as the competition. The “broadcast” paradigm Avid has been basing Media Composer’s whole existence on is dying, and the company seems to be going in other directions, leaving MC something of an orphan. Avid can’t continue to rely on its installed base in the broadcast and film markets, it has to reinvent itself or find a buyer willing to reinvest and retool Media Composer without killing its formidable strengths. (It still reigns in media management and stability.) I hope that happens soon, because we’re running out of time.
UPDATE - JUST RELEASED - MEDIA COMPOSER 8.6
The biggest improvement is the inclusion of a new Source Browser, allowing quick selection of files for linking or importing through a single window. As with normal bin behavior, you can see files as a list or as a thumbnail. This allows easy navigation of drives, directories and individual files. A new improvement in the Source Browser that's familiar to FCP and Premiere users is the ability to visually scrub through clips by dragging the cursor across the thumbnails. You also have access to import, link and target drive settings from within the browser. In addition, you're able to select favorite folders that will populate a tabbed favorites bin. This browser is one of the single biggest performance enhancements to Media Composer in years.
Audio ducking creates a quick and dirty audio mix by automatically lowering and raising levels of tracks against other selectable tracks. You have a number of adjustable parameters to determine ducking behaviors.
The audio mixer now will display your customized track names for easy identification. There is now native support for the Panasonic AVC-LongG format, which allows linking and consolidating.
New select menu items allows for simplicity in selecting and IDing segments based on color or whether they are online or offline.
Like visual effects, 8.6 now allows you to nest Audiosuite effects and allows you to step in and out to adjust control parameters.
There is now default pan information on every mono clip that will let the sequence play as it was originally panned despite how the second editor has configured their default pan setup.
Audio tracks are now easily groupable.
There are a host of other improvements from Red file improvements, new masking behavior, visible clip comments in the timecode window, performance enhancements to SMPTE channel order changes and others. Also, MC 8.6 is qualified for use with Mac OS 10.11.5.