March 8, 2005


It's Thursday morning, just three hours after my wife has delivered a beautiful, baby girl. I'm on my way to a meeting in Burbank, CA, to see the latest release of Avid's DS Nitris, Version 7.5. I'm braving the tongue-lashing of a lifetime, to meet with Matthew Allard and Bruno Sargeant, two of Avid's foremost experts on Nitris. They're going to give me an in-depth look at the most recent update to an exceptional system. Hopefully, it will allow me to get my work done faster, so I can get home sooner and make my wife happier.

At Picture Head, a trailer finishing house in Hollywood, CA, we employ multiple offline and online systems to create many of the top tier movie trailers shown both in theaters and on broadcast television. My daily routine consists of taking various elements, which may be any frame rate and format, conforming them correctly and spitting them back out in a myriad of flavors. Whether for film-out or layback to tape, the Avid DS Nitris system has proven to be an extremely capable machine. It cuts, it slices, it dices, but wait there's more.

Capable of handling just about anything thrown at it, from SD to 4K, the Nitris excels in both speed and flexibility. In the 7.5 release, which began shipping in the fall of 2004, Avid enabled additional hardware options and offered a remarkable new encoding technology named Avid DNxHD. The system supports new codecs ranging from a miniscule 125 mbps (8 bits), to 240 mbps (10 bits). Or, when working in SD, you have the option of capturing JFIF 2:1, 3:1, 10:1 and 20:1.

Seeing is believing, so I captured two sets of media from the same source. One set was uncompressed 10-bit HD and the second, 10-bit DNxHD. I zoomed in 10,000 percent to get a good look and was amazed to see little difference. Besides a slight color shift in some pixels, the overall picture kept the same values and tone as the original. When zoomed back out at 1 to 1, the DNxHD encoded picture was indistinguishable from the original. The reduction in file size was astounding, a 10-bit video file of 2:13 seconds was about 20 GB uncompressed and a paltry 3.5 GB when compressed with DNxHD.

Avid expects that users of DNxHD will be able to work with HD material much like current workflows with standard def. With the new Avid DNxcel board, which began shipping with Media Composer Adrenaline HD systems in December 2004, multiple offline workstations can digitize and create media files that Nitris can link to for final finishing.

Avid is also pushing hard into the DI arena. Nitris has always been resolution independent, but with the new hardware released last year, Avid has really made this a reality. They have simplified the setup for various film formats by including a neat pulldown list of pre-set options. You can also convert 2K files to HD proxies with the click of a button. This will render out proxy files in either uncompressed or Avid DNxHD formats. Once the proxies are created, all realtime effects available for HD are applicable to the proxies. The proxies can be rendered in the background on a networked rendering station allowing you to continue conforming. Once work is finished, it is a simple click to convert back to 2K mode and all effects will be applied. A number of big films like "Collateral," "Fahrenheit 911," and "Alexander" used Nitris for HD preview screenings and digital daily work and Avid's DNxHD format made its broadcast debut on "The Benefactor" in Summer 2004.

Besides the great picture quality of DNxHD Avid has now enabled ADAT, embedded SDI audio, and the microphone inputs. Avid also added a slew of new software features that improve workflows across the board. Audio media conversion on demand, can convert 24 fps to 23.976 fps, taking care of synch problems between systems. Locators in capture mode with pre-defined messages, support for SMPTE timecode in DPX headers and Log to Lin re-mapping when importing DPX and Cineon files are just a few of them.

Photoshop files conform better, and mix sliders are now available or you can still use the original opacity mode. Composite nodes have more software realtime effects and subtitles import correctly. Rectangles with rounded corners and the 32 blend modes available have helped improve the paint module. A nice added feature: keyframes appearing below the source and record monitors, allows quick re-timing of animation. When you need it, full curve editing is still available with filtering by Boolean parameters. Something I've been looking forward to, Nitris now checks the pixel aspect ratio of graphics files and imports them correctly. No more guessing how a file was created.

Compositing in matte mode has been further refined, with blending of mattes and Boolean operations. Improvements in setting up workgroups between systems has made networks less likely to have problems once they are established and the 3D Suite has been improved with better performance when displaying 3D graphics. A floating timecode viewer allows multiple versions of timecode, and my personal favorite, a stack of effects can easily collapse into an effects tree.

Early in 2005 Avid will release Version 7.6 of Nitris. Expressions, mix 'n' match frame rates, and FluidMotion effects are just a few of the newest features that were shown at IBC in September 2004. Source side effects implementation, which allows any effect or combination of effects to be applied according to tape name and timecode, is on its way. Over and above this, Nitris 7.6 includes support for native playback of .dpx files, auto assembly using the keycode or timecode in the .dpx header file, 4:4:4, and media sharing with leading DI systems, including Discreet's Lustre, FilmLight's Baselight and Quantel's iQ.

Nitris, as the name suggests, is an explosive addition to Avid's formidable line of NLE systems. Set your fingers on the keyboard and you can feel the power humming deep within. Nitris has been tweaked and refined to form a sleek, powerful workhorse. It's well equipped to handle current digital formats and any new surprises in the near future.