With Apple almost throwing the baby out with the bathwater in Final Cut Pro X, it’s down to Avid to steady the video-editing ship with a solid update to its venerable Media Composer.
The first big change is that Avid has gone down the 64-bit route and for Mac users it means that Lion is a requirement. The advantage of 64-bit, besides the processing boost, is the ability to access much more memory, which is vital for complex sequences that use a lot of effects.
However, it’s the support for external hardware that has seen the most dramatic changes. Once upon a time, only Avid hardware would perform input/output operations with Composer. Then third-party monitoring was added.
Now Avid has implemented a third-party hardware SDK that allows companies like Matrox, Motu, Bluefish444, AJA and Blackmagic Design to develop Composer plug-ins to support their devices. These can be configured inside Composer and controlled through the third-party interface.
There are curves for colour channels or shadows; midtones and highlights can be directly enhanced
Expect devices to add support such as output type for capture, hardware reference clocking and input type for different connectors. However, third-party hardware plug-ins can’t yet access ancillary data, LTC input and output, stereoscopic full-frame capture and output, audio punch-in, hardware codec modules or universal mastering, though it has been hinted that these will be supported in future updates.
Parts of the user interface have been revamped. Tweaks like shading on the project bin make it easier to pick files apart, and some reorganisation here allows you to sort multiple bins into one large tabbed bin or copy clips from one tabbed bin to another. These all make media management that much easier, though the interface remains clunky in places. If you’re not happy with the look, you can change the colours, how light or dark the interface is, and what information is displayed by default.
With stereoscopic 3D being a hot trend in cinema, tools have been added to create a stereo workflow. They don’t make Composer 6 the ultimate in stereo 3D editing; rather they mean there’s no need for Avid customers to go anywhere else. You will still need a Nitris DX box to output to a 3D monitor, though.
The new Marketplace feature lets you access media libraries and buy footage and plug-ins from within Media Composer
Being able to edit a wide variety of file types, thanks to the Avid Media Access (AMA) plug-in, has always been one of Composer’s strong suits. Instead of transcoding or converting other formats, AMA links to the native file (for example Red/Epic, ProRes or AVCHD), so they can be viewed and edited directly. Media Composer can’t edit above HD resolution though, so any Red files are downscaled to HD. There’s full, native support for Canon’s new XF codec for HD camcorders and also for ProRes files. If capturing from tape Composer can encode to ProRes on the Mac, though not on Windows.
Avid has cleverly avoided taking any risks with its core users by providing a 64-bit architecture, opening up the hardware options and streamlining the interface. For pro-level direct editing of footage using a variety of input sources, Media Composer is still the best in the business.