Avid Media Composer 5 Advanced Video Editing Software Review

Avid’s founder, Bill Warner, literally wrote the book on nonlinear editing – when he figured out how to take video taped footage and copy it to digital hard disks, allowing video editors to use computers for random access editing. That was in 1987 and the company hasn’t looked back. Avid’s flagship video editing program, Media Composer, isn’t a beginner’s program – it is geared towards the professional and everyone knows it. In fact, since the mid-1990s, the majority of professionally edited TV shows and Big Screen movies have been edited on an Avid editing system. Avid has earned hundreds of awards for their program, including Oscars, Emmys and Grammys.

Hail to the King

While other companies followed suit with nonlinear programs, Media Composer has always been a step ahead, working at controlling the massive amount of data a film or video project can collect. And this is where Media Composer shines. While most electronic data like spreadsheets and word docs can be accessed through networks at work or within other collaborative settings, most video and music editing programs work with singular users only. Avid changed that long ago in the late ’90s with its Unity MediaNet shared storage system, Media Composer version 3.5 improved upon it and Media Composer version 5, Avid’s latest version, is the ultimate program for collaboration.

What’s New

Smart Tool – is a feature that allows for drag-and-drop editing and trimming for direct manipulation of the video and audio clips in the timeline. In the past, users of Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut might have found some frustration to working with Avid Media Composer when it comes to editing because of the need to change functions in your timeline, depending on the process you wish to perform. If you needed to trim a clip, you had to be in the Trim Mode and if you wanted to drag and drop clips you had to be in Segment Mode. Smart Tool is a tool sitting to the left of the timeline that lets you select which process you wish to manage at the moment, Edit, Trim, Splice, Overwrite, Ripple, etc. Each selection programs your cursor to work differently, and once you get it down you’ll enjoy the ease of moving in and out of different editing functions.

RTSA – Editors can now also apply hundreds of real-time audio effects with support for Real-Time AudioSuite audio plug-ins. Media Composer was a bit lacking in audio sweetening arena in the past, perhaps relying on editors’ desire to use high-end audio post production programs for any audio work other than for the most rudimentary sound editing. But Media Composer version 5 has beefed that ability up, too. Media Composer version 5 now has Real Time AudioSuite (RTAS) plugins that were developed for their Pro Tools program. Read our Avid Pro Tools Music Creation review

AMA (Avid Media Access) makes working with multi-formats easier for ingesting and immediately working with various formats. If you’re moving into a tapeless world, or are considering using HDSLRs for your video production, this means you won’t have format issues to deal with.

Through AMA, Media Composer version 5 works natively with QuickTime, Apple ProRes, H.264 video files, Canon XF codec and XDCAM proxies. Additionally, customers can now directly import the AVCHD format (not a function of AMA). So you have files from all sorts of different cameras and devices? No problem – Media Composer version 5 now allows you to mix and match frame sizes and aspect rations in the same timeline (originally introduced in Media Composer version 4). You can now import these files directly into Media Composer version 5 from a camera or other recording device, allowing you to edit directly without format rewrapping. RED files images are scaled to fit in the HD frame size and you can edit RED files without transcoding. While we realize most of our readers won’t be working with RED footage, this illustrates the versatility and scope of AMA. Media Composer was pretty tight in the past, requiring that users work with exclusive file formats. Well you now have the ability to import QuickTime files into this program which really brings it into a universal ‘one size CAN fit all’ scenario – meaning if it plays in QuickTime, it’ll play in Media Composer. We were unable to test this with RED files but by all reports read said the real-time playback of these files in Avid Media Composer version 5 was quite consistent.

eMail me – Media Composer is known for being a workhorse that you can throw all sorts of complex graphical, color correction, and effects work at, but all this processing takes time. Most editors know that ‘render time’ means ‘break time’ as they set everything up for a long drawn-out render while they go out for another cup of coffee. A little bonus feature with this version is that Media Composer version 5 will email you when the render is done, so you can confidently go on that break or grab a bite to eat knowing the processor is processing away.

Hardware support – Anyone who has worked with or knows someone who has worked with an Avid editing system will tell you that the program has a need for power and high consumption. Most post production houses that use Media Composer work with Nitris DX or Mojo DX systems. Previously, this meant a higher price tag than just the price of the software alone. But Media Composer version 5 now supports Matrox MX02 Mini interface, a hardware device that captures your files and turns your computer monitor into a low-cost external monitoring solution.

Media Management

You can’t talk about Media Composer and not talk about its media management. Having complete access to your file’s metadata is one of the biggest features Media Composer offers – and it is unmatched in any other editing program. For anyone editing a short 30-minute piece that has a raw-to-edit ratio of about 2-to-1(2 minutes of raw footage for every 1 minute of finished project), media management might not seem such a big deal. Except very few editors have such tight ratios. In most documentary cases, 30-minutes to an hour of raw footage usually translates to just a minute of footage that you’ll use in your program, (30:1 or 60:1), and that will be edited down too. It’s rumored that the Ridley Scott’s “Life in a Day” documentary, for which average people worldwide were uploading footage shot on the same day in July, has a ration of 80:1 How does one keep track of all that data? Enter Media Composer’s excellent media management system. As the world gets more complicated, files are stored all over the universe, and Media Composer keeps extreme details of the metadata like nobody else which helps keep you organized with little effort on your part.

Combining Media Composer with the Matrox MX02 Mini gives you a low-cost, fully professional suite. The Mini is small and lightweight, good for field recording, uses HDMI, RCA, S-Video, composite output and analog, and you’ll be able to turn your HDMI screen into a true video monitor with color calibration. Formerly, Media Composer only worked with its Nitris DX or Mojo DX system for real-time playback on an external monitor, so working with the MX02 will save you a lot of expense. Read our review.


Let’s Edit

With all this talk about media management, what about editing? With each iteration, Avid hasn’t changed Media Composer’s interface much since its original design, and for good reason. It was created for video editors by video editors with video editing in mind. Some programs appear to have been created by an I.T. collective – what makes sense to them doesn’t especially make sense to someone who has to work on the program. However, most programs are following Media Composer’s lead in Timeline design.

ScriptSync was introduced with Media Composer version 2.5, and allows you to import your script into the editing program so you could actually arrange and rearrange your project based just on the script. ScriptSync was created to use with scripted shows and movies, but can work great with anything scripted like documentaries, long-form interviews and training videos. You simply import a text file of your script, drag and drop the area of your video file that includes the text content right into the text file, and then you use ScriptSync to synchronize the two files. After this, searching for your point on the clip is done by ScriptSync, comparing your waveform files with the phonetics in the text. Pretty cool. If you have Media Composer version 4, you can get a new license when you upgrade to Media Composer version 5, but new users will find ScriptSync is now a purchasable option, instead of an included feature. (MSRP: $995.00)

Media Composer’s Smart Tool drag-n-drop abilities are a tremendous timesaver. With Media Composer version 5 you can drag any video or audio clip and drop it where you want it, manipulate the data on that clip alone, and it stays with the clip, not the timeline. Move it again, and you don’t have to fix it. Media Composer remembers where you left it, what you did with it and where it came from.

What’s Still Around

Two of my favorite timesavers have always been Media Composer’s “Extend Edit” button and “Create Subclip” ability. If you’ve ever had to trim within a sequence, you have such choices as trimming a frame off the front or back of a clip without changing its duration or placement on the timeline. Or, you can trim both the out-going and in-coming clip at the same time. And many other combinations which can sometimes be labor-intensive. But just extending a clip doesn’t require anything more complex than setting your mouse point at the frame on the Timeline and hitting one button. Pretty simple, I know, but nice to have.

Creating a subclip within a longer clip is just as easy. After you’ve made an in and out point of the source file, you click and drag that to the bin of your choice, and bingo, a new shorter version that you can rename. Don’t worry – Media Composer will remember where it came from. It’s that metadata stuff watching out for you.

And of course Media Composer still has the keyboard mapping abilities, which is really an editor’s best friend. We all edit differently, and all use tools differently; some using trim more and others using nesting more. Customizing your keyboard and shortcuts is a great way to save yourself some time, and keep you from carpel tunnel issues due to over-using the mouse.

As much as some people might think of Avid supplying just high-end programs like Media Composer and Symphony, the company has much more, including: Pinnacle Studio video editing software – the beginner program that’s been around for decades, as well as the M-Audio Mbox family – a complete creation and production system, Pro Tools 9 – an advanced and widely used audio production system, VENUE – live sound, and Interplay – production asset management.

Training

The first time I edited on a Media Composer system, the documentation was almost as big as the mega-computer needed to run it. But like many companies going green, Avid now includes a few documents like User Guides, Installation Guides and Quick Setup Guides in its packaging. Everything else can be found online. Their goal is to reduce their printed materials by 80% by 2012. Nice for them, because if you are just starting out with Media Composer, you’ll need real training – either online, from a DVD or through a How To book. There are many companies from Class on Demand and Future Media Concepts and Steve Bayes’ Avid Handbook to turn to for training as well as workshops you can attend – trust me – you’ll need it. If you buy the boxed set of Media Composer version 5, you also get some Lynda.com training, which is a pleasant and necessary bonus.

Finally, Media Composer is known to be one of the most sophisticated, pickiest and process-hungry editing programs out there, so check the technical specifications before you buy. I recently had my custom system rebuilt to be an uber-editing computer complete with Windows 7, AMD SATA 6GB USB 3.0, AMD Phenom II 3.2Ghz quad-core processor and 4GB DDR3 memory, so I know its potential, as well as its limits.


What Type of Editor are You – Honestly?

For those with any aspirations of working in Hollywood, knowing Media Composer and learning its workflow is a must. For those who love the higher-end technical challenge, you won’t be disappointed – it’s all about the advanced abilities media management can offer. For those who want to break the bounds of artistic restrictions and laugh at any ‘you can’t do that’ convention, Avid Media Composer 5 is your ticket to a great joyride. For those just starting out who don’t understand the complexity of trim tools, nesting and color correction that advanced editors salivate over, you need to look at some lower level programs first, and move up to Media Composer or other advanced programs over time.

For anyone, though, who is curious about what all the talk is about, you can download a 30-day free trial version online at Avid.com, to give it trial run. Version 5 is the same price as Media Composer version 4, $2,495, with a student or educator version for only $295. (This doesn’t include the bundled plug-ins.) Media Composer was previously a high-end professional-only program that came bundled with the hardware for a mere $100,000, so this program can now be enjoyed by all. Check it out.

Tech Specs

System Requirements – Windows:

OS: Windows 7 Professional (64-bit), Windows XP Professional SP3 (32-bit), Windows Vista Business SP2 (64-bit), Windows Vista Ultimate SP2 (64-bit)

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.33 GHz processor or faster

Memory: 2 GB of RAM (4 GB of RAM recommended; Windows Vista requires 4 GB of RAM)

Graphics Card: NVIDIA Quadro FX family** (FX 560 or higher)

Internal Hard Drive: Minimum 80 GB 7200 rpm hard disk

Optical Drive: DVD drive for disc-based software installation
** Only NVIDIA cards are supported; full-screen playback requires a minimum of 128 MB of graphics memory.

System Requirements – Mac:

OS: Mac OS X 10.6.3 (Snow Leopard)

Processor: Intel Dual or Intel Dual Core 2.66 GHz Xeon processor or faster, or Intel Core 2 Duo 2.33 GHz processor or faster (laptops)

Memory: 2 GB of RAM (4 GB of RAM recommended)

Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce family**

Internal Hard Drive: Minimum 80 GB 7200 rpm hard disk

Optical Drive: DVD drive for disc-based software installation

Other:

Laptop users: Support of uncompressed video on laptops is limited to one stream of uncompressed SD video
DNxHD capture with Mojo DX is only supported with the new generation of Windows based Intel I7 laptops (Quad Core with Hyper-Threading). Additionally, these laptops can play multiple streams of 1:1 uncompressed SD with eSata external storage.

QuickTime: Avid has tested and qualified Apple QuickTime X for Mac users and QuickTime 7.6.4 for Windows users

Strengths

  • Media management abilities are unsurpassed
  • SmartTools makes the interface more common to other programs
  • A powerful workhorse

Weaknesses

  • Expensive program
  • Process-consuming program eliminates all but the beefed up and customized systems
  • ScriptSync no longer included

Avid Technology, Inc

75 Network Drive

Burlington, MA 01803

www.avid.com

$2,495 physical $2,295 download

Summary

A powerful editing program that is the industry leader, with a media management system that invites extensive collaboration. This is a professional program that savvy video editors should aspire to learn, but beginners to nonlinear editing will be seriously challenged.

Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & video editor and Videomaker’s Managing Editor.

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