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Pro Tools is a brand that defines an industry. It's part of our vernacular. A product doesn't attain this privilege by accident. This is a powerful tool that professionals have relied upon since the 1990s. Many people who strive for the highest quality choose Pro Tools HD, and the new Pro Tools|HD Native systems make it more affordable than ever. But should you step up to HD?
When you're checking out Avid's Pro Tools line of products, the letters "HD" are an important distinction to be aware of, especially if you're looking for a solution that will provide the highest sound quality and the most seamless interoperability in the industry.
It's an oversimplification to say that you should use Pro Tools because it's an industry standard. There are many excellent DAW (digital audio workstation) programs available, and professional production facilities are not all married to Pro Tools. However, when you get down to brass tacks, you cannot refute the fact that Avid systems still provide the most seamless and widely accepted software and hardware-based post production pipeline in professional music, video and film production.
Avid's Pro Tools HD systems all connect to Mac and Windows computers though PCI cards and they enable you to run the full Pro Tools HD software, including TDM plug-ins and a full host of video time-code tools (Pro Tools HD software is included when you purchase a Native HD card). The unmatched speed of the PCI connection coupled with the power of the Pro Tools HD software makes these systems a natural choice for serious users.
You may be familiar with the Mbox, a hardware/software solution that runs Pro Tools LE software. It's an excellent production tool for sound work, especially for mobile use, students and musicians on a budget. But Pro Tools LE is not the version that is used in major music studios and broadcast grade video post-production houses.
Until the new HD Native system was unveiled, most professional production facilities were equipped with the original Pro Tools HD systems, which were a combination of a PCI interface card and additional Pro Tools processing cards. Studios demanded the ultra-low latency that these PCI card systems provided, but their computers also needed help processing the audio. Before HD Native, someone setting up an HD system needed to choose the number of processor cards that were necessary to conduct their work. The original Pro Tools HD systems were versatile and scalable, but the required additional processing cards made them prohibitively expensive.
Thankfully, in a relatively short amount of time, computers have become much more powerful. Additional processing cards are no longer a necessity for many varieties of production work. For a long time there was a severe price gap in the Pro Tools product line. The cost differences between a Pro Tools LE system and a Pro Tools HD system was immense. Now the new Pro Tools|HD Native systems are here to bridge that gap. They are more affordable because HD Native doesn't use processor cards. All of the processing for the audio, instruments, routing and effects is handled by your computer's processor. This is why the term "native" is used.
So who is Pro Tools Native HD for? Obviously, it's a shoe-in for professional production studios. They need to be able to exchange projects with other studios seamlessly, and be able to open and work on these projects using all the same TDM plug-ins that the previous studio had used (Pro Tools LE cannot run TDM plug-ins). A fully prepared music studio should also have computers running Logic Pro, Ableton Live and other popular production software, and fully prepared video post houses should also support Final Cut Pro and other popular non-linear editing programs. But in professional circles, Avid systems remain the most widely used platform for both audio and video.
It's always been a smart idea to learn Pro Tools if you aspire to make music or video post your livelihood. Anyone who gets deeply involved in creating sound design for post production should consider the upgrade to HD Native. If the only boundary keeping you from mixing professional productions at your home studio is your lack of an HD system, the new HD Native option might be the ticket.
It also doesn't hurt to have a comprehensive understanding of the technology behind these systems when you aspire to make a living from this kind of work. The best way to truly be an authority is to purchase an HD system and build it into your studio. This is not to diminish the real work for which an audio or video professional should be valued. You should aspire to work in a studio if you have a sharp ear for sound, and/or an eye for moving images. The creative decisions you make in the studio are what will really set you apart. But it certainly doesn't hurt if you can prove to people that you are a master of the nuts and bolts that keep the machine running.
So how does this all work? To get into HD|Native you're going to need three things: an HD Native PCI card, an HD Native compatible interface, and a compatible Mac Pro or Windows desktop computer. It's a wise move to use the most powerful computer you can afford, and to verify that the model you intend to use is supported by Avid.
What interface should you use? This depends entirely on your needs. The HD OMNI is a great single rack-space solution that provides dual combo XLR inputs on its face, with two additional XLR inputs on the rear. There are four TRS line-level inputs, and the ability to expand the number of inputs with ADAT Lightpipe and a host of other digital inputs, supporting sampling rates up to 192kHz.
If you like the idea of having digital and analog inputs, but also want the option to expand the I/O in the future, then the HD I/O is the way to go. There are three versions of this interface available. A versatile option is the 8 x 8 x 8, which can handle eight channels of analog and digital inputs and outputs. If you need more I/O options in the future, an empty slot is provided. You can add more analog or digital cards, depending on your needs. There are also two 16 x 16 x 16 versions of the HD I/O, one with 16 analog inputs and outputs and the other with 16 digital inputs and outputs.
If you're upgrading from Pro Tools LE, you'll be pleased to find other improvements with Pro Tools HD, besides the speed and the army of included top-tier instruments and effects. HD will arm you with much-needed Delay Compensation. You'll have the ability to play and edit multiple video tracks and playlists. There is full AAF, OMF and MXF interchange between Avid and Final Cut Pro. You can create and work on sessions with up to 192 audio tracks. There are advanced automation features, a time code ruler and 7.1 surround mixing.
So should you step up to Pro Tools|HD Native? While it is a sizable investment, if you're involved with work that centers around this equipment, Native may be the best solution for you. If you're working closely with other studios or transitioning your own project studio into a formidable commercial one, going HD Native is a welcome new option.
Thanks for checking out this B&H Insights article! If you have any questions about Pro Tools|HD Native, we encourage you to post them in the Comments section below!