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Fifteen years ago, Avid was the only serious NLE option running for film and video editors. NLEs today are less expensive and more powerful than they've ever been—there are currently several affordable professional editing suites on the market. By releasing the brand-new Media Composer 5 Production Suite, Avid is hoping to blast around the inside turn and take its place at the head of the pack, for NLE projects of all sizes and budgets.
I've been using the Final Cut Suite almost exclusively for the past few years, and I’m excited to try out Avid's Media Composer 5. Years ago, when Avid was the only game in town, there wasn’t any serious competition for its flagship product, Media Composer. The software only worked on incredibly expensive turn-key systems that Avid supplied. Of course, anyone working professionally in editing was working on an Avid Media Composer system. Over the past decade, however, many competing non-linear editing programs have become available, including Apple's Final Cut Pro and Adobe's Premiere Pro. These NLE's were significantly less expensive, weren't tied to specific hardware systems and featured what many editors felt was a much more friendly interface and work flow. For the first time, Avid was feeling some heat.
Fast-forward to 2010: With the new Media Composer 5, Avid is showing evidence of having listened to its user group, and has implemented changes that will please Avid enthusiasts and entice Final Cut users to take Media Composer for a spin. It's clear that with version 5, Avid is once again making a bid at being the lead NLE on the market (which some editors will argue it always has been), and it may very possibly have succeeded.
One of the big changes in Media Composer 5 is its brand new "Smart Tool." In the old Media Composer, to move clips around the timeline you had to click on specific edit tools. To splice in a clip, you had to hit the SPLICE button. To overwrite a clip? Click on the OVERWRITE tool. With the new Smart Tool, simply placing the mouse at different spots along the timeline will allow a variety of editing functions. Now, you can edit by dragging and dropping elements directly into the timeline. If you want to trim a clip, hover the cursor near the end of the clip for TRIMMING functions. To move a clip, just drag and drop it with the mouse. Final Cut users will be familiar with this type of editing, but for Avid, it's a brand new track. For editors who prefer the traditional Avid way of editing, the Smart Tool can be turned off.
Another major improvement is AMA (Avid Media Access) support for Quicktime and R3D files. In older versions of Media Composer, you would have to import video files and convert them into Avid files before they could be manipulated. Now, you can open just about any Quicktime file (including Apple ProRes and H.264) or RED Camera R3D file directly in Media Composer and it will play that file natively, without requiring conversion. If you’re working on RED RAW camera footage, being able to play those files natively in Media Composer will be a huge plus—and a huge advantage over Final Cut, which currently does not offer this functionality.
Another noticeable change in the new Media Composer is that Avid is opening up the software to third-party hardware, which will allow you to use the Matrox MXO2 Mini to view your footage on external monitors. On older versions, you were limited to the much more expensive Mojo DX or Nitris DX systems to view playback on external monitors.
The Avid Media Composer Production Suite also comes loaded with other third-party software to help you in the editing room. It includes DVD-authoring software; the 2D and 3D FX compositing software, Avid FX; the Boris Continuum Complete set of filters; SmartSound Sonicfire Pro music-editing software and sound-loop library; and Sorenson Squeeze to convert your video for playback in just about any media. If you already own a previous version of Avid Media Composer Production Suite, you can upgrade easily with the Media Composer 5 Upgrade.
The good news is that the cost of entry into a fully functional Avid system is dropping tremendously. Media Composer 5 has added the kind of flexibility to its editing and importing functionality that may entice Final Cut and Adobe Premiere users, and its native support for RED RAW footage will hopefully place Media Composer two steps ahead of the pack as a serious option for a winning NLE suite.
Do you have any preference for one type of NLE software over another? Are you excited about Media Composer 5? Feel free to leave questions or comments in the Comments section below.