Price When Reviewed: 1475 . 6300 . 9400
Pros: Much less expensive than previous versions; large bundle of powerful, fully featured third-party apps for effects, soundtrack creation and disc authoring; Blu-ray burning supported.
Cons: Still expensive – Final Cut Studio 2 remains a lot cheaper; small list of fully supported and qualified hardware.
Avid Media Composer remains the standard package for the higher end of professional digital video editing. In the past, even the software-only version came with an astronomical price to match its professional image. This has prevented the application from filtering down to smaller independent videomakers, and Apple’s Final Cut Pro has been nipping at its heels.
Following a recent change of senior management, Avid has changed its policy. As part of the company’s new strategy, the latest version of Media Composer arrives at around half the price of its predecessor, and includes a whole lot more in the box, too.
In particular, two applications formerly sold separately in the Avid Studio Toolkit are now bundled – Avid DVD, which uses Sonic’s technology, and Avid FX, which is essentially Boris Red. So now you get a huge suite spread across ten discs. Aside from Media Composer itself, from Avid there are Log Exchange, EDL Manager, FilmScribe, MediaLog, and MetaSync.
A further pack includes SmartSound SonicFire Pro 4 with Core Foundations and Core Sessions libraries, the Sorensen Squeeze 5 encoder, and the excellent Boris FX Continuum Complete plug-in collection.
This takes Media Composer 3 from being a great video-editing tool to being a complete end-to-end option, able to handle footage from most sources all the way from acquisition to disc or any other output format, with powerful compositing capabilities thrown in along the way. Version 3 adds support for Windows Vista and Mac OS X Leopard, bringing it up to date with the latest operating systems.
Native codec compatibility now includes some of the latest additions, too, in particular Sony XDCAM EX, which is starting to make inroads in news and filmmaking circles, plus Panasonic’s AVC-Intra H.264 codec and JVC’s 23.976p and 25p flavours of HDV.
During testing, performed on Windows Vista, we found the core application responsive and stable on one system, but we had problems running it on another system. A call to technical support underlined the fact that although Media Composer 3 is only software, and cheaper than previous versions, Avid still advises that it be run on a small range of turnkey workstations, all of which are made by HP, plus a few Dell, Lenovo and HP notebooks. Our main test system was not one of these qualified systems, yet it proved perfectly compatible.
On the Mac side, Media Composer 3 is Intel-only, and requires Leopard 10.5.3 or later. Only nVidia graphics are officially supported on either platform, and although ATI cards will work, don’t expect support.
In terms of core editing features, Media Composer 3 hasn’t been developed a huge amount. A welcome addition is the Timecode Burn-In Generator (above). This creates a real-time window burn – invaluable for exchanging editing suggestions across a team. Up to three timecode windows can be added, plus notes text. You can display the clip name, sequence title, and timecode in SMPTE or frames.
Media Composer also includes ScriptSync script-based editing, which uses phonetic indexing technology from Nexidia to match clip audio to lines of a script text. Although we didn’t have a script and rushes to put this through its paces, the consensus among the editing community is that the technology does work well.
The biggest news is the addition of Avid FX and DVD to the standard package. Avid FX, with its heritage in Boris Red, is almost a mini-After Effects. The multi-track compositing engine provides sophisticated motion control, supports EPS media, and can create 3D shapes. It supports vector and extruded 3D text, so can be used to make elaborate title sequences.
Best of all, Avid FX is integrated seamlessly into Media Composer, so is offered as a supplementary editing mode within the application.
Boris’ other inclusion in the bundle, Continuum Complete AVX 5, is a huge library of powerful filters covering everything from mimicking old film and TV, to colour and distortion, and texture generation. There are over 1,500 presets included, providing an enormous amount of creative potential, although Continuum Complete was also bundled with the previous version of Media Composer.
However, while Media Composer did previously have a disc-authoring tool bundled, the inclusion of Avid DVD beefs this up considerably. Avid DVD is based on Sonic’s Roxio DVDit Pro HD, whereas the previous inclusion used DVDit Pro 6 as its basis. So Avid DVD has the ability to author Blu-ray discs all the way up to 50GB in capacity and 1080p, but transcoding will only be in MPEG-2 format. Although VC-1 and AVC are supported, this is merely for pass-through, meaning footage will need to be encoded externally.
There is also no support for the whizzy new menu features available in Blu-ray discs. So this is not a tool for authoring Blu-ray studio masters – but you can create one menu and then burn both DVDs and Blu-ray discs from it. In other words, Avid DVD is great for producing multi-format demo reels, or moving corporate video work into the HD era.
Avid also claims Media Composer now takes greater advantage of multi-core CPUs and powerful GPUs, although the latter is primarily focused on nVidia cards. This is supposedly available both during real-time editing previews and output rendering.
We put this to the test by previewing multiple tracks of HDV video composited in Avid FX and with filter effects applied. But performance crawled to a snail’s pace even on our 3GHz quad-core Intel Core 2 test system. Significantly, only one processing core appeared to be doing the lion’s share of the work, so Avid’s claims clearly only apply to certain kinds of task.
Avid Media Composer 3 isn’t a huge leap forward in terms of the features of the core program itself, but it’s still an important release. Instead of resting on its laurels as the standard professional video-editing tool, Avid is now taking up potential challenges from Apple’s Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium. That’s great news for independent videomakers, as there are now more options to choose from.
However, despite the price reduction, Avid Media Composer still isn’t cheap. It’s around £150 more expensive than Adobe CS3 Production Premium, and you can buy Final Cut Studio 2 for under £700 – less than half the price.
The latter may lack Blu-ray burning abilities, but if you’re a Mac user on a budget, Avid’s new pricing is still going to look a little steep, even if you do get a lot for your money.