Media Composer 6 review

With Apple almost throwing the baby out with the bath water in Final Cut Pro X, it’s down to Avid to steady the video editing ship with a solid and progressive update to the venerable, pro-level package.

The first big change to Media Composer 6 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, as well as the processing boost, is the ability to access much more memory, which is vital for complex sequences that use a lot of effects.

It’s what’s outside that counts

However, it’s the external hardware that has seen the most dramatic change. Previously, 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 means companies like Matrox, Motu, Bluefish444, AJA and Blackmagic Design can develop plug-ins for Composer 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; mid-tones 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, there are limitations. Third-party hardware plug-ins can’t access ancillary data, LTC input and output, stereoscopic full-frame capture and output, audio punch-in, hardware codec modules, or universal mastering. There’s a big hint that they will be in future updates.

Having said all that, you no longer need to have any hardware connected at all and can simply work on footage on the system hard drive. In fact, on the Avid list of supported Mac hardware, a lot of the earlier Macs are now supported as software only, rather than with Nitris DX or Mojo DX hardware.

The user interface has been remodelled, though some parts of it are still a little clunky.  Things like shading on the project bin make it easier to pick files apart and there’s been some reorganisation here so you can sort multiple bins into one large tabbed bin or copy clips from one tabbed bin to another. It makes media management that much easier. If you’re not happy with the look, you can change colours, how light or dark the interface is, and what information is displayed by default.

Of course, there’s far more in Media Composer 6 than we can get through here, but it’s worth mentioning that with stereoscopic 3D being a hot trend in cinema, tools have been added to create a stereo workflow as well. 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’ll still need a Nitris DX box to output to a 3D monitor.

Being able to edit a wide variety of file types has always been a strong suit of Composer, thanks to the Avid Media Access (AMA) plug-in. Instead of transcoding or converting other formats AMA links to RED/RED EPIC, ProRes, AVCHD, HDCAM SR Lite, various versions of XDCAM and others so they can be viewed and edited directly. Media Composer can’t edit above HD res though, 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 in ProRes on the Mac, which it can’t on the Windows version. The various formats, once linked with AMA, appear in the bins and can then be mixed in the same project.

OUR VERDICT

Avid has cleverly avoided taking any risks with its core users by providing a 64-bit architecture base for faster rendering, opening up the hardware side 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.

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