NLE Version 7.0

With NAB less than a month away it seems a certainty that we’ll see new versions of the two main NLE platforms vying for the attention of broadcast and professional editors. And they both reach version 7.0 – we’ll see Avid Media Composer (and Symphony) 7.0 and Adobe Premiere CS7 – what are we hoping for?

Adobe Premiere

Adobe has really pushed Premiere forward in the last few versions. An application that was entirely overlooked by many editors before (despite the fact many already owned it alongside After Effects) has become an ideal choice for many.

Premiere’s recent growth can obviously be partly attributed to Apple’s dramatic change of direction with FCP, but Adobe also put serious effort into making the product meet the needs of a new client base. They have also been innovating – the performance that Adobe has managed to pack into Premiere with their Mercury Playbeck technology way exceeds what others have achieved.

What is missing from Premiere then? Overall – not much. You’d be hard pressed to find a project that you couldn’t execute pretty well in the current Adobe Premiere, but there are a few areas of weakness…

Media Management
One big frustration with Premiere for many people is the almost non-existent media management tools. There is no easy way to transcode clips in bulk in Premiere while maintaining links and clip relationships. Similarly it is not easy to trim unused media from a project to make project backup. FCP offered these features with their Media Manager, but it was never quite perfect. Avid, on the other hand, has had these abilities as a core functionality for a long time.

Adobe already has the parts of this puzzle in their Media Encoder and Prelude products, but they aren’t integrated into Premiere in a functional way. Hopefully the developer have heard this feedback from users and figured out how to implement a solid media management tool into Premiere CS7.

Collaborative Editing
No one has really managed to do collaborative editing as well as Avid, but Premiere still hasn’t really got a good answer for the challenge. Adobe has been demonstrating their Adobe Anywhere product for a while, which has some real promise for some jobs but still may not solve the challenge for all users. However, even if Adobe doesn’t get this solved themselves it looks like third-parties may step in – EditShare is already announcing they will be offer a project-sharing plugin for Premiere CS7.

Avid Media Composer

I can’t pretend otherwise, I’m an Avid guy at heart, I’ve been cutting on Avid for ten years and have relied on their tools to deliver hundreds of hours of television. However being an avid Avid user can be a frustrating experience. Clearly Avid is a company with a really deep understanding of their market but they have also been pretty slow moving at times – probably a result of having 20 years of product legacy to carry with them as they upgrade and improve.

In the last few years Avid has become a lot more responsive to their clients, but there is a lot of momentum in a product like Media Composer and it doesn’t turn quickly but recent improvements (AMA, third-party I/O, 64-bit) hopefully have laid the groundwork for big improvements in 7.0 and beyond. Avid staffers have made it clear that they were spending a lot of time looking to the future when rewriting Media Composer as a 64-bit application and therefore have removed some of the hardcoded issues that prevented some big improvements in earlier versions.

At this stage I’ve not heard anything officially or otherwise about upcoming versions from Avid so this is really just my hopes and speculation.

Resolution Independence
Media Composer’s strict adherence to standard TV and film formats has been a big frustration for some users for a long time. While FCP, Premiere and others could manage projects with arbitrary frame sizes and framerates Media Composer has limited users to PAL, NTSC and various HD formats only. This approach has solid benefits for some – it’s much harder to mess up a project in Media Composer than FCP7 for example – but overall it’s a restriction that is increasingly limiting with file-based acquisition and delivery that’s no longer confined to TV standards.

There are two aspects to this – one is a resolution independent timeline where your finished product can be any size you want. The other is resolution independence on clips, allowing you to scale and move a 4K clip within an HD timeline is the most obvious example. Both are missing from Media Composer currently, hopefully both can find their way into the next version.

Background Rendering and Hardware Acceleration
Adobe, Blackmagic and others have very successfully proved the benefit of using GPU processors for video rendering and processing. While Avid has taken advantage of OpenGL processing on graphics cards for some basic realtime video effects in the past they have not yet taken advantage of the full power of GPUs using Cuda or OpenCL to accelerate encoding and complex effects. This technology is proven now and is becoming an expectation in video software.

Along with using the extra power of the GPU is the desire to do so without interrupting the user – background rendering. While Media Composer generally has great realtime performance there are effects that simply don’t perform in realtime, and even those that do have to be rendered before they can be output to a file which is the primary output these days. With configurable background rendering Media Composer could become a much more efficient tool for many users.

Colour Correction
Grading in the last few years has become the newly accessible technology. Previously limited to those with tens of thousands of dollars (at least) for specialist products we have now seen powerful colour correction become affordable (free in the case of Resolve Lite, and bundled in the case of SpeedGrade) but Avid’s tools haven’t changed in ten years since they introduced a cut down version of Symphony’s colour correction toolset into their other products and it’s been longer since Symphony’s own tools have seen a significant improvement.

Unfortunately now Symphony, once a leading contender for online grading, is now seriously lacking in power compared to other products. The strengths of Symphony grading (relational corrections) are still fantastic, but the tools themselves are not very flexible. FilmLight has made their Baselight product available as a plugin for Media Composer and Symphony on the Mac, and a Windows version is in development – they are a great added tool, but lack the integration of Symphony’s own corrector.

Hopefully Avid have had the opportunity to improve colour correction as this is an area which is becoming more widely demanded and Avid’s native in-timeline grading is fantastic from a workflow perspective.