Tech Corner – Market Research

January 3, 2022

Before starting my latest job, I had a lot of time on my hands. Because I was in solitary confinement. Not a prison exactly, but pretty close. I had flown into Sydney, Australia, to edit the pilot and several episodes of the Universal series La Brea. To get into Australia since 2020 you need special permission from the government (they make money off American productions so no problem there) and a two-week stay in hotel quarantine.

Of course, hotel quarantine means you share the unfiltered air circulating with your hotel mates. And you have 14 days to fill where you cannot leave your room or get fresh air for any reason. You aren’t even given a hotel key. If you step out, you’re locked out. They don’t even trust you with metal utensils with the awful meals they serve.

For every new series or movie project, you have to arrange for the equipment and software. With several editors on a show, you’d want agreement on what to use. My question, pondered in my dim hotel room, over my meals with the provided ‘silverware’ (woodenware?), was, what version of software we’d use.

Avid updated its Media Composer software in 2018. Starting with version 2019 it now has a unified interface. There is a ‘host’ panel that covers your entire screen. Within that, the Media Composer components are tied together: Project, Composer and Timeline windows are joined so if you resize one, you resize them all. The look and feel (colors, icons) were also changed. Modernized? If that’s what it’s called, sure.

The Hollywood editing community has not reacted well to the change. “…about 95% of customers are requesting and running 2018, about 5% are requesting, running or accepting 2019-2021” writes Patrick Reber, Director of Operations for Catalyst Post, an editorial room and equipment rental company. I reached out to another rental company that responded: “…we have no clients working on 2021. In fact, none of our clients have asked to be on the new version of MC.” So, I asked my new colleagues what we should choose to work on. I would like to use the latest Media Composer,

2021-dot-something. Who’s with me? No one. 10-1. I was outvoted. Rats. What is behind the reluctance to upgrade? “I think most editors are working fine in 2018 and so have an ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ attitude,” responded the rental company contact. “I think it was a huge mistake on Avid’s part [to] not focus group editors more on the look and feel of the software, if they did at all.” Reber reports the same from his clients: “I used 2018 on my last show and had no problems, I want to use that again” is what his clients have been saying.

But some people aren’t afraid of change. Eddie Hamilton, ACE, is currently editing the next two Mission: Impossible movies (7 and 8) and chose to use AMC  2021. “I always like to use the latest version of Avid Media Composer, because for the most part the software improves with each iteration. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, one step back, but the improvements almost always have a positive impact on my creative flow.”

And the improvements between 2018.12 and 2021.9, besides the look, are substantial. AMC uses a new media engine, which allows for much faster imports (transcodes) and exports. The new export options have replaced much of the need for an external program like Adobe’s Media Encoder. Bins can now have a visible grid clips can snap to, a bin ‘map’ that shows the arrangement of clips in the whole bin but not visible, the timeline blue bar now will stay in the same place when you zoom in and out (a really great fix), and there is a timeline map that shows the whole timeline in a small window for easy navigation. Says Hamilton: “… the best for me [are] all the new audio mixer features.”

The audio mixer can now be resized and the display customized in many ways. “Bulk edit for bin text, find and replace bin text, strip silence from tracks, the Inspector Tool, the improved options for automatic clip selection when you right-click on the timeline. The bin and timeline maps are great, background save seemed hugely improved, I never notice any bins saving which is fabulous. But mostly because once you customize it, the new interface is more elegant to move around.“

Other improvements: You can dock several tools together in one window, such as the audio mixer, EQ and AudioSuite tools. Tool Palettes, small boxes that can hold many button commands, can be saved with a workspace, and docked if needed. I have multiple Tool Palettes open to keep as many commands easily available as possible.

“A lot of these features help assistants more than editors, but I want to make life as easy as possible for my team so why not use the latest version and all work more efficiently?” says Hamilton. What Avid has not really explained is that for those who prefer how Media Composer 2018 looked, 2021 can be customized to appear nearly the same. And it is very simple. Create a new Workspace and call it, say, ‘Classic.’ Then under ‘Windows’ choose the option ‘Float All Panels.’ You thus essentially have the previous interface, with no linked windows. Arrange the windows as you’re used to, and even shrink the Host Panel to the upper left corner, save, and you’re almost back in 2018 – which sounds like a great idea in every sense.

For more information, I’ve created a tutorial on YouTube, https://bit.ly/3sAWpLU, or search for the page Editor Demos. One historical reason editors are hesitating to upgrade to newer software is Avid software development prior to the current generation was not a positive experience. Development cycles were in years, not months as they are now. And by upgrading you’d get an entirely new program with a whole set of unanticipated problems. Now Avid engineers are constantlyworking on the software, releasing new versions every month or two, and constantly ironing out bugs as they arise.

Says Hamilton: “I have not experienced any stability issues with v2021 (at least not more than v2018). Computers are computers, they crash sometimes.” Adds Patrick Reber: “Personally, from a tech standpoint, I think 2021 is very stable. We have very few customers running 2019-2021, but it seems just as stable.”

And my own experience bears that out. I have very few stability issues with the latest software, including beta versions. It used to be you chose one version of software and for the life of the project, you never changed, and everyone worked on the same version. That is no longer necessary. It can be important to upgrade when bugs are fixed or features are added. And because Avid remains so compatible with previous versions, there isn’t a reason everyone has to be on the same software version. Nothing in 2021 is incompatible with 2018, neither bins nor sequences.

I know of shows that have a mixture of 2018 and 2021. And what has been the experience of those who have moved up to the newer version of Media Composer? According to Reber: “For the most part, after customers have been running 2021 for a couple of months, they are just as happy. They just don’t enjoy the learning curve when upgrading.” Which is understandable. You are used to where things are and what they look like. And it is a fact that you will eventually have to adjust. Changes in underlying hardware and operating systems have been one driving force behind the changes in Media Composer. Apple, for example, will no longer allow 32-bit applications to run. So, if you get a new computer, say a faster M1 laptop, a number of programs you’ve used for years will no longer work. Including features of AMC 2018.

“I’m sure the switch will happen eventually,” notes my rental contact, “just as the shift from MCv6 to MCv8 to MCv2018 took many years.”

Says Hamilton: “I prefer to swim with the tide, rather than against it, and I know there’s always a bit of a learning curve, so after a demo from Avid’s Michael Krulik I dived into v2020/2021 with an open mind and positive attitude. Having spent time with the new interface, I really like it, especially for laptop editing where it is a huge improvement over v2018. I spend quite a bit of time editing in hotel rooms, on sets, on locations, in a car, at the director’s house – all that work done on a laptop.”

Would I recommend everyone adopt AMC 2021? Yes. It isn’t that hard to adapt, and the new features are more than worth the effort. And Avid is stopping all further development of 2018 in December. As Reber points out, “Hollywood is just a blip on Avid’s map.” An important blip, but a pretty small share of their market. But maybe if they’d done a bit more market research with Hollywood editors, they might find less resistance to their latest product.

-From the former resident of cell 505, Novotel Hotel, Sydney, Australia.

 

 

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