Well, we’re running into the first 30 or so days of Media Composer | First, the long awaited (two years) free version of Avid Media Composer, and I thought that I would give my two cents worth, as I’ve seen a lot of people chiming in on the internet, with the initial release, giving their thoughts. To be honest, though, most of the things I have read (other than Scott Simmons excellent write up here on PVC), have been from people who don’t know Media Composer very well, and really have no point of reference for what Avid has done to Media Composer (i.e. – stripping away features), to get us this free version. Well, I’ve had a lot of time to play with MC|F, and I have a lot of opinions about it. Some good, some not so good, and some that need serious addressing right away. Let’s start with the good, and work our way from there!
What MC|F does it does super well, and here are some of those Home Runs!
THE “COMPLETE” MEDIA COMPOSER EXPERIENCE
Whether you want to hear this or not, Media Composer is entrenched in Hollywood and network television for a reason. It’s rock solid (for the most part), can handle super large projects and timelines with ease, and its media management blows away all the competitors. It’s problem has always been it’s price. No one has wanted to pay the huge cost (back in the day), or the $49 per month it now costs for the subscription model. I’m happy to say that if you’re new to the industry, or are a Premiere or FCPX cutter, and want to learn Media Composer (you can check out all my Media Composer and MC|F tutorials here), you now have absolutely no reason not to check it out. This is the perfect tool to learn everything you need to know about how to edit in MC, so you can go out and get a gig cutting on the full version, as the learning curve to go from MC|F to MC is marginal.
FRAMEFLEX/COLOR ENCODING/AMA CODECS
This is where I thought that MC|F, might fall off the rails a little bit, as HD is the largest frame size you can work with, and I wasn’t sure if they would even support bringing in larger than HD media into MC|F, but I’m very happy to say that if you can import it, or link to it in MC, you do the exact same thing in MC|F. RED, no problem, ALEXA, no problem. Need to work with LUT’s, no problem, just apply them as effects. Now, that does beg the question, what do you do with all those larger than HD clips, when you have them in MC|F? Well, you can make sure they are formatted correctly and look correct by accessing FrameFlex and Color Encoding through your Source Settings (right click on any clip to access them), and you can even adjust basic RED clips parameters through your Source Settings as well.
H264 & DNxHD EXPORTS
This is one that I was really pretty surprised with. I pretty much knew that H264 was going to be your export option, but I wasn’t prepared for the ability to export DNxHD right from MC|F, which will let you export super high quality video, that could conceivably be sent to stations or spot delivery services for broadcast. Want to go straight to the web? You have the ability to do that right by simply right clicking on the Sequence window.
One thing that editors hear me talk about all the time is Codecs. Which ones are supported, what do you need to do to work with “Avid Friendly” codecs (Fast Importing or Consolidating), but to be honest, it’s still all pretty confusing. I wrote an article here at PVC to try to help people wrap their heads around codecs in Media Composer, but it can still be confusing. Enter one of my favorite features inside of MC|F, and that is the updated “Transcode” window, which has a little option at the top that looks like the below image.
What does it mean? Well, it means don’t worry about Codecs. Consolidate, and MC|F will figure out if the codec with the clip is a native codec, and MC|F will deal with it accordingly (re-wrap), and if it’s not a native codec, MC|F will just transcode, and all your clips will be ready to go in a few moments. Simple, straightforward, and leaves no confusion as to how editors should work, to get the best out of the media they are using.
You’re going to find training in this article twice. Once, where I toot my own horn, and once where I talk about the Avid Partner training. My training is pretty simple. Are you an editor on another NLE, and want to learn MC|F? My training is for you. Are you a student who is currently being taught Premiere in school, and want to learn MC|F, so you can get a handle on the full version of Media Composer? My training is for you. My training will teach you the ins and outs of MC|F, so you can take what you’re learning in school, or what you’ve learnt from years of experience, and apply it to MC|F. You’ll find my thoughts of the Avid Partner training later on in this review.
Now, my “Foul Balls” section is more for the head scratching things that either are in MC|F, or surprisingly has been left on the cutting room floor. Here we go!
NO FORWARD BIN SUPPORT
This was the biggest head scratcher for me. Normally, when you’re making a “lite” version of an application, you make some way for, in this case, an editor to either send those bins to a full version of Media Composer to work with, or to upgrade at any given second, to unlock the full power of Media Composer. Well, if you were hoping for that, you’re unfortunately out of luck, as there is absolutely no way to bring bins forward, to work with inside of the full version of MC. Now, I think that this feature is a “just a matter of time” issue, I have read that it’s on the roadmap for MC|F, but as far as features go, it’s one that needs to be at the top of the priority chain.
If there’s one thing I hate about MC, it’s the Application Manager. It’s just such an annoyingly frustrating tool that Avid, if they’re really serious about Media Composer and it’s subscription model, need to overhaul. In a word, it sucks, and unfortunately MC|F’s useablity is directly tied to this unholy bringer of death, and what I mean by that is that the Application Manager is MC|F’s direct link to functionality. If the App Man can’t access your Avid Account, and see that you have MC|F licensed, it won’t run. THIS IS A FREE APPLICATION THAT YOU ARE USING TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO EITHER UPGRADE OR FLAT OUT PURCHASE THE FULL VERSION OF MEDIA COMPOSER (OR SUBSCRIBE), AND YOU TIE IT TO MEDIA COMPOSER’S ABSOLUTE WORST FEATURE????? My big problem is that there isn’t even a grace period for you to be disconnected from your Avid account for (24hrs/48hrs). The instant you’re disconnected, you’re booted out, which is easily the worst feature of MC|F.
Now, with that being said, you’re going to want to keep your eyes on the Application Manager, as it will be your only source to know when updates are released for MC|F, and what’s even more important to keep in mind is that when point updates are released, these are normally patch updates for Windows users. That’s right Mac users, any time an update comes your way, you will have to download the full version, and unintstall, and re-install the full version. Hey, why should you have it any easier than the rest of us Mac editors. LOL.
IT’S THE “SAME” MEDIA COMPOSER
If you were hoping that this version of Media Composer would be….”lighter”, I’m sorry to say that it isn’t. It’s basically the exact same version as the regular version, just with some features turned off. This means that the size of the download is still the same (2G), and the system requirements are also the same, which many people complain about, as they feel that Avid’s system support is very…..limited.
NO INTEROPERABILITY – PROTOOLS FIRST
Well, I have this free version of ProTools, and I have this free version of Media Composer, maybe they’ll play nice together. Nope. They are still two islands, as there is no OMF/AAF export capabilities from MC|F to anything, so unfortunately they will keep being islands on your system, until one of the tech people at Avid do something about it.
NO THIRD PARTY INTERFACES
This is one that I found slightly annoying. I can understand that Avid would disable capturing, and Digital Cut (Output to Tape), but to disable being able to see your timeline on a broadcast monitor is a little annoying. Why would you give us the ability to export from MC|F in a broadcast format, DNxHD, and not give us the ability to pipe our images into a broadcast WF/VS to make sure all the levels are good. If you don’t want us using it for broadcast, only give us the ability to export H264.
In many cases, finding problems with free applications can be difficult, but there are a few huge strike outs that Avid needs to fix, to make Media Composer | First a real success.
AVX2 SUPPORT IS LOCKED UP
There’s nothing like running for the finish line, only to have the rug pulled out completely from underneath you. This was, and still potentially is, a huge feature inside of MC|F. The ability to use your AVX2 plug-ins, conceivably opening MC|F to a world of third party possibilities like Boris Continuum Complete, Sapphire, Mocha Pro and Magic Bullet Looks. It would make MC|F a true offline tool. There’s only one problem, a big problem, and that is that MC|F will only allow you to use the AVX2 plug-ins that you’ve purchased through the Avid Marketplace, which is almost a bait and switch, but not quite. This is pretty bad, but it doesn’t even compare to the next bigger issue.
To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this one. First of all, to quote Avid directly in their documentation, they quote a feature of MC|F being the Avid Marketplace, with which you can make In-app AAX and AVX Marketplace and software upgrades. Meaning you can open the “Avid Marketplace” from within MC|F, and purchase these effects to work in MC|F. Well, first of all, you’re going to be lucky if you can even get the Marketplace to open, and second of all, why is Avid referring to this as the “Marketplace”. It’s actually shop.avid.com, because if you google Avid Marketplace, this is the site it brings to you to.
How bloody confusing can you get. In the five minutes it’s taken me to type this out, I’ve been trying to get the “Marketplace” to open, and absolutely no luck. Once I did manage to get it open in app, it’s just an atrociously awful tool that I don’t even trust to open properly, let alone would I trust it to make a transaction. I should be allowed to enter my licensing information into my avid account for my AVX2 plug-ins, and use them as I would ones purchased from Avid, as there’s no way I’m double dipping for products that I’ve already purchased.
EVERYTHING IS A SALES PITCH
Want more than five bins? Upgrade. Want more than four video tracks? Upgrade. Want more than eight audio tracks? Upgrade. Want Multicam, after we’re already teased you by being able to group clips together? Upgrade. See where I’m going here? I’m all for the sales pitch, but at least give me a “Do not show this again!” option, so I don’t have to keep seeing this.
This is an area I found myself very disappointed. I’ve done all the training up until this point for the Getting Started series, and this time Avid decided to go a different route, and go with a company that they are partnering with, Inside the Edit (ITE), for the training. Cool, no skin off my nose, but here’s where my problem lies. Each lesson is about 2:30. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for quick tutorials, but when i did my Get Started Fast tutorials, they ranged from 10-15 min each for five lessons, so a total of 50-75 min of training, which I feel is a pretty good length to have someone, well, get started fast. All of that is fine and good, since ITE is partnering up with Avid for more training which is awesome, so I headed over to their site to check it out. My first concern is that I now have to subscribe to….something, to get the training I’m looking for. Okay, I’ll bite, let’s sign up for it, and see what happens.
One of the first things the welcome video says is “We are not technical. We do not teach the software”. Ummm…Isn’t that why I’m coming here? ITE teaches the “actual craft of editing”. I’m told in the video that we are going to “start learning and cutting” straight away. But if you aren’t teaching me how the actual software works, how do you propose that I do that? The course that is taught is obviously a tease to get you to sign up for $50 per month (with a 25% discount for MC|F users) course to learn more about the craft of editing. To be honest, I think this is a mistake on ITE’s part, as many people who will be coming to the site will be editors from other NLE’s (Premiere & FCPX), as well as students, who are already learning the craft of editing (or already know it), and they just want to know how to use “technically use” MC|F, which the site, unfortunately, doesn’t teach. Anyways, at least you can get 2G of footage, and 100mb of music to play around with, and you can always head over to my YouTube channel to learn the technical ins and outs of Media Composer | First. Don’t get me wrong, I found the course that they offer interesting, but as an experienced editor wanting to learn MC|F, this is not the place to go.
So, what do I think that Avid should do to “fix up” MC|F, and keep in going in the right direction? Well let me tell you!
LET ME BUY THE FEATURES I WANT IN MC|F
HitFilm totally nailed it out of the park with this one. They have the full version of HitFilm (2017), as well as the free version. But, what they have done that’s very clever. They sell a whole bunch of add-ons as, well, add-ons. Really wish you had HitFilm Pro’s Mocha tracking capabilities in the free version? No problem. For $50, you can add it to HitFilm Express. Want Boris Continuum Complete’s 3D Objects? Again, no problem, it’s only $50. This is an absolute brilliant way to tease users about the full version of a package, and keep revenue coming in, to develop the full version.
This is something that, if the MC infrastructure allows, Avid should absolutely add to MC|F, as I can easily see users paying to add features to the free version. If everything is licensed through the Application Manager, you think that this would be something that is doable.
SOME IMPORTANT SETTINGS ARE MISSING
This is a big one, for me at least. I understand that when making a stripped down version of Media Composer, there are simply some things that have to go, but with that being said, there are some simple things that I was hoping would still be in there, like some important workflow settings that, whether you’re working on a free version or not, should be there. A simple example is is the Audio settings. By default in MC|F, the audio is set to have the default pan for Mono Tracks set to Centred with no way of altering it. This is a simple setting, that I set when I first create my user settings (as it is a user setting), and it’s a huge workflow one for me, and it’s one that, in my opinion should be in there.
THERE ARE STILL SOME BUGS
I know that all software has bugs, and issues, but I was a little surprised to find out that, for some reason, I can’t export DNxHD files from MC|F. I don’t even have the option, which I found slightly annoying and, to be honest the major features need to be working correctly when something like this launches, but since I have the full version of MC, I’m not going to sweat it.
I’m going to be honest now, if you are an editor who is not editing in Avid Media Composer, and don’t currently have it installed on your system, there is absolutely no reason why you should not download it, and learn how to use it. If you’re a freelancer, or a student just starting out, you absolutely owe it to yourself (and your career) to learn this application, which will open a ton of doors for you down the road. We’re starting to amass a lot of tutorials for Media Composer first over on my YouTube channel, and I’m also going to be doing a free webinar to get you up and running in MC|F with the awesome team over at Moviola on September 12th, and we’re going to be covering the below topics:
Differences between MC|F and Media Composer
- Creating projects, bins and your first sequence
- Organization – The Strength of MC|F
- Five things to keep in mind when editing in MC|F
- Exporting and delivering masters
And, if you want to sign up and check out the free webinar, you can head over to the Moviola site, and sign up. It’s free, and will be a great introduction to Media Composer | First.
It’s unfortunate that Avid has taken so long to release MC|F as, even though it does have it’s issues, it really is a fantastic application, and with more and more editors, directors and producers talking about how Avid in entrenched in Hollywood television and feature film, if you’re looking to break into that game, this is the tool that is going to help you do that!
For more information, and to download the free version of Media Composer | First, you can check it out at http://www.avid.com/media-composer-first/ .