With the recent price drop of Avid Media Composer (to $999) and the recent update to version 7, if there was ever a time for independent filmmakers to give this stalwart NLE a second (or even first) look, this is it. Don’t believe what you may have heard online about MC being "old" software with an ancient interface designed decades ago. The app was rewritten to 64-bit at version 6. The interface has been subtly tweaked with new tools added over the last several versions. That interface is very utilitarian in nature and has served editors well. It includes a modern editing toolset, but retains the look and feel that many feature film and television editors are dedicated to. While not yet ready to deliver 4K, it can easily finish in HD and use that higher than HD media in a useful way. The question is this: Is Avid Media Composer right for your needs?
Media Composer’s real strength lies in its editorial and storytelling tools. What exactly does that mean? When it comes to the basic crafting of a story, long before you’re mixing audio or creating visual effects, it’s hard to beat Avid for putting that story together in the timeline and trimming it up into a watchable edit. One of those great strengths is MC’s Trim mode, which is often cited as an Avid editor’s favorite feature. Want to extend that shot? A ripple trim will let you play out and trim a shot in real time, watching that playback in the process. No click-and-drag mouse work required. Want to slip that shot so it begins a few frames earlier or even a minute later? A dynamic slip trim will let you "roll" the shot backward and forward, using the familiar JKL keys for shuttling at different speeds, if you desire, and then watch the shot in context without ever having to click and drag an edit point. Need to trim multiple video and audio edits at the same time (and possibly in different directions) and then be able to easily jump back into that trim with a mouse click? That’s all possible in Media Composer.
By building a dynamic trimming mode into MC from the very beginning, Avid has inspired a loyalty in their NLE that keeps storytelling editors dedicated to the platform in a world where there’s a lot of competitors available, many at a fraction of the cost. As an editor working outside of Hollywood and feature films, I still choose MC when I need a reliable storytelling tool that will best let me view my footage in the context of the edit. And that’s what the Avid Trim mode does—it lets the editor actually view and play back that footage while trimming an edit. You’re working with the moving image, so having to click and drag to make a trim isn’t the best way to build and finesse your story. Watching that media play back in the context of the edit is, and that’s what other NLEs have yet to match.
Beyond Avid’s Trim mode, media management has always been another of Avid’s strong points. For years, MC has used a walled-garden approach to media management. All media went into one folder that only MC could manage, a directory on your media drive called Avid MediaFiles. All media was converted to a common Avid-friendly format. Manage well it did, but editors couldn’t make sense of what was in this folder if they tried. In the file-based world, Avid created Avid Media Access, a new way to access media that allows footage to stay in its original location and (most likely) in its original format. This puts the initial task of media management on the editor, but also doesn’t require MC to copy or convert all media. Avid Media Access has been steadily improving since its introduction some three versions ago, and with version 7 AMA (as it’s called), now appears to be ready for use as something more than a way to get media into Avid’s walled garden.
Background processing has been added to MC7, allowing the NLE to both consolidate (as in copy media) and transcode (as in convert to another editing format) media in the background. That comes in quite handy, so you can continue working if you choose to put media into the more traditional Avid walled-garden media folder. Let’s hope other background processes, like background rendering and background saving, are next on the list. A new option in version 7, called Dynamic Media Folders, lets you designate a watch folder that can transcode or consolidate any media that’s added to that folder. That’s a great way to continually bring new media into an edit just by placing that new media into a single folder. Different rules can be applied to a Dynamic Media Folder to process media in different ways. It’s a unique way of ingesting media and one of the signature features of MC7.