The One NLE To Rule Them All

9 06 2010

No, no, no.  I  don’t think that there’s one editing platform that rules over everything.  And I never have felt that way. When I edited on film, there were debates as to whether a Moviola upright was superior to a flatbed (too noisy!!  too assistant intensive!!) and I used both.  And once people moved increasingly over to the flatbeds, there were debates as to whether the KEM or Steenbeck or Moviola was the best. And I used them all.

So, this argument about Final Cut and Avid tires me out.  I feel old.  I’ve been there and done that. And I use them both.

Avid's Media Composer 5.0But one thing that the imminent release of Avid Media Composer 5.0 (this Thursday, June 10th) brings to mind is just how much we want our editing machines to do exactly what we want them do. There is a tremendous amount to like in this great improvement to MC (as we cool and insufferable editors like to call it).  Personally, I love the new stereo tracks — which enable me to save great amounts of screen real estate and put keyframes and volume graphic moves on both channels of a stereo sound simultaneously. And I like how I can mix and match frame rates, raster sizes and a slew of other crazy stuff that I don’t really understand, right in my timeline without doing complicated conversions.  Oh, the conversions are still there, but now I don’t have to do them — MC does them  in the background for  me.

I’m lazy like that. And I don’t really understand it well enough to not be lazy.

But some of the coolest things in the new release are not really new, they’ve been in Final Cut for a while — editing directly in the timeline without switching back and  forth between Avid’s modes, for instance. Personally, I like the old trim mode in Media Composer, but if you’re used to dragging and dropping on the Final Cut timeline, this is going to seem very familiar to you.

Another thing that I really like in the new Media Composer is that I can edit directly in QuickTime, without conversion or transcoding to Avid Media files. Yeah, just like Final Cut does. I can also edit Red files directly, along with AVCHD and P2 and XDCamEX. But that QuickTime editing is great.

So, now (to a great degree) I can have some of what I like in Final Cut right inside Media Composer.

It gets even better.  Though I haven’t tested it yet (Boris!!  Are you listening??) Boris released a video today talking  about a new product that they’ve got coming out called Boris AAF Transfer. If this software lives up to its hype, it will make it very easy to edit a sequence in Final Cut and export the timeline to Media Composer and easily relink everything to the original media without complicated transcoding. In fact, with Avid’s QuickTime AMA (new in 5.0), you can simply link the transferred timeline back to the original FCP media and — voilá — you’ve got an Avid Media Composer project ready for editing, finishing, sound work or whatever you want to do.

For years, people have been doing a similar thing using Wes Plate’s awesome Automatic Duck, though it did take a few more contortions and is twice the price of Boris’s solution. Without testing Boris AAF Transfer it’s  impossible to know whether it can handle sequences of the complexity that Automatic Duck does. Wes’ plug-in has been so reliable for so long that it’s hard to imagine that Boris’ 1.0 version can come  close.

But Boris has been doing fantastic FX plug-ins for FCP and Avid (many of their effects come standard with the full version of Media Composer — sorry students) that it’s an exciting development. Often I go for their plug-ins over Apple’s or Avid’s.  So I am encouraged and hopeful.

And that leads me back to my original point. What I’ve observed over the years is not how different editing systems are, but how similar. When Avid was just starting, they looked over the shoulder of companies like Lightworks and saw that — holy splice mark Batman!! — you could actually edit in the timeline. And, lo and behold, trim mode was born. When Randy Ubillos, creator of the original Adobe Premiere, first created what would become Final Cut Pro, he was able to take a look at what both Premiere and Media Composer were doing wrong, think hard, and improve on them (Lightworks was, by then, a non-competitor). And now, with every release of each NLE, they’re looking at what their competitors are doing better than they are, and putting it into their own software.

No one knew they needed “select to the  right” until FCP introduced it. It is now in  MC (since 4.0 or thereabouts).

So, in my opinion, there is not “one NLE to rule them all.” The best NLE is  all of them together, especially when there are companies like Boris and Automatic Duck to build bridges between them. Especially when companies like Avid take a look at what Apple and Red and others are doing, and put it in their software. Especially when there are editors out there who keep on pushing those companies to create better and better NLEs.

[Don’t even get me started on Get. Though not as cool as Avid’s ScriptSync, it is so way cool that there were editors at a recent LAFCPUG meeting ready to throw down their hard-to-come-by-recession-dollars for a copy.]

What we want, when you really get down to it, are our favorite companies out there — Apple, Adobe, Avid, Sony, and a host of others — to keep running scared and looking at others who are doing  great innovation and trying to figure out how to do it themselves.

Then I can have one or two or three of them sitting on my Mac, and move effortlessly between them.  Then it won’t be the software that will rule, it will be the Mac sitting on my desk that will be the one true NLE to rule them all.


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