The View on Non Linear Editing Systems

This post is a mix on review, an overview and analysis of modern day non linear editing systems that’s after the infamous Grass Valley CVX600. I’m going to basically go one after another, where they came from, what they became and what’s the future and why people should be concerned. (The future isn’t bright afterall…)

Avid (Avid1/Media Composer/etc)

Short History

In the late 1980s, a company called Avid Technology was formed after the founder Bill Werner and his crew of people were developing a visual and graphically enhanced user interface. When he went to a Boston area editing house to make edits for his company Apollo (later to be sold out to HP) he thought he “computer editing” was a GUI computer with something people would expect today. While Werner didn’t tell an interviewer in 2010 specifically what “computer” it was, it was most likely he was inferring the CVX600. It had a terminal screen and editors would punch in time codes of the edits after viewing the edits before. Unlike what Werner et al would envison is a computer program that would show you the actual cut before committing it back to video tape as a master.

The original Avids were designed and were going to be based off Apollo workstations. At the 1988 SIGGRAPH show, the Avid team inspired the people at Apple, and a rep from Apple contacted the Avid people and when they returned back to the East Coast, there were a bunch of boxes blocking the entry of their offices with then-branded Federal Express packages.

What was ironic at the time, System Software 6 was on the horizon, mutitasking was a joke at the time, and multi-threaded protection was not available till OS X, more than a decade later. The Apple developers worked in lock step with Avid at this time writing code while Avid was writing drivers to make their system work on the Macs. According to Bill Werner, the tests that were actually performed, were the theoretical results, and the tests clearly resulted on the theoretical which never happens with any code then or now.  The tolerable tests were 15 frames per second, and write speeds under a megabyte (which was a for the time.)

Since Apple was never planning to get into the NLE business, they gave Avid any surplus Mac Apple had in their inventory and by 1990, the AVID/1 was marketed. It was marketed as turnkey solution by Avid, with modified Macintosh hardware (legit legally) as it was based off the Macintosh IIx, and later versions would be based on newer Macintosh hardware. By the mid 1990s, they would port their stuff over to PCs and would go through all the major changes by Apple. At one point they had half the editing suites in market share, but by 1999 Apple really disrupted the entire NLE ecosystem.

Avid today

Avid is still around, albeit a much nimbler company. They finally got into the software business, and by 2010 they relocated to southern Middlesex County, just a mile north of the Burlington Mall in a suburban office park.

Their current product is called Media Composer, and if you take out the branding of the versioning, it’s likely based on a 9th revision to the overall MC code; however there was another version of their editing systems that kinda conflicts with the modern day MC, and I am no Avid expert, and the original AVID/1 code probably has no connection to the code of the modern day systems.

The application is literally world of it’s own. It reminds me of Lotus Notes/Domino. I am not bashing Notes or Avid, but it’s closest metaphor I can describe. Avid’s platform never conformed into the GUI frameworks of both Windows or Macs, but that’s OK, because for an application like MC, you want to avoid the borders of the application.

The technical history of Avid I have heard from their salespeople (one I have known for over 14 plus years) was the application was designed around film, and yet the user interface is designed for people who have used personal computers, while Apple was designed solely for filmmakers who never used a PC.

My brain is complex, and often gets confused to what’s a clickable button, what is a keyboard function, and the Avid interface (this is MC version 2018, before the big UI redux introduced at the last NAB Show, the year before the pandemic.) There is two types of GUI users, one who mouses around, cheating their way through, and one knows the operating systems GUI inside and out.

Another confusing and mixed signals is since AVID/1, is the strongly suggested dual display setup, to move windows (such as Clips and Sequences); where it’s somewhat used, but not seldom or frequent.  Another quirk (or feature) is various windows that will appear upon request, one notorious example is the Effect Editor, if a user goes to the menu or hits a button, the Effect Editor will appear as long as you do not move the Timeline, but the moment you do it disappears! The way to move the timeline with keeping the Effect Editor pane, I should say, is to find a small timeline like element on the top of that pane, because it’s not a window in my standards.

Because Avid’s interface is an app of it’s own (going as far back as the original AVID1, unless the user is well trained in Avid’s GUI without certification, you’re kinda SOL. I am saying specifically, radio buttons, clickable buttons, what function can be a keyboard shortcut, etc. This is an extension to a written post recently defending a GUI even if you use the mouse half the time. Avid’s GUI is not explicit of where the line is drawn of what function is mouse mandatory vs. keyboard shortcut. 

With no offense, it’s easy to say that Werner was and is an engineer’s engineer. There is a lot of vagueness and yet there black and white. This why a lot of my edits had been really hap-hazard in quality before I had a dedicated direct support staff who worked in the business with decades of Avid experience.

Avid in the near future

Unless Avid can get their crap together, and migrate away from the stereotypical 2010 mindset of hardware, and trying to get influencers into a platform they may never heard of, which I think would be cool, it will be a long road for them to grow back to where they were in the height in the mid 00s. What makes Apple and Adobe successful is that they use all the hardware inside their supported versions of their software. Avid’s approach is publishing a recommended hardware list, and spec of third party components like specific NVIDIA boards is kinda not the approach now.

Avid should stand out from the crowd and continue to support multiple displays. In the beginning, Avid took advantage of Apple’s then defacto I/O platform called NuBus and made it virtually mandatory to have dual displays. Because everyone apparently carries MacBook Pros, the idea of having multiple displays from the two other A companies, must mean Avid should follow suit. I think that’s going too far. While I have not tried 2019 just yet, I think if Avid follows the average, it will be lousy.  I think fixing quirks would be a better option. I also think it should be easier to edit multiple effects per track. There’s instances where you may have an upside down clip, that also needs some other effect, and it shouldn’t be a complete complex situation to promote/demote, step in or out to basically flip an iPhone video and insert some color correction without taking out the rotation, etc.

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