I watched the Avid at AES 2011 streaming press conference so you don’t have to.
The AES presentation took a few minutes at the beginning to give an overview of where Avid and Pro Tools are today, in particular going over the products that Avid released in 2010, in particular:
- The new M-Boxes,
- The HD Native hardware and interfaces,
- And the opening-up of Pro Tools to 3rd-party audio interfaces.
So given this context, the big news is the announcement of Pro Tools 10, with “over 50 new features.” Several were demoe’d and I’ll try to characterize them as best I can. There are two tiers of software, regular and HD, and there are new, next generation DSP cards. At times they were a bit fast and loose about what software/hardware configuration gave you which features, but there is now a feature grid at Avid that you can check out yourself.
New features below the fold…
(Edit: I’ve gotten ahold of the new manual and will update some of the questions I had with answers.)
Pro Tools 10 regions have settable clip gain in the style of Nuendo. Every region in the session now has a small fader button in the lower left-hand corner, and you can set the gain for a clip, independent from the volume automation playlist. The edit window will give you a little feedback with the region overview, growing it bigger and smaller as you change the level.
Clip gains can be set globally for each clip, and, novelly, you can apply breakpoint clip gain automation to the audio regions, apart from the actual volume automation, a bit like Nuendo’s envelope plugin.
This is a big deal for the constant problem we have editing versus mixing, where the editor will set levels one way for his room to even out his tracks, but the mixer mixes on top of the editor’s moves — sometimes saturating the volume playlist with off-scale high or low automation, and making the editor’s job more complicated with the session came back. With Pro Tools up to this point, if the editor and the mixer wanted to keep straight who tweaked which level where, you’d have to use Trim plugins (a bit flaky) or the mixer might do all his moves in trim mode and never coalesce the playlist. Now with the new software, the editor can set his levels and leave the levels in the mix window at unity, giving the mixer clean volume automation playlists.
I couldn’t see, but I hope there are keyboard shortcuts for nudging clip gains up and down, like in Final Cut Pro.
(Edit: There are keystrokes for nudging the clip gain, and you can control how big this nudge works in Preferences. For backwards compatibility, clip gains can be exported to volume automation in the Edit menu [of Pro Tools HD only], or can be hard-rendered into the file in the style of AudioSuite. Locking a region locks the clip gain. Clip gain can be copied, cut and pasted.)
Fade files are no longer rendered. Pro Tools will now dynamically play fades and give fluid visual feedback while editing fades.
Pro Tools can now show multiple AudioSuite windows at once, and store their arrangement in a memory location.
AudioSuite now renders with handles or the whole file. If you apply an AudioSuite plugin to a region, you can control from the plugin window wether the whole file is rendered underneath the region, or just a bit of the file with handles. Also, when a selection is processed with AudioSuite, the plugin will operate on the fades and region edits in a non-destructive fashion, so you don’t lose your edits and you can use the handles you’ve rendered.
A System 5 Channel Strip plugin was demoed, and was represented to be an accurate recreation of the Euphonix System 5 channel strip, with dynamics, EQ, filts, etc.
Pointedly, they did not demonstrate a reversible offline audio processing with history, as with Nuendo, but the new feature as demoed is definitely welcome.
Audio File Enhancements
Pro Tools willl now natively support interleaved audio files, mixed bit depths and file types (though not sample rates), and audio files with 32 bit floating point samples. Pro Tools can now import, record and play back multichannel files. So, if you’re recording a track in stereo, you can record it as a single stereo .WAV (or .AIFF, I presume) file.
The Audio Region list now has a nice “Reveal in Finder” option.
Two questions that weren’t addressed:
- Does Pro Tools support RF64 WAVE files? A 6-track multichannel wave file of an entire feature film would generally be larger than 4 gigabytes, the limit of standard wave files. Only RF64 wave files can hold longer streams of multichannel audio.
- They did not demo editing multichannel files, particularly, editing different channels of a multichannel file differently. Editing stems channel-by-channel is generally considered a must-have feature.
(Edit: In the manual it indicates that RF64 and WAVE Extensible audio files are now supported. The system will now also allow you to change your file format and bit depth while the session is open, changing the settings for new files as you record or create them.)
Several hard disk reading enhancements were demonstrated, all described as the consequence of “rewriting the disk scheduler” and a new “extended RAM cache,” available with Pro Tools 10 HD, that allows audio files to be cached in RAM and improves playback and session opening speed.
If you have 8 gigs of RAM in your computer, and 3 or 4 of them are free, you can set a block of it aside as a cache to open audio files into, thus, when you play the files in the cache, the disk never gets hit. Using this feature, it was explained, now allowed Pro Tools to play and record sessions off of network drives. They did not demonstrate recording to the extended RAM cache, but it was implied to be an option.
This is a very slick feature, but I’d like to withhold judgement until I see how easy it is to use. If it disappears into the background and does the right thing without much hand-holding, it’s potentially amazing; if it requires a lot of user intercession and management, it might not get used very much at all. The thing with Nuendo or Logic’s network and remote volume playback is that it “just works,” you don’t need to know anything about how it works internally.
Because of the several semantic enhancements to fades and clip gain, Pro Tools 10 will use a new session file format, “.ptx,” which was described as roundtrip-compatible with .ptf files.
(Edit: Region groups are now saved in a new format, a “clip groups” file, presumably to store the new clip gain information.)
These were not demoed, but Avid claimed that preview and punch automation would now be available for mapping on Eucon surface, along with several other features. Control of video satellites from a Eucon surface would now be possible, and EQ curves from plugins will now appear on the System 5 TFTs.
Pro Tools 10 HD
Avid’s professional tier product, Pro Tools 10 HD, would be differentiated by features, namely:
- ICON support
- the Extended Disk Cache
- “Advanced Clip Gain” which was not elaborated on or differentiated in the demo
- The ability to connect to 12 Video satellites
- Surround mixing, TrackPunch and DestructivePunch
- VCAs, input monitoring, the fancy automation panel with “Preview” etc.
- Multiple video tracks, video editing
- 768 maximum session tracks and 512 nameable aux channels
- Additional EuCon commands not available in straight Pro Tools 10
- The inclusion of a multichannel to stereo downmixer plugin and the System 5 channel strip plugin.
You’d be able to buy into some of these with straight Pro Tools 10 with a “Complete Production Toolkit” add-on. The straight Pro Tools 10 will still have a timecode ruler.
They demoed a new session plugin standard, “AAX” or Avid Audio Extension plugins. These appeared to work in the same way as realtime plugins we already use, except these new plugins use a different technology under-the-hood to make them processor-agnostic: an AAX plugin can run on the host, like an RTAS plugin, or on the new DSP cards. The new software will still support RTAS, and TDM if you’re running it on the old Pro Tools|HD cards.
This implies that TDM is end-of-lifed; your TDM plugins will not run on the new hardware they are announcing today.
Also, on the plugin front, the delay compensation engine has been embiggened to now buffer up to 16,000 samples.
(Edit: this larger delay compensation setting isn’t available with the old Pro Tools|HD hardware.)
A next-generation DSP platform “Pro Tools HDX”
Higher track counts and more headroom with “5 times the power of the existing platform” 512 voices were demoed, the system is supposed to support up to 768 voices. The demoed session had a rather large number of plugins running, and without being able to see the plugins I couldn’t completely quantify how full it was, but it looked to be rather heavy by current standards, probably too large for an HD 2 Accel.
The new cards will support 32-bit floating point internal processing and 64-bit internal mix buss. This is a huge improvement; it means that on the new hardware, for practical purposes, it will be impossible to clip in Pro Tools. The demo made a point out of saying that sessions and plugins playing on the new hardware would sound the same when played on the old hardware, but this requires a bit more investigation. In principle, gains in a session that push the level over +0dBFS in floating point won’t clip on the HDX cards, but will on Pro Tools HD.
The new cards work with the 2010 IO interfaces. Exact prices for the new cards were not given, but an example package was characterized as being cheaper than a current system with the same number of cards.
Pro Tools 10 is selling now for $699, upgrade from Pro Tools 9 is $299. Available today from Avid’s “channel partners,” I see it on the Avid store now.
Pro Tools 10 HD sells now for $2,499, and the upgrade us $999.
It’s a great release of Pro Tools and I think this continues Avid’s trend of keeping Pro Tools in gross parity with Nuendo while still keeping the legacy users and markets happy and unperturbed. The price is reasonable considering the competition (for the software, anyway). Clip gain alone is a great feature that I imagine I’ll be using constantly. That they’ve been able to keep this pace of new features and enhancements for the last three years or so really speaks to what they characterized, at the beginning of the presentation, as their “commitment to the professional” (which I suppose is meant to contrast Avid with Apple in particular, referencing their misstep with Final Cut Pro X).
It would be perhaps too much to ask for in a new version of Pro Tools, but while they continue to add these new features, Pro Tools is still nothing more than a very fancy, computerized two inch machine, and the basic way we edit audio in Pro Tools 10 is completely unchanged since Sound Tools, and conceptually it hasn’t changed since people were editing and comping with timecode and GPIs on ADAT machines. The foreword to the presentation reminded us that this year is the 20th anniversary of Pro Tools, and fundamentally it’s still the same piece of software, from the user’s point of view.
Something I really appreciate when I work with Final Cut Pro X is the abandonment of the tracks metaphor; it can be difficult to grasp conceptually and it makes certain jobs more difficult to set up, but it immediately ends the Valet Parking Problem: I have 10 regions here, I want to move them down to another set of tracks on another predub, and most of my time will be spent moving regions around so that I don’t accidently blow over regions in the destination tracks, the tracks I’m going to have the right number of stereos and monos, the same plugins, their output assignments are the same channel width, etc. It’s like Valet Parking — to organize one region sometimes you have to have to move six.
This is on top of the Fat Predub Problem, where a predub must have as many tracks as its widest moment, so you end up having 100 channels in a session that, 90% of the time, might require 24. You end up eating 76 track voices just so the console can look organized.
Pro Tools’s solution to this problem has been, consistently, adding more voices so you can make your sessions so ungodly huge that you don’t have to organize anything, and some Pro Tools mixers seem to be of the opinion that organized predubs are not a part of the future of mixing, the organization is wasteful and unnecessary if you’re “always in the final.” The problem with this is, it becomes more and more difficult to visualize and navigate the session, and see what’s playing at any one moment, and having to bank through hundreds of channels in order to find one offending sound.
Keeping your audio organized, and making the mixers life easier, shouldn’t cost resources, auxes, disk voices or memory. Unfortunately, as long as your software operates like a two inch machine, that’s what will continue to happen.
(BTW, features we’re still waiting for: multiple sessions open at once, non-real-time bounces, audiosuite history. Not letting up on that.)
Edit: Some other new features in the manual that were not mentioned in the demo
- “Export selected tracks as a new session” and a “Selected Tracks Only” in the “Save Session Copy” window.
- An “Add to iTunes Library” and a “Share with Soundcloud” option in the Bounce window.
- A 24-hour timeline. I was running into a need for this recently when I was editing a web series in a single large session — this would potentially allow you edit an entire season of a television series in a single session, each episode on an hour. It also makes loading timecode DATs and certain kinds of other timecoded tape media easier, for the people that still do that.
- Pro Tools now has an integrated web browser to take you to the Avid website and find plugins, the knowledgebase, software updates, connect to the store (now a “marketplace”), etc.
- Global solo and mute lights, along with global solo and mute clear, in the edit window.
- An “automation follows edit” button in the edit window.
- In order to pick your way through a session faster, they now have what they call “buss interrogation.” You can tell Pro Tools to select, or show and hide, channels based on what buss they’re assigned to.