How to Import Video into Avid Media Composer (Part One): The Basics

If you’re totally new to Avid Media Composer, this article is as basic as it gets. This series will show you

  • Which products in the Avid family you should consider.
  • How to set up your Avid Media Composer system and project for best results.
  • How Avid Media Composer handles files, codecs and color.
  • How to import or ingest different codecs for best quality.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Let’s get started.

AMC Box

What do people really mean when they say ‘Avid’?

Avid is the name of a company (Avid Technology Inc.), just like Apple and Adobe. But why does everyone say: “Let’s edit on an Avid”? Isn’t it like saying ‘let’s edit on an Adobe?’

Avid has been around for more than twenty years, and in this short time it has become the most respected NLE, bar none. For a newcomer, it is slightly confusing at first where the NLE in Avid is. Rest assured, there is an NLE, and it forms the fulcrum of the Avid editing experience. Take a look at this chart:

Avid Product Family

Interesting and confusing, isn’t it? But it really isn’t, any more than Adobe’s suite of products. Let me simplify:

Avid Media Composer

This is the NLE, where you’ll be doing the actual editing. Everything else in Avid (not everything exactly, like Pro Tools, but you get the idea) revolves around this ‘bread and butter’ software. You can buy this software for $999. If you think it’s expensive, you should take a look at what its price was five years ago.

Important: Prices might be inaccurate, and are only indicative, given for general reference. To know the correct price please contact Avid.

Newscutter

This is also an NLE, but more geared towards news editors or journalists in the field. I won’t be going into this here.

Now, let’s shift our focus on the orange boxes. These are additional softwares that you can buy to add more functionality to Media Composer.

Symphony

Want advanced color correction and mastering tools? Then you need to add Symphony. Without this, Media Composer is ‘just an NLE’. Symphony gives you:

  • Universal mastering
  • Color correction
  • Boris Continuum Complete

How much does it cost? Only $1,499. In fact, at the time of this writing, if you combine Media Composer with Symphony as a bundled purchase, you will have to pay $1 more.

PhraseFind

In Avid’s own words:

…find the right clips fast, with highly accurate results. PhraseFind’s powerful search engine automatically analyzes clips and indexes all dialog in your project’s media phonetically, so you can quickly find clips by simply typing a word or phrase—right from within your software.

It costs about $499.

ScriptSync

In Avid’s own words:

ScriptSync accelerates your edit using phonetic indexing of text and dialog to “sync” source clips automatically with the script itself. Once synchronized, you can find the best performance instantly by quickly comparing takes in the context of the story. Ideal for documentaries, interviews, reality TV, feature films, or any project where there is scripted or transcribed dialogue, Avid’s patented, award-winning ScriptSync technology eliminates hours of routine work–effortlessly lining takes and getting you where you need to go, up to 30 times faster.

It costs about $999.

Third-party Software

You have a host of third-party softwares that you can add to your suite – from compression to visual effects. Prices start at $99.99. Examples of well-known names include Sorenson Squeeze Pro, Boris, etc.

Plug-ins

Plug-ins are what you add to Media Composer directly.  These start from $49.95, and are available from many manufacturers like Boris, Red Giant, Sorenson, NewBlueInc, etc.

As you can see, by the time you add that extra functionality you will be paying a lot more than $999. Hey, Avid Media Composer is a premium product in the marketplace. It’s not FCP-X. Whether or not that is a warranted view, I’ll let you be the judge.

Earlier, Avid Media Composer was only sold along with a computer, monitor and additional hardware – as a turnkey system. If you wanted additional functionality, you ordered it and it resided in your computer. The whole shebang, therefore, came to be known as ‘the Avid’.

Today, the softwares are all available as standalone versions, without the hardware. Therefore, it is no longer the case that when two people say ‘the Avid’, they mean the exact same thing. The common factor though, is Media Composer.

Now, let’s shift our attention to the blue boxes. These are hardware sold by Avid.

Nitris DX (The image has the wrong spelling)

Nitris DX is a hardware I/O box that accelerates encoding, decoding and playback. It supports capture and 3D as well. It is similar to the products made by Blackmagic Design, AJA and Matrox. It costs about $5,499.

Mojo DX

Mojo is Nitris’ little brother, used mainly for input and output, without the 3D processing power. It only costs about $2,879.

ISIS

Avid Unity ISIS is a storage system for high-bandwidth file transfer over a network. ISIS stands for “Infinitely Scalable Intelligent Storage.” To know more about this, click here. E.g., an ISIS 5000 starts at $38,000.

Interplay Sphere

In Avid’s words:

Interplay Sphere connects multiple remote editors simultaneously, letting them combine footage from the scene with material on the Interplay Production system. For quick turnaround, proxies of finished edits can precede upload of full resolution media, all becoming available to everyone in the facility or the field in one simple, transparent process.

Prices start at $49,900.

The entire suite of tools that Avid sells has been designed around the complicated world of broadcast video production. They have been refined over years of experience, and have passed thousands of ‘trial-by-fire’ workflows. It works, that’s why people are ready to pay so much for it.

I know you’re itching to know what the lemony box means. That is Avid DS 11, the flagship product of the Avid family.

Avid DS 11

Avid DS, like Media Composer, is also available as a standalone software. The price for one license is $9,999. It, too, can be bought with hardware, for an additional price. When you buy DS, you are also buying a copy of Media Composer. What does Avid DS do?

Avid DS is a full-featured editing, graphics creation, color correction, and compositing solution, and is the absolute best conforming tool for Media Composer and Symphony to create and deliver high-end content. Save time and money by keeping all editing and finishing in house.

To know more about Avid DS, click here.

There are many more tools in the Avid family, but you get the idea from this brief list. In a typical scenario, this is how you decide:

  • Determine whether you want the hardware or just the software.
  • You will need Media Composer, of course.
  • Will you need advanced color correction? If yes, you can opt for Symphony.
  • Will you have heavy VFX work, and the need to edit, grade and master all in one system (sort of like Autodesk Smoke)? If yes, can you afford Avid DS 11?
  • Will you be transcoding all the time? If yes, you might want Sorenson Squeeze.
  • Is your camera codec supported natively? If not, you might need to buy or download a separate plug-in to make it work.
  • Does your business generate enough income to justify the price of ‘the Avid’? You decide.

For the purposes of this guide, I’m using Avid Media Composer 7.

Where to find help

Before you start, you must read the well-written 1,612-page manual, which has the name ‘Media_Composer_Editing_Guide.pdf’. You’ll find it here. You’ll also find specific workflow guides and important resources. It is mandatory reading.

For help and support, you can visit this link: http://www.avid.com/US/support/find-support/champion/Media-Composer

If you’re still stuck, the coolest place to ask is the Avid Community Forum.

While you’re working, if you need to access the manual, go to Help> Documentation (PDF)…. This will open the DOCS folder on your computer, in which you have enough reading material to last you a month.

In Part Two we’ll look at how data is structured within Media Composer, and what the typical workflow might look like.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.