How to Import Video into Avid Media Composer (Part Three): System and Project Settings

 

In Part One and Part Two we looked at the basic structure, scope and workflow of Avid Media Composer. In this part, we’ll finally get things underway and learn the best system and project settings to get you started.

The computer system

Avid Media Composer is not a light application. To read the recommended system requirements, click here. To learn how to build a computer for editing read Computer for Video Editing.

Regarding the GPU, this is what Avid has to say:

NVIDIA cards are recommended; full-screen playback requires a minimum of 128 MB of graphics memory.

Regarding hard drives, this is what Avid has to say:

Distribute video tracks as evenly as possible among available drives, and target separate drives for audio and video.

The basic idea is to maintain real-time performance by selecting your drive system carefully. If you’re running DNxHD 220 files, and have four tracks, you’ll need 880 Mbps, and so on. When dealing with high-resolution files and when working in RGB 709 mode (later), you will be better off with a faster processor. I was able to run Media Composer on an intel i5 processor on an iMac, even though the requirements call for an Intel i7 as minimum – but it’s slow. Also, 12 GB seems like an optimum starting point for RAM.

Avid also recommends never to remove or connect drives while the application is active. Always close the application first.

For monitoring, you can either purchase Avid’s products or a third party’s (Blackmagic Design, AJA, Matrox, etc.). Avid lists their recommended vendors, and frowns upon any vendors or systems not on their Avid-qualified list. To configure your Windows or Mac for optimum performance, follow the clear instructions by Avid on page 38 of the manual.
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Project settings

When you first launch Avid Media Composer, you’ll be required to select two things:

  • The User
  • The Project

 
Project Selector Create

There are three kinds of projects:

  • Private – only accessible to the computer it is on. It is stored locally.
  • Shared – project is stored locally but can be accessed over a network.
  • External – the project can be stored anywhere on the network.

 
There is a fourth type, called ‘Synced’ projects, but we won’t be going into that in this series. To create a new project, click on New Project:

Avid New Project Box

Under Format, you have options from standard definition to 1080p with the frame rates 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 50 and 59.94 only. For HD, Aspect Ratio will be 16:9. Unlike what is shown above, you must uncheck ‘Film’ if you’re not working from film.

Raster Dimension is the resolution, of which, you’ll only have 1920×1080 by default. The choices here will depend on what plug-ins you have installed on your system.

We’ll look at how Avid Media Composer handles high resolution media and color space a bit later. RGB 709 is only available for 1080p. All other resolutions are forced to work in YCbCr 709.

The codecs you have installed will show up in the light-grey box. Remember, when you choose names of objects, bins, folders, etc., keep it under 27 characters.

A project is stored in …Documents/Avid Projects/NameOfYourProject. It has a sub-folder with the following structure:

  • *.avp – project file
  • *.xml – settings
  • *.avd – information related to bins, one file per bin created

 
The User settings are similarly structured:

  • *.ave – user profile
  • *.xml – settings

 
Backups are written to a folder with the title ‘Avid Attic’. It is the job of the system designer to ensure a good folder structure and drive architecture is maintained. If you’re on a single system, let Avid set its defaults at the beginning. You can always change your destination drives and folders once you understand your workflow.

Avid Media Composer Settings

Once you’re in a project, you can access the Settings by going to the Project panel, which should be open by default. If not, go to Tools > Project (or Avid Media Composer > Preferences…) and click the Settings tab:Avid Project SettingsYou can control almost every setting about your system and project from this place. Let’s look at a few. Double click to open each setting.
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AMA

Go to Volume Mounting:

 Avid AMA Settings

The ‘Automatically AMA-link to volumes’ box will be checked by default. If you want a native file-based workflow, leave it checked. Leave everything else unchecked. Avid recommends you work in AMA whenever possible.

Bin

In the Bin settings box you can control how your bins are saved:

Avid Bin Settings

15 minutes is a good time period for auto-save and I strongly suggest you let it remain as is. Media Composer will wait till you’re inactive (default is 15 seconds) before auto-saving, which is why you have a ‘Force Auto-Save’ option at 17 minutes. Let it be.

‘Maximum files in a project’s attic’ and ‘max versions of a file in the attic’ can remain at their defaults. Once you do a lot of projects, you’ll will understand your system and workflow better, and can modify these parameters to fine tune and clean up your system.

Color Management

Leave the defaults as-is. When files with various color spaces are imported via AMA, you need (actually Avid needs) to convert it to the project color space.

Avid Color Management

You can click Install LUT to install any LUTs you have created. LUTs from DaVinci Resolve are allowed.

Full Screen Playback

This selects which monitor will be used for Full Screen playback. If you’re on a dual monitor setup you can position the settings box within the display monitor and click Select Monitor:
Avid Full Screen Playback

Import

When working with media that does not completely match your project settings, you need to be careful with how you choose your import settings:
Avid Import Settings

Under Image Size Adjustment, I suggest leaving the default (‘Image sized for current format’) as is. If you are working with mixed resolutions, you could check the other boxes as you wish.

When you are sure you’re working for a television-based workflow, you might want to check ‘601 SD or 709 HD (16-235) so your levels are within broadcast standards. You can also double click Safe Colors in the Settings panel for broadcast colors. Frame Import Duration lists the time frame for still frames. I don’t know about you, but I prefer this number to be less than 5 seconds.

If you’re working with image sequences, you can check ‘Autodetect Sequentially-Numbered Files’.

Leave all other tabs as-is.

Media Creation

This is very important. There are many tabs in the Media Creation settings box:

Avid Media Creation

The common thing between all of them is the Video Drive/Audio Drive option, which tells Avid Media Composer where each type of media should be written.

Video Resolution tells Media Composer which codec it should render or transcode to (defaults are listed below). As you can see, Avid Media Composer can work in 16-bit mode if necessary. By default, the setting is ‘Automatic’. Also notice this is where the R3D debayer setting can be set. For best quality, it must always be ‘Full’.

Codecs (all are MXF containers):

  • AVC Intra 100
  • XAVC Intra 100
  • DNxHD
  • JPEG 2000
  • XDCAM EX 35 Mbps
  • XDCAM HD 50 Mbps
  • Uncompressed 1:1
  • Prores (in MXF)

 
Regarding the first tab, Drive Filtering & Indexing, Avid recommends that all drive filtering options should be on by default. By default they are unchecked.

Any project brought into a networked workflow that was created with any of the filtering selections off might have problems with networked media creation, such as “Audio and/or Video Mixdown” and “Send To Playback,” because their Media Creation Settings are still configured for standalone usage.

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Video Display

This setting controls the way in which your display device is configured:

Avid Media Display Settings

As you can see, the GPU is used for playback when other systems aren’t available, and it runs under the OpenGL framework. If you don’t have a compatible GPU, you can opt for Software GPL.

Workspace, Interface, Keyboard, Mouse and General

These are settings you use to control the look and feel of your interface. Feel free to play with them.

How Avid deals with high resolution video

Avid does not hinder you from finishing in high-resolution video. If it did, it wouldn’t be used in the film industry. What it does do is limit you from resolutions higher than 1080p (1920 x 1080) while you’re in the application.

When you work with mixed media types, Media Composer can automatically resize clips to match your project settings. Once you’re done editing, you can relink your clips back to the original high resolution media in other applications because the resolution and color properties are preserved in the metadata of the clip.

To output multiple formats, all you need to do is go to the Format Tab in Project, and change the parameter under Project Type. Let’s say you’ve finished editing a 1080p project, and have rendered your master. Now, you want to render a standard definition file for DVD or whatever, you can just change this simple setting, and carry on.

For more information about resolution specifications and how to work with high-res footage, please refer to page 1470 and 1498 of the manual.

How Avid deals with color

Avid has two color spaces, which they unnecessary complicate with incorrect terminology:

  • YCbCr 709, which is actually Y’CbCr, and more specifically 4:2:2 Rec. 709
  • RGB 709, which is actually RGB (not 4:4:4), but still in Rec. 709 (so it is almost like 4:4:4)

 
Avid recommends YCbCr 709 for slower systems, naturally. It’s 4:2:2, and takes up less space and bandwidth. Calculations for effects and color are also easier. This means, that if you want maximum quality, choose RGB 709.

In Avid’s words:

The quality improvement over YCbCr processing is most noticeable in effects that perform color analysis, such as chroma keyers. Even if the original video data is in YCbCr, your should consider converting to RGB to process effects as precisely as possible.

Even if your external monitoring solution (video monitor) is limited to 4:2:2, you can still select RGB 709 if you want the best results for your output. In this case, Avid will convert the files to YCbCr ‘under the hood’ for you monitor.

For more information, please refer to page 54 of the manual.

A few more things to do prior to importing new media

Here are some more things you can do to make sure your editing experience is as smooth as possible:

You can improve the performance of large projects when you reduce the number of objects. To do this, close unused bins, unmount unused media drives, consolidate finished elements, eliminate old material from the project, or divide the project into separate projects. Then quit and restart your Avid editing application. If performance is still slow, restart your system.

Sequences take more memory than media clips, so it’s always best to start your clean-up drive by moving sequences to ‘archive’ bins that you don’t want to leave open. Better yet, delete them before your boss or co-worker finds out your own personal edit of ‘that little scene’.

Once in while, you can clear the Bin Memory by going to Project > Info tab > Clear Bin Memory.

Avid Clear Bin Memory

You can always check your drive and memory status by clicking Hardware (next to Clear Bin Memory). Avid also recommends that you try to put all your media into a single folder before importing. For more juicy tips, head over to page 85 of the manual for the next thrilling episode of ‘I’ve had it with Avid’.

In Part Four we’ll look at how Avid deals with each type of file format or codec, and how you can import them into your project.