Major NLE Updates Coming at NAB? What Adobe and Avid Should Do to Improve Their Products
NAB is an exciting time of year for us filmmaking folk. While there are certainly some exciting things on the horizon in terms of cameras, rigs, lenses, lights, and what have you, I'm making an educated guess that this will be another significant year for NLE development, especially from post-production giants Avid and Adobe. Avid is likely to make the jump to version 7 of its flagship Media Composer, and if they follow their previously mentioned product cycle plan, Adobe will release version 6.5 of their popular Creative Suite. With much of the editing market still undecided between the three major players in post-production, these new updates could be a crucial stepping stone into the future for these companies.
First and foremost, I should mention that these are the two NLEs which I use regularly. Premiere has taken over as my go-to editing platform, and I use it for most, if not all, of my personal work and for smaller films. Avid, on the other hand, is generally my tool of choice on larger scale productions where media management tends to be a little more unruly, or if it's something I'm collaboratively editing with another person. So as someone who uses both of these on a consistent basis, I have a solid idea of what I would like to see out of the programs in future versions. So without further ado, let the speculation begin.
The folks at Avid have found themselves in a peculiar predicament as of late. They still dominate the high-end broadcast and film markets with their various software solutions -- as evidenced by their near sweep in several post-production categories at this year's Academy Awards. Despite this seeming success, however, Avid has been hurting financially for the past several years as their sales have continued to decline. This financial downward spiral seems to be boiling over for the company, seeing as how they recently postponed the release of their 2012 4th quarter earnings, something widely regarded by both the business and editing communities as a desperate move.
It seems to me that if Avid really is in desperate financial trouble, they're going to need to make a splash at NAB in order to stimulate new sales of their software solutions. For them to accomplish this, they are going to need to implement a major overhaul of the Media Composer interface and make it more accessible to younger editors, while simultaneously maintaining the level of professional precision that has made the application an industry workhorse for the past 20 years -- and they're going to have to do all of this while significantly lowering their price points.
Beyond these exterior changes to the software, Avid is going to have to heavily refine the way the software works internally. While they've subtly been doing this for the past 2 or 3 years with features such as AMA linking, OpenGL support, 3rd-party I/O options, and most importantly, 64-bit base code, Avid is still lagging well behind both Adobe and Apple in terms of performance and taking advantage of modern hardware. They need to follow in Adobe's and Apple's shoes with OpenCL support and background rendering. Beyond that, they need to bring resolution independence to both their project settings and to individual clips so that editors aren't restricted to the standard TV and film options that Avid currently offers.
However, despite the fact that a revamped version of Media Composer would likely get Avid's software division back on the track to profitability (especially if they could do the same with Pro Tools), whether or not the company has the cash or credit to cover the costs of the sure-to-be hefty research and development for such an overhaul is highly questionable. If the new version of Media Composer fails to gain traction in the broadcast and film communities, and Avid continues to lose money, it's likely that we could see some kind of company restructuring or even the sale of the company or its individual parts.
Adobe, unlike Avid, seems to be thriving these days. After having snatched up many an editing professional after the Final Cut Pro X conundrum, and with the potential downfall of Avid, Adobe is now in a position to take the lead in the professional NLE market. In order to do this, however, they're also going to have to keep innovating with their suite of video post-production tools.
First and foremost, and I don't think I'm alone in this, it's time for Adobe to develop and embrace their own proprietary codec, a la ProRes or DNxHD. While the success of codec independence is part of what makes Premiere great, the performance of certain native codecs within the program is not what it could or should be. With a proprietary codec, Adobe would be able to completely optimize the performance of the software for that codec, as opposed to having a piece of software that deals with some codecs well, and others not nearly as much. Considering that many narrative-style films already transcode their raw camera data for both dallies and offline editing, it would be fantastic for Adobe to develop something to aid in that process. Sure, Cineform has been a decent 3rd party solution to this point, but it's time for Adobe to step up their game and cater to both independent folks as well as high-end professionals.
I would also like to see better integration of the Production Premium suite with its newest member, Adobe SpeedGrade. The acquisition of SpeedGrade from Iridas last year was an excellent move for Adobe in terms of putting together a comprehensive suite of tools for the video professional. However, the implementation and insertion of SpeedGrade into the suite has been clunky, to say the least. If Adobe can manage to integrate the program with the same dynamic linking technologies that have made it a breeze to shoot back and forth between Premiere, After Effects, Audition, and Encore, then they'll finally have a complete, integrated set of high-end tools for the video professional. As it stands now, it's just as easy to take a sequence from Premiere into Resolve as it is to take it into SpeedGrade. This needs to change if they want SpeedGrade to become a more viable option for the folks already using their products.
What do you guys think? What would you like to see out of the new versions of Media Composer and Premiere Pro? What would Avid have to do with Media Composer to keep it relevant and profitable? Conversely, what do you think Adobe would have to do to catapult Premiere Pro into industry dominance? Let us know in the comments.