Media Composer and Pro Tools

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Avid acquired Digidesign in 1995 in the past 18 years, both products have developed into leaders of their respective industries. But for all these years, audio for post, and the idea of how connected these two solutions could become for post, has never really been achieved. Some things have been done, for example you can co-install the two products on the same system. Not run them at the same time, but have them installed on the same system. And there have been incremental improvements in metadata exchange such as pan/vol and Markers (used to be named in Locators in Media Composer), there have been no groundbreaking features for interchange and collaboration when it comes to the post process. I have recently been involved with a production looking for a solution based on the video seen here, an Avid marketing video that shows workflow between Media Composer and Pro Tools, and its ability to link to alternate takes in a multi-track WAV files with MIX and ISO tracks from a production that uses a “dailies process.”

The important takeaway here, is that in order for this to work as seen in the video, the BWF files must be imported and synced in Media Composer. And while that offers some nice editing advantages for track management, it will not work for sync dailies created in any third party system being used today. Most features and television programs require sync dailies as the assistants have moved on to other tasks in the digital workflow. This is a part of the industry where Media Composer and Pro Tools are very dominant solution - yet working this way, prevents the audio conform to do a very important feature in the sound post process of getting to the best ISO track recorded for the character. I also find it interesting in the video, that the properties for matching the BWF files does not include “Source File” or “TapeID” which is how filenames are tracked in Media Composer either via import or via the iXML AMA Plug-in. If the BWF does not contain a value in the “Tape Field” then that cannot be used to make a match, yet the filename itself would seem to be the first obvious place to look for a match. The following shows the same BWF file imported and linked via the iXML AMA plug-in. The Tape field is either empty or wrong.

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Dailies will most often sync the MIX track and create a single master clips that is VA1 or possibly VA1A2 depending on the mix. The metadata in the bin will display track information if available. Scene and Take can be extracted from the BWF if logged, but is often corrected or amended to match the camera reports. Because it is now a single master clip, it can only have one timecode in the Start column and that is always the timecode for picture. When syncing, timecodes often do not match and a resync is done to create perfect sync and as a result, the audio timecode is tracked in an alternate column. (see this blog entry for related thoughts on sync). And herein lies the basic problems for conform interop between Media Composer and Pro Tools.

  1. Pro Tools only looks to the Start or the SoundTC column for the conform.
  2. SoundTC only works at one frame rate

As mentioned, the Start timecode used for video cannot be 100% correct due to creating true sync in the dailies process - this explains why you might find events that are 1-3 frames off in the conform process. So why not use the SoundTC value? Well that’s where there is the second problem that Avid has yet to address since it introduced HD in 2004. SoundTC is hard-coded to count as 30fps regardless of project type. A leftover of the NTSC offline world of standard definition production. This is a known issue, and is brought up every release to be addressed to no avail. So dailies providers are forced to putting the production sound timecode into one of the other many timecode columns; namely AuxTC1 through AuxTC5. There is no consistency as to which one, and it doesn’t matter since Pro Tools does not know how to conform from any other column but Start and SoundTC.

Another caution when using AuxTC columns is that flipping a project type from HD to SD will change the way those columns count. So a value stored in AuxTC1 in a 1080p/23.976 project will count as 30 if project tab is flipped to NTSC 23.976. So exporting an EDL or AAF at this stage would have incorrect timecodes. So how do these conforms get done? Using EDL Manager that allows source timecode to be from any TC counting column. So for all the goodness of AAF, it cannot be used in one of the most basic workflows used in the industry unless you are working at NTSC or PAL rates and their HD equivalents.

Avid likes to market the best in media and metadata management which was true in the SD days - Since the introduction of HD and file-based formats, it has not quite lived up to that level. The metadata is certainly there in the bins, it’s what you can do with it that’s important. So Avid, for the 10th anniversary of offering an HD solution, please fix:

  • Media Composer: SoundTC to at least match the frame rate of the originating project and continue counting at that rate regardless of project switch. Or better yet, allow it to have a timecode rate assigned to it on a per clip basis. This will create a single unifying column for all dailies workflows to use creating consistency in the conform process.
  • Pro Tools: Conform from any source or timecode column available in the AAF.  It’s the wild wild west out there with file-based workflows and a professional system needs to be as flexible as it can be to keep the workflow moving along.

This will at least allow the most basic of functions between two of the leading products used in our industry offered by the same company.

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