Avid DS v11 Now With Color and Transport Controllers

Avid started shipping DS v11 on June 26, 2012, but before we look into what the new features mean for the existing users let’s first discuss the cost and look into what Avid DS is for those who don’t know where to place this editor.

Avid DS v11 Pricing

Customers are free to build their own system based on any suitable workstation or on an Avid qualified HP Z400 or Z800 platform. The software-only cost for a generic configuration is $9,999 (USD).

To function properly, DS v11 also requires AJA Kona 3 or Kona 3G video card, Nvidia Quadro FX 4800 or FX 4000 graphics card, and a choice of a range of professional storage options.

The turnkey Avid certified Avid DS v11 is priced at $59,999. The software upgrade from version 10.X and a limited time DS legacy upgrade is $4,999. All options include a handy and free Media Composer 6 bundle.

For Those Less Familiar With the DS

Although Avid DS has been around for well over a decade, some confusion about the capabilities of this NLE persists.

Like Avid Symphony, DS is a high end picture finishing editor. Although there are some similarities and overlaps in functionality between the two, they don’t share the code base because DS was originally developed by Softimage and later acquired by Avid.

For the record, I use both Symphony and DS extensively and although everything I say may be construed as favoring the DS, the simple truth is that DS just occupies a higher niche than Symphony.

To put it differently, if a client walked in with a box of mystery tapes and file based elements, messed up graphics, no clear vision, but a desire to crank out a good looking product in little time, I’d much rather be sitting in front of a barebone DS than a Symphony with Photoshop and third party plugins.

Even with the accelerated development of Symphony over the last several years, and the relative stagnation of DS development, DS is still a powerful compositing editor capable of doing things that Media Composer and Symphony can’t do or at least can’t do easily. Of course, there are also certain types of jobs more suitable for Symphony.

Symphony excels in conforming Media Composer projects. This is natural because they are essentially the same software with some differences in the color corrector. DS at times struggles to conform Media Composer sequences correctly with respect to effects translation, although it is fair to say that the majority of effects translate correctly.

A tightly edited, clean timeline with titles and effects that require little adjustment during the finishing stage is a better candidate for a quick and easy finish in Symphony. An unpolished offline timeline that requires excessive adjustments of third party plugins, color correction, titling, extensive blurs, repos, frame rate changes, dead pixel fixes and other paint and compositing related work is a great candidate for DS regardless of the sequence length.

Any Media Composer or Final Cut Pro sequence with little or no effects is also a great candidate for DS, because it is typically possible to finish such simple timelines in DS fast while keeping all the tools DS has to offer at standby should they become necessary during the edit.

Unlike Symphony, DS is resolution independent and can work at many standard color spaces, sizes (SD, HD, 2k, 4K) as well as any non-standard raster size and frame rate.

To sum it up, Symphony is great for quick turnaround, no-value-add SD/HD jobs that originate on Media Composer. DS excels in SD/HD or film size projects that originate on Media Composer, Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro where the editor is called upon to make the project look awesome.

It is important to consider how far you are willing to go to give your customer extra value, because nearly everything you can do in Symphony your customers can already do at their office.

DS v11 Review of New Features And Why You Should Care About Them

The big news is the support for Avid Artist Transport Controller and Avid Artist Color Controller surface.

Both controllers are solidly built and designed with great sense of hands on functionality. They can be joined together into one seamless surface or split up based on the operator preference. The included riser tilts the surfaces at a comfortable angle while with the feet removed the controllers can be integrated into custom built consoles.

The response of jog/shuttle is excellent. Both wheels allow the editor to transport the playhead with great speed and frame accurate precision. The wheels are surrounded with keys that are not only fully user programmable, but can also be saved as custom presets for frequently used operations.

With the ability to simultaneously adjust multiple parameters the color panel will be a clear winner, but it is still a bit of a work in progress which by the time you read this may have already been completed.

AJA I/O Support for Common Drivers

Avid has already walked away from the proprietary DNA hardware device support with the release of DS 10.5 which fully replaced the legacy Nitris box with the AJA Kona 3 card.

The version 11 brings support for AJA Kona 3G, but more importantly, the version 11 uses off-the-shelf AJA drivers for the first time ever. This allows the free copy of Media Composer 6 to access the monitor and tape I/O. It also allows any AJA aware application like Adobe CS 5.5 to utilize the Kona card. Note that CS6 requires a newer driver build which is not qualified by Avid at this time.

16 Channels of Audio I/O

16 channels of I/O are now available via SDI and in case of the Kona 3G card, via both AES/EBU and SDI. This is a great development because the old 8 channel bus was too narrow and often required the second layback pass to record additional audio tracks on most international deliveries.

XDCAM Long-GOP Support

XDCAM format has become very popular with reality TV production. DS now supports XDCAM media wrapped inside MXF files. It currently does not capture the original XDCAM media, but it can read media captured in Media Composer or Symphony.

It’s a relatively simple operation to capture and consolidate XDCAM MXF media in Media Composer and make it available to DS via AFE conform. For any DS system sharing storage with Media Composer or Symphony, consolidation is not even necessary as DS can readily read all Media Composer media files.

The included copy of Media Composer 6 can be used as a DS outboard XDCAM capture utility with no adverse effect on the turnaround time.

OpenEXR Support

Many effects houses use OpenEXR HDR format for final CG renders. In the past, DS artists had to run such files through third party tools to bring the files into DS, often sacrificing the high dynamic range in the process by having to commit to premature color decisions.

The OpenEXR support leverages the DS color management architecture which has already been capable of high dynamic range processing for a while and allows colorists to tap into extended range recorded inside OpenEXR files.

Custom Canvas Size in Effects

While DS has always been resolution independent, the raster size of any operator has always been locked to the nominal size of the sequence.

Now any effect can be expanded to a larger than sequence size wherever needed. Casual effects users may not use this feature much, but if you’re doing complex work with composite clips and trees, this feature is great.


Symphony and Media Composer have recently added support for DNxHD RGB. DS can now read these files as well. As of this writing, DS can rewrap DNxHD RGB into DS native .GEN media, but it can not play it back in real time.

The ability to play back and generate DNxHD RGB will be significant for DI work. HD proxy media for 2k and above size sequences is uncompressed and the ability to use DNxHD RGB in HD proxies in the future will significantly reduce the media storage footprint.

Blending Modes in the Timeline

The transfer modes (add, over, multiply, etc.) traditionally available in the composite containers are now available on the timeline as well. Not a game changer for advanced users, but certainly a time saver for everyone.

Media Composer 6 and Symphony 6 Support

DS v11 is qualified for conforming Media Composer 6 and Symphony 6 sequences with the exception of stereoscopic sequences. DS has basic stereoscopic tools of it’s own.