Media Composer 5 AMA Basics

The new Avid Media Composer 5 and Symphony 5 bring a range of major new features like 4:4:4 color, drag-and-drop editing and Matrox MX02 Mini support.

One feature that is likely to get the most attention is the ability to play back QuickTime and RED media through Avid AMA in real time. This feature is also available in NewsCutter 9.

The AMA stands for Avid Media Access. First introduced in version 3.5, AMA is a plugin based architecture that allows a range of file formats to act as real time media sources without the need to first import them. Simply put, the stuff just plays back on the timeline like any native Avid media. Is this too good to be true? Well, it is really good although there are some things to watch for.

Currently AMA supports QuickTime, RED .R3D, Sony XDCAM, Panasonic P2, DVCPRO HD, AVC-Intra, Ikegami GFCAM and Canon FX. The QuickTime support includes ProRes and H.264 which opens doors for native editing of Canon 5D and 7D footage. It is reasonable to expect that Avid will be adding additional file format plugins as new formats emerge.

The AMA workflow is simple. An Assistant Editor can either copy the files from the camera media onto the local storage or mount the camera media directly. AMA scans the files on the available volume(s) and presents them in a familiar Avid bin. The master clips have additional column headings showing metadata that pertain to the particular camera format in use. All master clips are ready for editing in seconds, not hours or days.

In many ways AMA is superior to Final Cut Pro’s ability to play back various types of QuickTime media. For one thing AMA supports more than just QuickTime and is capable of playing back certain codecs that don’t play back smoothly in Final Cut Pro and have to be imported trough the Log and Transfer.

The current implementation of AMA does not support shared storage nor multicam editing. Mixing AMA and traditional editing workflows (tape and file captured media) is not recommended. AMA sequences can not be used to generate AAF and AFE files. Some formats like the RED .R3D require a lot of computer horsepower for real time playback and may strain even a workstation class computer to the upper limits of performance.

If you are editing scripted or reality television AMA is probably not going to help you just yet. Such projects require multiple editors using shared storage and a variety of tape and file formats none of which is supported by AMA.

If you are working on a feature film with a single acquisition format like the RED and using storage shared among several editors AMA may not help you either.

However, if you are a single editor, working on a single machine with a local storage AMA may speed up your turnaround a lot. For example, instead of importing/transcoding Canon 5D H.264 QuickTime files you can just tell Media Composer 5 where the files reside and start editing right away. The same goes for RED .R3D files. This is a huge time saver when compared with the traditional approach in both Media Composer and Final Cut Pro.

It’s worth mentioning that if you transcode the media to Avid native MXF media, you will be able to share the material and do all the normal things like multicam editing. However, transcoding is the thing we are trying to avoid in the first place so think it over before you commit hours and hours to transcoding to non-AMA media.

There are several output and delivery options with AMA based sequences. If your Media Composer 5 is equipped with video I/O hardware and you are satisfied with the quality of the picture and sound you can output to tape straight from Media Composer. Alternately, you can migrate the project to Symphony 5, do the final color correction and output to tape from Symphony.

If you wish to finish the project in something other than Symphony you can export an EDL but an EDL will not be able to convey your effects and titles to the finishing system. You can also export an XML from Media Composer 5. Since there is not a whole lot of standardization with XML files used as timeline descriptors an XML file may not be too useful.

Lastly, you can transcode all the sequence media to DNxHD. This will break the AMA links and the new sequence will behave like any other Avid sequence so you will be able to export an AFE file that can be sent to Avid DS for conform. Transcoding will take some time to complete but since you need to generate picture reference for the conform anyway, this is time well spent.

As AMA technology continues to mature we are likely to see improvement in the areas that currently have issues. At present time AMA presents a fully viable native media workflow as long as you take into account what AMA can and can not do.