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Avid Symphony: The Good, Bad and Ugly -- Part 1: The Good

In the first of a three-part review, Avid expert Peter May takes us on an extensive tour of the Avid Symphony editing, compositing and finishing system. By Peter May

Avid Symphony Review by Peter MayFlipping channels late one evening long ago I saw world class body builder and champion strongman Franco Columbo sitting across the desk from Johnny Carson. Johnny looked at Franco, gesturing at his classic form barely disguised by a tight T and asked, "How long would it take me to get into that kind of shape?" Franco looked Johnny up and down and in his thick Italian accent answered, "Another generation." In my opinion, that's where Avid is today compared with most other edit systems.

It's not that Avid is perfect. They still have problems. I had problems with the Avid Symphony shipped to me for review. Some were software related, some were hardware related and some were platform related. Still, there's an awful lot about Avid that just plain works. And in this day when desktop video editing promises to become as universal as word processing, that can't always be said. Of course a dropped frame here or slipped sync there might not be devastating to the average home video editor or even the above average "no budget" film director. But, hey, we're professionals here.

"Professional editors understand what can go wrong when a client walks into a room with a box of tapes," says Avid Symphony Senior Product Designer Steve Bayes. "You want to be able to charge your full rate without a lot at down time spent solving problems. We've done a lot of refinement over the last 10 years in order to be able to deal with anything that comes in the door."

"The symphony is targeted at high-end online production," notes Rob Stacey, Avid's Director of Product Marketing. "It's targeted toward finishing. It goes beyond the Media Composer interface by adding a bunch of corrective and creative finishing tools."

For instance, it has both primary and secondary color correction capabilities, real-time Ultimatte keying, motion tracking and image stabilization. It has real time, full motion alpha keying. And real time Pan and Scan and letterbox output options for compressed resolutions. It handles non-NTSC screen ratios from 14:9 to 16:9 and several in between. The Symphony Universal, at the top end of this high-end line, adds what Avid calls 24p universal editing and mastering, allowing you to create 24 frame per second EDLs if you intend to edit in an HD online suite. It doesn't edit HD or DV native, but beyond that, you'd be hard pressed to find a frame rate, format or screen ratio the Symphony doesn't support.

"Our goal is to replace linear suites," declares Stacey.

Tracking Composer
[Click for Larger Image] Tracking Composer: On the record side of the composer window the points chosen by the Symphony's tracker are marked with a successive series of yellow Xs.
If you're like me and you've passed many years in the Avid universe you remember the joy with which we welcomed the "broadcast quality" of AVR 27 and then the big step away from variable compression into AVR 75 (4:1) and AVR 77 (2:1). But an editor friend, one of the last linear holdouts told me, "I will not compromise quality for ease." He had a point. Ultimately there was a quality trade-off. NLEers have always had to decide which projects merited the cost of linear post. Well Henry, not any more. The Avid Symphony will work uncompressed. Other than you purists who still insist you can see and hear digital artifacts, we have finally seen the curves of quality and convenience converge in Avid's Symphony. But, believe me, this puppy doesn't just look good, it does tricks.

One of my favorite bits of prestidigitation is an Avid Intraframe editing technique. I had bought a few seconds of stock footage, old film of the Eiffel Tower, offered royalty free from a classic cuts dealer on the Web. The salesman had assured me it was "clean." It turns out they cleaned their film by tossing it with salad tongs in a bowl of glass shards, spam cubes and cottage cheese. I recalled browsing the Symphony's 3D effects and discovering an intriguing tool called Scratch Removal. I highlighted the Eiffel Tower clip and dragged in the effect. I was instantly pleased by the results. Later I found out that Avid had substituted replacement material from the clean frame just before the frame with the most egregious flaw. Even later I picked up the manual and learned that I could have chosen the replacement material from anywhere in the same frame or in adjoining frames (within 10 fields). The Symphony's magic kit of Intraframe Editing tricks also includes drag and drop Flaw Correction with the option of feathering the edges to hide the corrections.

According to Steve Bayes, the focus in the development of the Symphony has been on solving common post production problems. After all, the thing that sets you apart from the next editor is how quickly and effectively you solve problems after the pixels have hit the fan. "You've got to be able to reach into your bag of tricks and pull something out," he says. Felix the Cat never had a bag of tricks like this.

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Related Keywords:Digital Video Editing, Peter May, Avid Symphony, review, software, video editor, edit systems

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