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Review: Boxx’s Apexx 4 7404 workstation

By Brady Betzel

The professional workstation market has been blown open recently with companies like HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others building systems containing i3/i5/i7/i9 and Xeon processors, and  AMD’s recent re-inauguration into the professional workstation market with their Ryzen line of processors.

There are more options than ever, and that’s a great thing for working pros, but for this review, I’m going to take a look at Boxx Technologies Apexx 4 7404, which the company sent me to run through its paces over a few months, and it blew me away.

The tech specs of the Apexx 4 7404 are:
– Processor: Intel i7-6950X CPU (10 cores/20 threads)
– One core is overclocked to 4.3GHz while the remaining nine cores can run at 4.1GHz
– Memory: 64GB DDR4 2400MHz
– GPUs: Nvidia Quadro P5000 (2560 CUDA cores, 16GB GDDR5X)
– Storage drive: NVMe Samsung SSD 960 (960GB)
– Operating system drive: NVMe Intel SSDPEDMW400 (375GB)
– Motherboard: ASUS X99-E WS/USB3.1

On the front of the workstation, you get two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, audio out/mic in, and on the rear of the 7404 there are eight USB 3.0, two USB 3.1, two Gigabit Ethernet, audio out/mic in, line in, one S/PDIF out and two eSATA. Depending on the video card(s) you choose, you will have some more fun options.

This system came with a DVD-RW drive, which is a little funny these days but I suppose still necessary for some people. If you need more parts or drives there is plenty of room for all that you could ever want, both inside and out. While these are just a few of the specs, they really are the most important, in my opinion. If you purchase from Boxx all of these can be customized. Check out all of the different Boxx Apexx 4 flavors here.

Specs
Right off the bat you will notice the Intel i7-6950X CPU, which is a monster of a processor and retails for around $1,500, just by itself. With its hefty price tag, this Intel i7 lends itself to niche use cases like multimedia processing. Luckily for me (and you), that is exactly what I do. One of the key differences between a system like the Boxx workstation and ones from companies like HP is that Boxx takes advantage of the X or K series Intel processors and overclocks them, getting the most from your processors all while still being backed by Boxx’s three-year warranty. The 7404 has one core overclocked to 4.3GHz which can sometimes provide a speed increase for apps that don’t use multiple cores. While this isn’t a lot of cases it doesn’t hurt to have that extra boost.

The Apexx 4 case is slender (at 6.85-inches wide) and quiet. Boxx embraces liquid cooling systems to keep your enterprise-class components made by companies like Samsung, Intel, etc. running smoothly. Boxx systems are built and fabricated in Texas from aircraft grade aluminum parts and steel strengthening components.

When building your own system you might pick a case because the price is right or it is all that is available for your components (or that is what pcpartpicker.com tells you that is what fits). This can mean giving up build quality and potentially bad airflow. Boxx knows this and has gone beyond just purchasing other companies cases — they forge their own workstation case masterpieces.

Boxx’s support is based in Austin – no outsourcing — and their staff knows the apps we use such as Autodesk, Adobe and others.

Through Its Paces
I tested the Apexx 4 7404 using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder since they are really the Swiss Army knives of the multimedia content creation world. I edited together a 10-minute UHD (3840×2160) sequence using an XAVC MP4 I shot using a Sony a6300. I did a little color correction with the Lumetri Color tools, scaled the image up to 110% and exported the file through Media Encoder. I exported it as a 10-bit DNxHQX, UHD, QuickTime MOV.

It took seven minutes and 40 seconds to export to the OS drive (Intel) and about six minutes and 50 seconds to go to the internal storage drive (Samsung). Once I hit export I finally got the engines to rev up inside of the Boxx, the GPU fans seemed to kick on a little; they weren’t loud but you could hear a light breeze start up. On my way out of Premiere I exported an XML to give me a headstart in Resolve for my next test.

My next test was to import my Premiere XML into Blackmagic’s Resolve 14 Studio and export with essentially the same edits, reproduce the color correction, and apply the same scaling. It took a few minutes to get Resolve 14 up and running, but after doing a few uninstalls, installing Resolve 12.5.6 and updating my Nvidia drivers, Resolve 14 was up and running. While this isn’t a Boxx problem, I did encounter this during my testing so I figured someone might run into the same issue, so I wanted to mention it.

I then imported my XML, applied a little color correction, and double checked that my 110% scaling came over in the XML (which it did), and exported using the same DNxHQX settings that I used in Premiere. Exporting from Resolve 14 to the OS drive took about six minutes and 15 seconds, running at about 41 frames per second. When exporting to the internal storage drive it took about six minutes and 11 seconds, running between 40-42 frames per second. For those keeping track of testing details, I did not cache any of the QuickTimes and turned Performance Mode off for these tests (in case Blackmagic had any sneaky things going on in that setting).

After this, I went a little further and exported the same sequence with some Spatial Noise Reduction set across the entire 10-minute timeline using these settings: Mode: Better; Radius: Medium; Spatial Threshold: 15 on both Luma and Chroma; and Blend: 0. It ran at about nine frames per second and took about 25 minutes and 25 seconds to export.

Testing
Finally, I ran a few tests to get some geeky nerd specs that you can compare to other users’ experiences to see where this Boxx Apexx 4 7404 stands. Up first was the AJA System Test, which tests read and write speeds to designated disks. In addition, you can specify different codecs and file sizes to base this test off of. I told the AJA System Test to run its test using the 10-bit Avid DNxHQX codec, 16GB file size and UHD frame size (3860×2140). I ran it a few times, but the average was around 2100/2680 MB/sec write and read to the OS drive and 1000/1890 MB/sec write and read to the storage drive.

To get a sense of how this system would hold up to a 3D modeling test, I ran the classic Cinebench R15 app. OpenGL was 215.34 frames per second with 99.6% ref. match, CPU scored 2121cb and CPU (single core) cored 181cb with MP Ratio of 11.73x. What the test really showed me when I Googled Cinebench scores to compare mine to was that the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 was in the top of the heap for all categories. Specifically, within the top 20 for overall render speed being beaten only by systems with more cores and placed in the top 15 for single core speed — the OpenGL fps is pretty incredible at over 215fps.

Summing Up
In the end, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 custom-built workstation is an incredible powerhouse for any multimedia workflow. From rendering to exporting to transcoding, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 with dual Nvidia Quadro P5000s will chew through anything you throw at it.

But with this power comes a big price: the 7404 series starts at $7,246! The price of the one I tested lands much higher north though, more like just under $14,000 — those pesky Quadros bump the price up quite a bit. But if rendering, color correcting, editing and/or transcoding is your business, Boxx will make sure you are up and running and chewing through every gigabyte of video and 3D modeling you can run through it.

If you have any problems and are not up and running, their support will get you going as fast as possible. If you need parts replaced they will get that to you fast. Boxx’s three-year warranty, which is included with your purchase, includes getting next day on-site repair for the first year but this is a paid upgrade if you want it to continue for years two and three of your warranty. But don’t worry. If you don’t upgrade your warranty you still have two years of great support.

In my opinion, you should really plan for the extended on-site repair upgrade for all three years of your warranty — you will save time, which will make you more money. If you can afford a custom-built Boxx system, you will get a powerhouse workstation that makes working in apps like Premiere and Resolve 14 snappy and fluid.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13, Part 2

By Brady Betzel

In my recent Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13 for After Effects review, Part 1, I touched on updates to Particular, Shine, Lux and Starglow. In this installment, I am going to blaze through the remaining seven plug-ins that make up the Trapcode Suite. Those include Form, Mir, Tao, 3D Stroke, Echospace, Sound Keys and Horizon. While Particular is the most well-known plug-in in the Suite, the following seven all are incredibly useful and can help make you money.

Form 2.1
Trapcode Form 2.1 is best described as a particle system, much like Particular, but with particles that live forever and are used in forms like cubes. If you’ve used Element 3D by Video CoPilot you probably know that you can load objects from Maxon Cinema 4D into your Adobe After Effects projects pretty easily and, for all intents and purposes, quickly. Form allows you to load these 3D OBJ files and alter them inside of After Effects.

When you load the OBJ file, Form applies particles at each vertices point. The more vertices you have in your 3D object, the more detail you will have in your Form. It is really a cool way to create a techy kind of look for a HUD (heads up display) or sweet motion graphics piece that needs that futuristic pointillism type look. The original function of Form was to create particle grids that could be exploded or tightly wound and that would live on forever, as opposed to Particular, which creates particle systems with a birth and a death.

Form

Form 2.1

A simple way to think of how Form works is to imagine the ability to take simple text and transform it into “particles” to create a sandy explosion or turn everyday objects into particles that live forever. From Grids to Strings and Spheres to Sprites, with enough practice you can create some of the most stunning backgrounds or motion graphics wizardry inside of Trapcode Form, all of which is affected by After Effect lights and cameras in 3D space.

I was really surprised at how powerful and smooth Trapcode Form can run. I am running a tablet with an Intel i7 processor and I was able to get very reasonable performance, even with my camera depth-of-field turned on.

Mir 2.0
Trapcode Mir is an extremely useful plug-in for those wanting to create futuristic terrains or modern triangulated environments with tunnels and valleys. Mir is versatile and can go from creating smooth ocean floors to spiky mountain tops to extreme wireframe structures. Some of the newest updates in Mir 2.0 are the ability to add a spiral to the Mir landscape mesh you create (think galaxy); seamless looping under the fractal menu; ability to choose between triangles and quads for your surfaces; the really cool ability to add a second pass wireframe on top of your surface for that futuristic grid look; texture sampling from smooth gradients to solid colors; control of the maximums and minimums under z-range (basically allows for easier peaks and valleys); multi-, smoothridge, multi-smoothridge and regular fractals for differing displacements on your textures; and improved VRAM management for speedy processing.

Mir 2

Mir 2.0

These days GIFs are all the rage, so I am really impressed with the seamless loop option. It might seem ridiculous but if you’ve seen what is popular on social media you will know it’s emojis and GIFs. If you want to prep your seamless loop, check out this quick video from Trapcode creator Peder Norrby (@trapcode_lab).

Simply, you create beginning and end keyframes, find the seamless loop options under the Fractal category, step back one frame from your end loop point, mark your end-of-work area, go to the loop point (which should be one frame past where you marked the end to your work area) and click Set End Keyframe. From there Trapcode Mir will fill in the rest of the details and create your seamless loop ready to be exported as a GIF and blasted on Twitter. It’s really that easy.

If you are looking for an animated GIF export setting, try exporting through Adobe Media Encoder and searching “GIF” in the presets. You will find an “Animated GIF” preset, which I resized to something more appropriate like 1280×720 but that still came out at 49MB — way over the 5MB Twitter upload limit. I tried a few times, first with 50% quality at 640×360, which got me to 13.7MB. I even changed the quality down to 5% in Media Encoder, but I kept getting 13.7MB until I brought the size down to 320×180. That got me just under 4MB, which is perfect! If you do a lot of GIF work, an easy way to compress them is to use http://ezgif.com/optimize and to fiddle with their optimization settings to get under 5MB. It’s quick and it all lives online.

As with all Trapcode Suite plug-ins (or anything for that matter), the only way to get good is to experiment and allow yourself to fail or succeed. This holds true for Mir. I was making garbage one minute and with a couple changes I made some motion graphics that made me see the potential of the plug-in and how I could actually make content that people would be blown away with.

3D Stroke

3D Stroke

3D Stroke
One plug-in that isn’t new but will lead into the next one is Trapcode 3D Stroke. 3D Stroke takes the built-in After Effects plug-in Stroke to a new level. Traditional Stroke is an 8-bit plug-in while Trapcode 3D Stroke can run on the color-burning 32-bits-per-channel mode. If you want to add a stroke along a path that interacts with your comp cameras in 3D space, Trapcode 3D Stroke is what you want. From creating masks of your text and applying a sweet 3D Stroke to them to intricate 3D paths that zoom in between objects with a HDR-like glow, 3D Stroke is one of those tools to have in your After Effects tool box.

When using it I really fell in love with the repeater. Much like Element 3D’s particle arrays, the repeater can create multiple instances of your paths or text paths to create some interesting and infinitely adjustable objects.

Tao
Trapcode Tao is new to the Trapcode Suite of plug-ins. Tao gives us the ability to create 3D geometry along a path, and boy did people immediately fall in love with this tool when it was released. You can find tons of examples and tutorials of Tao from experts like VinhSon Nguyen, better known as @CreativeDojo on Twitter. Check out his tutorial on Vimeo, too. Tao is a tricky beast, and one way I learned about it in-depth was to download Peder Norrby’s project files over at http://www.trapcode.com and dissect them as best I could.

Tao

Tao

If you remember Trapcode 3D Stroke from earlier, you know that it allows us to create awesome glows and strokes along paths in 3D space. Trapcode Tao operates in much the same way as 3D Stroke except that it uses particles like Mir to create organic flowing forms in 3D space that interact with After Effects’ cameras and lights.

Trapcode Tao is about as close as you can get to modeling 3D geometry inside of After Effects at realtime speeds with image-based lighting. The only other way to achieve this is with Video CoPilot’s Element 3D or by using Cinema 4D via Cineware, which is sometimes a painstaking process.

Horizon 1.1
Another product that I was surprised by was Trapcode Horizon 1.1. In the age of virtual reality and 360 video you can never have too many ways to make your own worlds to pan cameras around in. With a quick Spherical Map search on Google, I found all the equi-rectangular maps I could handle. Once inside of After Effects, you need to import and resize your map to your comp size, add a new solid and camera, throw Horizon on top of your solid, under Image Map > Layer, choose the layer name containing your spherical image, and BAM! You have a 360-world. You can then add elements like Trapcode Particular, 3D Stroke or Tao and pan and zoom around to make some pretty great opening titles or even make your own B-Roll!

Echospace

Echospace 1.1

Echospace 1.1
Trapcode Echospace 1.1 is a powerful section in the Trapcode Suite 13 plug-in library. It is one of those plug-ins where you watch the tutorials and wonder why people don’t talk about it more. In simple terms, Echospace replicates layers and creates interdependent parenting links to the original layer, allowing you to create complex repeated element animations and layouts. In essence it feels more like a complex script as opposed to a plug-in.

Let’s say you want to create some offset animation of multiple shape layers in three-dimensional space, Echospace is your tool. It’s a little hard to use and if you don’t Shy the replicated layers and nulls, it will be intimidating. When you create the repeated layers, Echospace automatically sets your layers to Shy if you enable Shy layers in your tool bar. A great Harry Frank (@graymachine) tutorial/Red Giant Live episode can be found on the Red Giant website: http://www.redgiant.com/tutorial/red-giant-tv-live-episode-8-motion-graphics-with-trapcode-echospace.

Sound Keys 1.3
The last plug-in in the massive Trapcode Suite v13 library is Sound Keys 1.3. Sound Keys analyzes audio files and can draw keyframes based on their rhythm. One reason I left this until the end of my review is that you can attach any of the parameters from the other Trapcode Suite 13 plug-ins to the outputs of the Sound Keys 1.3 keyframes via a pick whip. If I just lost you by saying pick whip, snap back into it.

If you learn one thing in the After Effects scripting world, it’s that you can attach one parameter to another by alt+clicking (command+clicking) on the stopwatch of the parameter that you want to be driven by another parameter and dragging the curly-looking icon over the other parameter. So in the Sound Keys case, you can attach the scale of an object to the rhythm of a bass drum.

Soundkeys Color Orientation

Sound Keys 1.3

What I really liked about Sound Keys is that it not only can create a dynamically driven piece of motion graphics, but you can also use the audio meters it draws to visualize the audio. You see this a lot in lyric music videos or YouTube videos that are playing music only but still want a touch of visual flare, and with Sound Keys 1.3 you can change the visual representation of the audio including color, quantization (little dots that you see on audio meters) and size.

Easily isolate an audio frequency with the onscreen controls, find the effect you want to drive by the audio, and pick whip your way to dynamic motion graphic. If I was the graphics designer I wish I was, I would take Sound Keys and something like Particular or Tao and create some stunning work. I bet I could even make some money making some lyric videos… one day.

Summing Up
In the end, the Trapcode Suite v13 is an epic and monumental release. The total cost as a package is $999, and while it is a significantly higher cost than After Effects, let me tell you: it has the ability to make you way more money with some time and effort. Even with just an hour or so a day I feel like my Trapcode game would go to the next level.

For those that have the Trapcode Suite and want to upgrade for $199, there are some huge benefits to the v13 update including Trapcode Tao, GPU performance upgrades across the board, and even things like the second pass wireframe for Mir.

If you are a student, you can grab Trapcode Suite 13 for $499 with a little verification legwork. If you are worried about your system working efficiently with the Trapcode Suite you can check the technical requirements here, but I was working on an Intel i7 tablet with 8GB of memory and Intel Iris 6100 graphics processor. I found everything to be very speedy for the limitations I had. Tao was the only plug-in that wouldn’t display correctly, but rightly so, as you can read the GPU requirements here.

If I was you and had a cool $999 burning a hole in my After Effects wallet I would pick up Trapcode Suite 13 immediately.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Review: Avid Pro Tools 12

By Ron DiCesare

In 1990, I was working at a music studio where I did a lot of cut downs of 60s, 30s, 15s and 10s for TV and radio commercials. Back then we used ¼-inch analog tape with a razor blade to physically cut the tape. Since I did so many ¼-inch tape edits, the studio manager was forward thinking enough to introduce a new 2-track digital editing system by Digidesign called Sound Tools. I took to it like a fish takes to water since I was already using computers, MIDI sequencers and drum machines —  even replacing chips in drum machines — which is fitting since that is how Peter Gotcher and Evan Brooks started Digidesign back in 1984. (See my History of Audio Post here.)

A short time later, Pro Tools was introduced and everyone at the studio thought it was simply an upgrade to Sound Tools but with a different name. We purchased the first available version of Pro Tools and launched the new version to discover that there were now 4 audio tracks instead of 2. My first thought was, “Oh no, what am I going to do with the 2 extra tracks?!” Fearing the worst, my second thought was, “Oh shit, I bet this thing no longer does crossfades and I will have to use those two extra tracks to “ping pong” from one set of tracks to the other for fades.” Thankfully, I quickly realized that not only could Pro Tools 1.0 do crossfades, but it could do a lot more, including revolutionizing the entire audio industry.

During my long history of working on Sound Tools and Pro Tools, I have seen all of the advancements with the software firsthand. I am pleased to say that Avid’s latest version of Pro Tools, 12.3 includes some of the most helpful improvements yet.

Offerings and Pricing Options
Avid now offers its most flexible pricing ever for Pro Tools 12 — there are three different ways to purchase or upgrade. Just like before, Pro Tools can be purchased or upgraded outright, which is called a perpetual license. Don’t let the word license scare you; it still is a one-time purchase. In addition to the perpetual license, there are two new ways to lease Pro Tools either on a monthly basis or an annual subscription basis. This is an interesting step for Avid. The advantage to both types of subscriptions is that the user is eligible for all of the upgrades and tech support included with their subscription. This is an excellent way to ensure your program is always up to date while bug fixes are made along the way.

Offering such pricing flexibility does create a bit of confusion regarding what pricing options are available, since there are three versions of Pro Tools combined with the difference between first-time purchasers verses upgrades for preexisting users.

The first available option is called Pro Tools First, which is a free version. As a free version, this is an ideal option for anyone who is looking to get on board with Pro Tools for the first time. However, to take full advantage of Pro Tools 12, which is listed here in my review, you would need to purchase one of the two main versions, Pro Tools 12 or Pro Tools|HD 12.

Here is how the pricing breaks down: Pro Tools 12 Perpetual Licensing (AKA purchase outright) is $599. the Monthly subscription with upgrade plan is $29.99 per month.
The Annual subscription with upgrade plan is$24.92 per month (or $299 annually).

Pricing can vary according to your situation if you own previous versions or you have let too much time lapse in between upgrades. Suffice it to say, that whatever your unique situation is there is a purchase plan for you.

What’s Not New
The one thing product reviews rarely, if ever, cover is what has not changed. To me, what hasn’t changed is the first thing I want to know when I am working with any new version of existing software. I cannot stress enough the importance of being able to quickly and easily pick up exactly where I left off from my old version after upgrading. Unfortunately I know how often the software’s new features can make my old way of working obsolete.

I can’t help but think of a notable recent example when the upgrade to FCP X no longer supported OMF for audio exports. What were they thinking? Keeping previous workflows intact is an extremely important issue to me. Immediately after my upgrade from Pro Tools 10 to Pro Tools HD|12, I launched a session and it worked exactly as it did in version 10, eliminating any downtime for me.

One thing that is not new, but is extremely important to mention is the switch from the original Digidesign Audio Engine to the Avid Audio Engine. This happened on Pro Tools 11. Even with the change to the Avid Audio Engine, I was not forced to abandon my old workflow. The advantage of the Avid Audio Engine is key — among other things, this is what allows for the long overdue offline bounce, or faster-than-realtime bounce. And for anyone who is still on Pro Tools 10 and below, the offline bounce is a major reason to move to Pro Tools 12.

Because everyone uses Pro Tools in so many different and complex ways, I encourage you to view Avid’s website www.avid.com for a list of all of the new and improved functions. There are too many new features and improvements to list each one in this review. That is why I came up with a list of my 12 favorite new features of Pro Tools|HD 12.

My 12 Favorite New Features of Pro Tools 12
1. Avid Application Manager. There is a new icon at the top of your screen called the Avid Application Manager. Clicking on it will launch a window allowing you to log into your account, keep up with any updates and view a list of any uninstalled plug-ins available, along with your support options. You can also verify what type of license you have and when it was activated. This is helpful if you have the month-to-month or annual subscription so you can see when your next renewal is. Even with the perpetual license, you can still see what upgrades and bug fixes are available at any time.

2. Buy or Rent Plug-ins. One very cool new feature is the option to buy or rent any plug-in from a new menu option directly in Pro Tools called The Marketplace. This is particularly useful if you are opening another person’s session that has used a plug-in you do not own or if you are opening your session at a studio where they do not own a particular plug-in that you have at your studio. The rent option is a great way to access any missing plug-ins without having to commit to them fully.

3. Pitch Shift Legacy. Call me crazy, but I am thrilled that Avid has included the original version of Pitch Shift in the audio suite. In Pro Tools 11, Pitch Shift was changed to a piano keyboard-based plug-in called Pitch 2. As cool as it is to base your work off of a piano keyboard used in Pitch 2, I missed some of the basic features found only in the original version. I am pleased to say that Avid now offers both versions of Pitch Shift in the audio suite — the new piano-based keyboard version and the original, now called Pitch Shift Legacy.

4. Track Commit. Track Commit is used for converting virtual instruments to audio files, and it can be used for saving processing power overall. Even if you do not use virtual instruments, it still can be a very useful function, offering you the option to “print” your plug-ins to the audio track. This is a great way of saving processing and plug-in power. You can also render your automation, including panning. All of this saves processing power and any possible confusion if someone else is working on your session down the line.

5. Clip Transparency. Some people may remember the days of ¼-inch tape editing that I mentioned at the start of this article. Back then, audio editing had to be done solely with your ears. When Sound Tools and Pro Tools came along, editing became a visual skill, too. Clip Transparency takes visual editing one step further. It allows you to see two clips superimposed over each other while moving them on the same audio track. This is ideal for anyone who needs to line up a new clip with the old clip like when doing ADR.

The best part is it’s not only for seeing two different clips overlaid at the same time; it can be used when you are moving a single region or clip along your audio track. Clip Transparency allows you to see the old position superimposed with the new position of the same clip while you are shifting it for comparison.

It is perfect for those countless times when I have zoomed in past the start of the clip and I can’t see how much I am moving the clip relative to the old position. Clip Transparency now allows me to see how much I am shifting the audio, no matter what my zoom setting is. I never knew how much I needed this feature until I saw it in action. Clip Transparency is by far my most favorite new feature of Pro Tools 12.

6. Batch Fade and Fade Presets. When you are working with multiple audio clips on your timeline, fading each of the clips can be time consuming, especially if each fade needs to be treated differently. Now with Batch Fade, you can create presets for fade-ins, fade-outs and crossfades. When multiple audio clips are selected, a much larger dialog window pops up with many more options for you to choose from. Of course, fading between two clips can still be done the old way, and the fade dialog box works the same as in pervious versions. The new Batch Fade is an additional function that allows you to be more selective and have more options for your fades. Batch Fade is a great example how your old workflow is preserved while still adding new features.

7. The Dashboard. Launching a session now includes the Dashboard window at the start, which is an updated version of the Quick Start menu. You can quickly and easily see all of the available templates and your recent sessions. And, of course, you can create a new blank session. I like the new look and feel of Dashboard compared to Quick Start.

8. iPad Control. Pro Tools l Control is a free app now available in the App Store. iPad Control is made possible with the introduction of EuControl v.3.3, which is the driver needed for your workstation. EuControl is a free download using your Avid account after you complete the registration in the Pro Tools l Control iOS app. Even though I do not own an iPad, I can see the advantage of controlling Pro Tools via the iPad when I am monitoring a mix from a distance from my DAW.Avid Pro Tools iPad Control

Mixing a film, for example, would be a great use of the iPad control since that would allow me to sit back farther away from the speakers, thus simulating the distance of the listener in a movie theater. Today, the line between phones and tablets is blurred with the introduction of the “phablet.” As it stands now, the app is only available for iPad. I suspect that will change in the future, but I have no confirmation of that.

9. Included virtual musical instruments. The latest versions of Xpand II and First AIR Instruments Bundle are included with Pro Tools 12. Quite simply, I am blown away with how amazing these instruments sound. I have been a musician all of my life, but surprisingly I have never used any virtual instruments in MIDI in Pro Tools. I have always opted for a dedicated composing program for MIDI dating way back to Studio Vision Pro (for those of you old enough to remember how cool that program was).

I know there are plenty of third-party virtual instruments available for Pro Tools, but these two instrument bundles included with Pro Tools 12 have really opened up my eyes. Before Pro Tools 12, I found myself sharing and swapping files between a MIDI program (for me it’s Apple Logic) and Pro Tools. I have always preferred using a dedicated program for MIDI outside of Pro Tools, but now I am instantly converting using only Pro Tools for MIDI with the addition of these versions of Xpand II and the First AIR Instruments Bundle.

Please visit Avid’s website for a list of the specifics, but some of my favorite virtual instruments are the acoustic pianos, synth basses and of course anything drums or percussion related.

10. Updated I/O and flexibility. I work mostly on TV commercials and media specifically for the web, so I am rarely asked to do surround sound mixing, especially anything in 7.1. Therefore I am not able to explore any of the new surround features, including the new templates for 7.1 mixing.

Even so, I still can mention the addition of the Default Monitor path in Pro Tools 12. Pro Tools will automatically downmix or upmix your sessions’ monitor path to the studio’s monitor path. For example, if an HD session is saved with a 5.1 monitor path and then opened on a system that only has a stereo monitor path available, the session’s 5.1 monitor path is automatically downmixed to the systems’ stereo monitor outputs. This makes for even more flexibility when swapping sessions from one studio to another regardless of whether or not there are surround sound monitoring capabilities.

Another improvement relating to the I/O and surround capabilities is the addition of virtually unlimited busses. This will help anyone who has used up or exceeded previously allowed bus limitations when mixing in surround. The new Commit feature supports multichannel set-ups, which can improve your surround workflow.

And for any of the larger audio post facilities that may use Pro Tools in a much more complex way, such as getting several edit rooms to integrate, sync and play together, there are improvements in the Satellite link workflow. This includes the reset network button, transmit and receive play selection buttons in the transport window.

11. Track Bounce. Track Bounce is another feature I didn’t know I needed that much until I started using it. It is not to be confused with Track Commit. Track Bounce gives you the ability to select and bounce tracks or auxes as audio files when exporting. This can be one track, all the tracks or any combination of the tracks done in one single bounce.

For example, if you select a music track, a VO track and an FX track, you will get all three tracks as three discrete individual audio files in one single bounce using Track Bounce. This is essential for anyone who has to make splits or stems, especially in long format.

Imagine you have an hour program where you have a music track, a VO track and a sound effect track. In the past, you had to bounce each element as one realtime bounce three separate times. That meant it would take over three hours to complete. With Track Bounce in the offline bounce mode, you can output your stems in one single step in just minutes.

One friendly reminder is that if you are using Track Bounce with any layered tracks, such as sound effects or music tracks, it will bounce each track as its own separate track rather than a mix of the specific layers. For example, selecting 10 tracks will result in 10 discreet audio files with one bounce so it is important to know when Track Bounce is useful for you and when it is not.

12. Included Plug-ins. Of course, Pro Tools 12 is all about the plug-ins, and there are more plug-ins included than ever. This includes First AIR Effects Bundle, Eleven Effects and Space. I find that I rarely use any third party plug-ins since I am often going from studio to studio on a single project. Outside of noise reduction and LKFS Metering, I rarely find the need to use anything other than Avid plug-ins that are included with Pro Tools 12.

Cloud Collaboration and Avid Everywhere
In the near future, Avid will be offering Cloud Collaboration and Avid Everywhere. Avid will finally offer the ability to work on Pro Tools remotely using media located on a central cloud server accessible anywhere there is Internet access. When introduced, Cloud Collaboration will allow people in separate locations to access the same Pro Tools 12 session to share and update files instantly. This is perfectly suited for musicians collaborating on a song who do not live near each other.

More exciting to me is the potential of Cloud Collaboration to change the way we work in audio post by allowing access to all of your media remotely. This could benefit any audio facility that has multiple rooms with multiple engineers switching from room to room. Using Cloud Collaboration, there will be one central location for all your media accessible from any audio room. For engineers who need to switch rooms when working on a project, this will eliminate any file transfers or media dumps.

But I think the biggest benefit will be for any audio engineer like myself who is often working on a single project at multiple locations over the duration of the project. I am often working from my home studio, my client’s studio and a large audio post facility on the same project spread over several days, weeks or months. Each time I change studios, I have to make sure I transfer all of my sessions from one place to another using a flash drive, or WeTransfer or Google Drive, etc. I have tried them all and they are all time consuming. And with multiple versions and constant audio revisions, it is very easy to lose track of what and where the most current version is.

Cloud Collaboration will solve this issue with one central location where I can access my session from anywhere that has Internet access. This is a giant leap forward and I am looking forward to exploring this in-depth in a future review here on postProspective.

Ron DiCesare is an audio pro whose spot work includes TV campaigns for Purina, NJ Lotto and Beggin’ Strips. His indie film work includes Con Artist, BAM 150 and Fishing without Nets. He is also involved with audio post for Vice Media on their news reports and web series, including Vice on HBO. You can contact him at rononizer@gmail.com.

Review: Rampant Design Tools

By Brady Betzel

As every editor and VFX artist knows, the toolset shouldn’t define you as an artist, however, in today’s visually intensive world any and all help is welcome in my eyes.

In addition to a couple of After Effects scripts like Newton 2, TypeMonkey, and any Trapcode plug-ins, there are two products that I feel are must-haves being an editor and working in VFX: Video CoPilot’s Element 3D and the Rampant Design Tools entire drag, drop, and go visual effects library.

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