How to Import Video into Avid Media Composer: System and Project Settings

Project settings

When you first launch Avid Media Composer, you’ll be required to select two things:

 

  • The User
  • The Project

Project Selector Create

There are three kinds of projects:

 

  • Private – only accessible to the computer it is on. It is stored locally.
  • Shared – project is stored locally but can be accessed over a network.
  • External – the project can be stored anywhere on the network.

There is a fourth type, called ‘Synced’ projects, but we won’t be going into that in this series. To create a new project, click on New Project:

Avid New Project Box

Under Format, you have options from standard definition to 1080p with the frame rates 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 50 and 59.94 only. For HD, Aspect Ratio will be 16:9. Unlike what is shown above, you must uncheck ‘Film’ if you’re not working from film.

Raster Dimension is the resolution, of which, you’ll only have 1920×1080 by default. The choices here will depend on what plug-ins you have installed on your system.

We’ll look at how Avid Media Composer handles high resolution media and color space a bit later. RGB 709 is only available for 1080p. All other resolutions are forced to work in YCbCr 709.

The codecs you have installed will show up in the light-grey box. Remember, when you choose names of objects, bins, folders, etc., keep it under 27 characters.

A project is stored in …Documents/Avid Projects/NameOfYourProject. It has a sub-folder with the following structure:

 

  • *.avp – project file
  • *.xml – settings
  • *.avd – information related to bins, one file per bin created

The User settings are similarly structured:

 

  • *.ave – user profile
  • *.xml – settings

Backups are written to a folder with the title ‘Avid Attic’. It is the job of the system designer to ensure a good folder structure and drive architecture is maintained. If you’re on a single system, let Avid set its defaults at the beginning. You can always change your destination drives and folders once you understand your workflow.

Avid Media Composer Settings

Once you’re in a project, you can access the Settings by going to the Project panel, which should be open by default. If not, go to Tools > Project (or Avid Media Composer > Preferences…) and click the Settings tab:Avid Project SettingsYou can control almost every setting about your system and project from this place. Let’s look at a few. Double click to open each setting.
AMA

Go to Volume Mounting:

 Avid AMA Settings

The ‘Automatically AMA-link to volumes’ box will be checked by default. If you want a native file-based workflow, leave it checked. Leave everything else unchecked. Avid recommends you work in AMA whenever possible.

Bin

In the Bin settings box you can control how your bins are saved:

Avid Bin Settings

15 minutes is a good time period for auto-save and I strongly suggest you let it remain as is. Media Composer will wait till you’re inactive (default is 15 seconds) before auto-saving, which is why you have a ‘Force Auto-Save’ option at 17 minutes. Let it be.

‘Maximum files in a project’s attic’ and ‘max versions of a file in the attic’ can remain at their defaults. Once you do a lot of projects, you’ll will understand your system and workflow better, and can modify these parameters to fine tune and clean up your system.

Color Management

Leave the defaults as-is. When files with various color spaces are imported via AMA, you need (actually Avid needs) to convert it to the project color space.

Avid Color Management

You can click Install LUT to install any LUTs you have created. LUTs from DaVinci Resolve are allowed.

Full Screen Playback

This selects which monitor will be used for Full Screen playback. If you’re on a dual monitor setup you can position the settings box within the display monitor and click Select Monitor:
Avid Full Screen Playback

Import

When working with media that does not completely match your project settings, you need to be careful with how you choose your import settings:
Avid Import Settings

Under Image Size Adjustment, I suggest leaving the default (‘Image sized for current format’) as is. If you are working with mixed resolutions, you could check the other boxes as you wish.

When you are sure you’re working for a television-based workflow, you might want to check ‘601 SD or 709 HD (16-235) so your levels are within broadcast standards. You can also double click Safe Colors in the Settings panel for broadcast colors. Frame Import Duration lists the time frame for still frames. I don’t know about you, but I prefer this number to be less than 5 seconds.

If you’re working with image sequences, you can check ‘Autodetect Sequentially-Numbered Files’.

Leave all other tabs as-is.

Media Creation

This is very important. There are many tabs in the Media Creation settings box:

Avid Media Creation

The common thing between all of them is the Video Drive/Audio Drive option, which tells Avid Media Composer where each type of media should be written.

Video Resolution tells Media Composer which codec it should render or transcode to (defaults are listed below). As you can see, Avid Media Composer can work in 16-bit mode if necessary. By default, the setting is ‘Automatic’. Also notice this is where the R3D debayer setting can be set. For best quality, it must always be ‘Full’.

Codecs (all are MXF containers):

 

  • AVC Intra 100
  • XAVC Intra 100
  • DNxHD
  • JPEG 2000
  • XDCAM EX 35 Mbps
  • XDCAM HD 50 Mbps
  • Uncompressed 1:1
  • Prores (in MXF)

Regarding the first tab, Drive Filtering & Indexing, Avid recommends that all drive filtering options should be on by default. By default they are unchecked.

Any project brought into a networked workflow that was created with any of the filtering selections off might have problems with networked media creation, such as “Audio and/or Video Mixdown” and “Send To Playback,” because their Media Creation Settings are still configured for standalone usage.

Video Display

This setting controls the way in which your display device is configured:

Avid Media Display Settings

As you can see, the GPU is used for playback when other systems aren’t available, and it runs under the OpenGL framework. If you don’t have a compatible GPU, you can opt for Software GPL.

Workspace, Interface, Keyboard, Mouse and General

These are settings you use to control the look and feel of your interface. Feel free to play with them.

How Avid deals with high resolution video

Avid does not hinder you from finishing in high-resolution video. If it did, it wouldn’t be used in the film industry. What it does do is limit you from resolutions higher than 1080p (1920 x 1080) while you’re in the application.

When you work with mixed media types, Media Composer can automatically resize clips to match your project settings. Once you’re done editing, you can relink your clips back to the original high resolution media in other applications because the resolution and color properties are preserved in the metadata of the clip.

To output multiple formats, all you need to do is go to the Format Tab in Project, and change the parameter under Project Type. Let’s say you’ve finished editing a 1080p project, and have rendered your master. Now, you want to render a standard definition file for DVD or whatever, you can just change this simple setting, and carry on.

For more information about resolution specifications and how to work with high-res footage, please refer to page 1470 and 1498 of the manual.

How Avid deals with color

Avid has two color spaces, which they unnecessary complicate with incorrect terminology:

 

  • YCbCr 709, which is actually Y’CbCr, and more specifically 4:2:2 Rec. 709
  • RGB 709, which is actually RGB (not 4:4:4), but still in Rec. 709 (so it is almost like 4:4:4)

Avid recommends YCbCr 709 for slower systems, naturally. It’s 4:2:2, and takes up less space and bandwidth. Calculations for effects and color are also easier. This means, that if you want maximum quality, choose RGB 709.

In Avid’s words:

The quality improvement over YCbCr processing is most noticeable in effects that perform color analysis, such as chroma keyers. Even if the original video data is in YCbCr, your should consider converting to RGB to process effects as precisely as possible.

Even if your external monitoring solution (video monitor) is limited to 4:2:2, you can still select RGB 709 if you want the best results for your output. In this case, Avid will convert the files to YCbCr ‘under the hood’ for you monitor.

For more information, please refer to page 54 of the manual.

A few more things to do prior to importing new media

Here are some more things you can do to make sure your editing experience is as smooth as possible:

You can improve the performance of large projects when you reduce the number of objects. To do this, close unused bins, unmount unused media drives, consolidate finished elements, eliminate old material from the project, or divide the project into separate projects. Then quit and restart your Avid editing application. If performance is still slow, restart your system.

Sequences take more memory than media clips, so it’s always best to start your clean-up drive by moving sequences to ‘archive’ bins that you don’t want to leave open. Better yet, delete them before your boss or co-worker finds out your own personal edit of ‘that little scene’.

Once in while, you can clear the Bin Memory by going to Project > Info tab > Clear Bin Memory.

Avid Clear Bin Memory

You can always check your drive and memory status by clicking Hardware (next to Clear Bin Memory). Avid also recommends that you try to put all your media into a single folder before importing. For more juicy tips, head over to page 85 of the manual for the next thrilling episode of ‘I’ve had it with Avid’.

How to Import video into Avid Media Composer

First, make sure the right bin or folder is selected, otherwise the ‘Import…’ option might be greyed out. Then, go to File > Import…. You will be prompted to select the video or stills you want to import. You must choose a transcode format if you are using this method. I recommend DNxHD while you’re in Avid:

Avid Transcode Box

These files are found in the ‘Avid MediaFiles’ folder. There is also a *.pmr file which is important:

The PMR file lists all the online media files. Every editing application consults all the PMR files in all the machine name folders to find out which media files are online. Whenever a media file is created, its name is immediately added to the creating editor application’s PMR file, and whenever a media file is deleted by its creator, its name is immediately removed from the PMR file.

However, many would prefer to use AMA to avoid transcoding to any intermediary codec. In this case, you must first open AMA by going to File > AMA Link…:

Avid AMA Import Box

Only the codecs you have installed individually will show up. If you’re editing regularly with a varied client-base, it might be a good idea to install all the plug-ins at the beginning. Who wants to scramble for the right plug-in at the last moment while the client is watching? Avid puts this down to the ease with which they can update plug-ins when necessary, but that’s just them being lazy. I think they should consider your convenience above their own.

Once you select the video file, it will show up in the selected bin, in its native format and wrapper. If you have DMF running, you can select a profile to execute on the specified folder.

You can also create a new Import setting by going to your Project panel and choosing Settings. Right click on Import and select Duplicate. You can customize this import setting and use that to drag and drop files into bins directly. Import processes can be automated to make life faster. Read page 317 of the manual for more details. For batch importing instructions, read page 320.

While importing, it is a good idea to keep the Console panel open. It will show you if there are any errors while importing, and is great for troubleshooting problems:

Avid Console Errors

Supported Codecs

There are many codecs and container options out there. Just when you think you have a handle on things, a new codec is announced. It’s a way of life, which is unlikely to be ‘corrected’ soon.

You always have to stay ahead of the game. Let’s look at a few codecs and how to deal with them.

H.264

H.264 is the ubiquitous codec, and it looks like it will stay for quite some time. Avid Media Composer supports H.264 natively, via AMA as mentioned above. The Quicktime plug-ins are installed by default. For MXF plugins, use this link.

H.264 – ALL-I

The ‘new’ entrant to the H.264 family is just an interpretation of the codec with interframe turned off. Avid Media Composer supports it natively, via AMA as mentioned above. The Quicktime plug-ins are installed by default.

AVCHD

AVCHD is a ‘version’ of the MPEG-4 AVC specification, or H.264, and Avid Media Composer supports AVCHD natively with the default plug-in (only in the MOV wrapper), via AMA as mentioned above. Avid says you’ll need to perform a one-time-only free activation of the Dolby AC-3 codec to use the plug-in, which happens in the background if you have an active Internet connection.

For AVCHD not in MOV wrappers, you’ll need to download the specific plug-in here.

XDCAM

Avid Media Composer treats XDCAM with kid gloves, so to speak. XDCAM and XDCAM HD follow the MXF OP1a standard, and need to be converted to MXF OP Atom. Similarly, XDCAM EX is MP4, and needs to be converted to the same. Use this link to download the XDCAM plug-ins.

The utility that can do this is Sony Content Browser (The manual incorrectly still recommends the XDCAM viewer, which has been phased out).

XDCAM codecs are supported at native resolutions only. To read the detailed guide, go to page 303 of the manual. For videos on the XDCAM and Avid Media Composer workflow, click here. For a detailed workflow guide, click here (PDF).

XAVC

At the time of this writing, there isn’t a plug-in for 4K XAVC, though XAVC Intra 100 is supported within Media Composer.

CANON XF (MXF)

This applies to files from both the XF series cameras as well as the Cinema EOS line (Cxxx). You’ll need to install the Canon XF and MXF plug-in from this link.

Once that is installed, restart Avid Media Composer. You can then import it natively via AMA as mentioned above.

HDV and DV

HDV is still supported natively, in both transport stream form as well as wrapped as MOV, etc. The video file is rewrapped as MXF, but is used natively.

Of course, you can also Capture HDV from a camera or tape deck directly. For DV and HDV, this method is preferable over Import… since you will also get important metadata and timecode this way (if the camera supplies it). Read page 1528 of the manual on how to work with HDV.

REDCODE RAW R3D/RMD

Avid Media Composer supports Redcode RAW natively after you download the plug-in from this link.

Once that is installed, restart Avid Media Composer. You can then import it natively via AMA as mentioned above.

You can control and manipulate the RAW settings by right-clicking the file in the bin and selecting Source Settings…:Avid R3D Source Settings

Audio files are converted to the WAV format.

ARRIRAW

Arriraw is not supported in Avid Media Composer. You’ll need to transcode it while ingesting or recording to a suitable proxy format.

Arri DNxHD is supported via plug-in that you can download from this link.

Once that is installed, restart Avid Media Composer. You can then import it natively via AMA as mentioned above.

HDCAM SR (SStP)

You must first download and install the HDCAM SR plug-in  from this link.

Once that is installed, restart Avid Media Composer. You can then capture HDCAM SR.

The plug-in supports MXF-wrapped SR Lite and SR SQ formats (422 YUV and 444 RGB) as transferred from HDCAM SR devices.

MPEG-4

Like H.264, Avid Media Composer supports MPEG-4 natively, via AMA as mentioned above. The Quicktime plug-ins are installed by default. For MXF plugins, use this link.

X.264

X.264 is not supported by Avid Media Composer unless you rewrap it into a MOV container.

The Quicktime plug-ins are installed by default.

PRORES

Prores works natively via the Quicktime plug-ins. If you use the AMA method, you can edit natively in MOV wrappers. If you want to use the other Import method, Avid rewraps the video into an MXF wrapper (codec is still Prores).

Here’s a good video that explains how to get your Prores workflow going:

DNxHD

This is Avid’s baby. All kinds of DNxHD are supported natively via either of the import methods mentioned above.

DPX, DNG and OpenEXR

Avid Media Composer does not support DPX, DNG or OpenEXR natively. You’ll need to transcode it to a supported format, via MetaFuze or another application.

IMAGE SEQUENCES – TIFF, JPEG, PSD, ETC.

Avid Media Composer supports many image types, up to 32-bit, and an alpha channel if necessary.

Here’s a video that explains importing and working with image sequences:

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. For codecs and file types I’ve left out, check out page 1451 of the manual. I haven’t covered importing color bars and text patterns (page 300), Audio (page 289), layered PSD files (page 295), etc.

For a detailed overview on how to use the AMA plug-ins, read page 398 of the manual. Once you import a video file, right click and select Source Settings… to control many parameters like size, color, gamma, etc.

We have covered everything you need to know to set up your Avid Media Composer system, project and files. In this article, we have also covered some of the most popular codecs and how to import them. By now you should have a clear idea of how to import video into Avid Media Composer.