Archive for July, 2009

I Want Pro Tools for Video

July 17, 2009

In almost every respect, working with digital video is less mature and less streamlined than working with digital audio. The user interfaces of editing software are no exception.

I’ve spent much of the past decade editing digital audio, and since 2002 my favorite program for that is Pro Tools by the Digidesign division of Avid.

In the past year, I’ve gotten more serious about video editing. After dabbling with Sony Vegas, Windows Movie Maker, and iMovie HD (among others) for a couple of years, I now mainly use Apple Final Cut Express.

I find working in video editing programs unnecessarily primitive and cumbersome compared to Pro Tools. Taking Final Cut Express/Pro as a typical and popular example that I’m familiar with, here is my list of deficiencies compared to the audio editing programs I’m used to. It’s in no particular order.

  1. I can’t name or add comments to tracks. I’m stuck with “V1” and “A1” to identify the tracks.
  2. No way to change the order of tracks. It’s unbelievable that this isn’t supported. I have to jump through hoops creating temporary tracks and selecting and moving the contents of other tracks in order to accomplish the effect of, say, inserting a track between two others or moving one track above another one.
  3. No effect inserts on tracks. I can’t put an effect on a whole track; I have to add it to each clip on the track. If I change a parameter, I have to change it in every similar clip instead of just once.
  4. Files for each project are scattered in various directories, making it more difficult to archive or copy a project. Pro Tools encourages keeping all the files for a project under one folder. Final Cut discourages it by making the location of folders like Render Files a global setting instead of per-project. That’s one of the things that drove me away from Cakewalk for audio years ago. It’s too easy to wind up with files for a project getting written to the wrong hard drive and not know it until you reopen it and discover things are missing.
  5. No smart recalculating. Spreadsheets do it, but Final Cut doesn’t. If I add a keyframe anywhere in a clip (such as to do a fade-in or fade-out), the whole clip is invalidated and needs to be re-rendered, even if only a tiny part of it between two keyframes is obviously the only part affected, Final Cut makes me waste a lot of time re-rendering unchanged footage. My partial workaround for this flaw is to use the razor blade tool to split a clip into two near each area where I’m going to add keyframes. Which creates its own problems if I change any effects or other settings on the region–now I have to remember to change them in several regions because of the split.
  6. Audio waveform recalculation isn’t cached. Toggle waveform display with Command-Option-w (which isn’t listed as a keyboard shortcut on the Sequence>Settings menu, another bug), and Final Cut recalculates all the audio waveforms from scratch every time. It’s so slow at this that it’s often not practical to work with waveform display turned on.
  7. No easy way to temporarily disable a clip in a timeline. In Pro Tools, I can press Command-m to mute a region without changing it, to experiment with different mixes without losing editing work. In Final Cut, I have to create a copy of the whole sequence to experiment on.
  8. No master audio or aux or VCA tracks.
  9. Precise audio sync is difficult. Apple documents a workaround to do subframe audio slipping that involves shift-dragging and setting an in or out point, but it’s clumsy and usually doesn’t work when I try it. I normally resort to exporting the existing audio track into a wave file, importing it into Pro Tools, and aligning additional audio in Pro Tools and re-exporting it and importing that into Final Cut. Despite all the extra steps, it’s easier and more reliable than trying to sync audio in Final Cut.
  10. Inability to move markers once they’re created. If because of an edit or a mistake, I find that a marker isn’t where I want it to be on the timeline, I have to delete it and create a new one.

I don’t have much hope that any of these flaws will ever be fixed. I wish there were a video editing program with as good an interface as Pro Tools! (Avid sure doesn’t make one–their video editing software is even more cumbersome than Apple’s, from my experience playing around with it.)