Avid Media Composer Adrenaline
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 1 (Jan 2004)

Avid Media Composer Adrenaline

With Media Composer Adrenaline, Avid, for the first time, exploits today's multi-gigahertz CPUs rather than relying on dedicated hardware cards. At the same time, Avid has dropped prices considerably. Its Media Composer Adrenaline replaces the full line of on-line and off-line Media Composers priced two to three times higher (although Avid will still support and develop for Meridien systems). But, the only hardware Media Composer requires now, aside from a qualified work-station, is the Adrenaline accelerator.

Because the Meridien hardware enabled Media Composer to edit two streams of full-frame uncompressed video in real time, losing it may seem frightening. Leveraging the work Intel has been doing to increase proc-essor speeds, Avid's release amazingly plays five simultaneous streams of uncompressed video in the timeline on a 2.8ghz workstation using only the CPU and Adrenaline. Avid's benchmark of five layers of uncompressed video is admittedly an approximation; the number of simultaneous layers that Adrenaline can play ultimately depends on what each layer is and how much effects processing is called for in each. On a 2.8ghz test system, I consistently could preview five layers and often got up to eight.
Avid Media Composer Adrenaline provides users the ability to preview multiple layers simultaneously.

When working with SD media, Adrena-line has little onboard processing (until HD expansion capability is added this year). Intel and the OpenGL graphics card do most of the heavy lifting. It does have professional I/O, including four-channel XLR audio in and out, as well as AES/EBU and S/PDIF. Of course, it has professional BNC component video, S-Video, and composite and reference sync, in addition to LTC timecode and two 1394 ports, a 4-pin and a 6-pin.

The FireWire ports hold a lot of Adrenaline's power. The 6-pin connector is the link to the Media Composer workstation, carrying digitized video and audio back and forth from Adrenaline to the CPU. The 4-pin port connects to a DV camcorder or deck. Adrenaline hardware does the encoding and decoding for both capturing media and displaying it on a preview or output monitor. Adrenaline maintains accurate clock and timing control so that any preview is locked to the position of the sequence-window play bar.

Off-loading digitizing and encoding from the CPU is a huge advantage. It allows the host computer to work directly on number crunching in the sequence window, particularly with DV material, which would otherwise need to be uncompressed and re-compressed constantly. Media Composer processes video in YUV rather than RGB, so the CPU doesn't have to waste time on those peripheral operations. Instead, the CPU can work through effects and transitions in real time. The system graphics card also has started to play a major role in Media Composer's real-time performance because, just as with 3D modeling preview, Composer can leverage the redraw capabilities of the card, again freeing the CPU.

There is a surprising dearth of visible changes in the software interface with the addition of Adrenaline; admittedly, a great deal of work took place under the hood. One interesting development is a nice visual aid for the real-time preview. It's a feature that Composer borrows from its younger sibling, Avid Xpress.

Because the real-time preview depends on the CPU's ability to perform any variety of timeline operations, Avid offers feedback to help users achieve efficient preview. If the system begins to reach its maximum during preview and is in danger of dropping frames, a yellow line appears beneath the Sequence. If the system actually drops frames, a red or blue line tells the user that the problem is either the CPU or slow disk access. A new draft mode enables users to reduce the preview quality in favor of displaying even more layers in real time.

A wonderful new work flow feature is Adrenaline's program-length color correction. Color correction isn't new, but now Media Composer will match a reference color or colors through an entire sequence, potentially saving a lot of manual work. And Avid opened its architecture to plug-ins, enabling the addition of new features.

Media Composer users may not notice a lot of changes to the interface—that is, until they start editing and adding layers. It's there that Adrenaline shows its value. It frees not only the user from proprietary hardware, but also the CPU to do more editing. And it sets the course for the future.

Jeff Sauer is a freelance writer, video producer, and director of Digital Video Group, an independent testing and research organization for digital media.


Price: $24,995
Minimum System Requirements: Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 or Mac OS X, 1gb system memory, a qualified graphics card, an IEEE-1394 FireWire port, 40gb internal disk drive, and a DVD-ROM drive

Avid Technology