Jul 27, 2010

Avid Media Composer 5 suite vs. Final Cut Studio: A Suite Comparison - Part One

Ever since posting the "coming  soon" notice for reviews of all the current NLE's (including the PC-only Edius 5) I've had countless questions about the age-old question of Avid vs. FCP "which is better" being asked incessantly.  Typically the "which is better" debate is totally pointless because it always comes down to both personal preferences and what the budget/production needs are.  However, this time things are a little bit different and not what most are expecting.

There are two ways to make this head to head comparison:

1. Comparing just the actual editor itself, Media Composer to Final Cut Pro and;

2. Comparing the entire suite offerings.

It will be a few weeks before I have time to drill down into the actual editing comparisons between these two however Avid has made sweeping changes both to interface handling, opening up the architecture to third-party offerings such as external monitoring with AJA or Matrox devices and making the software overhead more efficient (faster rendering). But I already have enough info to make a *suite* comparison, and it's still in the FCS favor.  Why?

First, Avid's DVD authoring program is nothing more than a re-branded Sonic DVD-it Pro HD offering; it's the exact same interface and features with the Avid name attached to it - and it's a PC-only program.  Yes, it does handle Blu-Ray but considering "real" BR authoring isn't ever going to be available on a Mac (according to the latest rants from Steve Jobs, who has said "no native Blu-Ray ever on a Mac..." in a recent interview scooped by Apple Insider) BR is a non-starter anyway.

Considering the plethora of DVD-based work for the indie market and that Avid does not offer a native Mac OS X DVD authoring option well... that's just damned silly.  Not to mention that Sonic DVD-it Pro HD is a pro-sumer application and does NOT have all the high-end features - especially for replication-standard mastering - that DVDSP4 has.  To wit, I know many Avid editors who cut on Media Composer and then export their MPEG-2 and AC3 files to then author in DVDSP4 simply because it's such a well-rounded application.

Speaking of exporting, Avid ships with the latest version of Sorenson Squeeze, which did not fair well in my head-to-head comparisons of Mac-based encoders (you can see that review posted here). For quality (not speed) it was last on the list with Compressor and Episode Desktop beating each other for tie-breaker.  Yes Sorenson is much faster than Compressor but it's quality of MPEG2 and H.264 encodes do not match Compressor's quality, period.  And these days MPEG2 and H.264 are just about the only 2 types of encodes being made; you're either going to make a DVD or post up to the web, rarely anything else.

And then there's price:  The MC5 suite is more than double the cost of FCS "3" at $2495 retail.  That's hundreds more than even Adobe Production Premium CS5.  Worse of it all, for all that money you're NOT getting a native Mac OS X end-to-end solution - no DVD authoring!  Really?

As I say, I've yet to make a direct comparo between Media Composer vs Final Cut Pro strictly as a stand-alone editor but if you're thinking that MC5 might be a viable Mac OS X replacement for the entire FCS suite the answer is a solid "no".

More coming soon...


  1. Final Cut users are tempted to switch over to CS5 since it is being highly touted as bug free (unlike CS4), and the new Mercury Playback Engine will give you the fasted file conversion times available on the market which is huge for HD-DSLR users.

  2. That's not entirely true. Most of the benefits on the Mercury Engine are only available with the latest CUDA enabled cards, which not everyone has decided to spend money on yet, so most of the benefits reside mainly with PC-based users/systems and most Mac users wouldn't consider changing over to a PC.

    Not to mention "bug free" is never the case; the ability for any NLE or other application to run without issues has more to do with the individual system's stability than the application/program itself. CS5 is in fact a very stable platform but if the users system is not properly maintained and stable then it will cause failures across the board.

    FCP 7 is also an extremely stable NLE, and for that matter Edius is probably king of overall stability and has been for years, but it's all relative to what's available to the individual users platform.