Much has been written on the online forums about the anticipated features of Avid Pro Tools 11, which, as it turns out, has largely been right on the money. Announced 7 April (yesterday) at NAB in Las Vegas and promised for release later in Q2 2013, Pro Tools 11 is built on an all-new, 64-bit audio engine, with an integrated Avid Media Composer video engine.
PT11 features flexible offline bounce functionality (pictured), low latency input buffering, dynamic host processing and GUI enhancements, including expanded metering selections. Avid is hardly the first to market with some of these features, as company representatives were the first to admit at a recent product preview for the international press. “We were not as engaged with the community as we should have been,” said Chris Gahagan, SVP, product and services.
But a good number of the new features have been implemented in response to crowd-sourced requests from the IdeaScale-hosted Pro Tools Feedback Community, and while not necessarily innovative, Avid believes their features can’t be bettered. Offline bounce, for instance, is up to 150 times faster than real-time and can be selected for individual tracks, sends or buses (enabling virtual instrument MIDI “freeze”), with or without plug-ins. “We're heavily confident that this is the best offline bounce in the industry,” commented Rich Holmes, director of product management.
Pro Tools 11 “sets up the future for us to do things that were just not possible” with the previous architecture, Holmes also noted. “This is a release that was thoroughly coded from the ground up to make sure it was way more efficient.”
The new engine has enabled workflow optimisation, certainly. For example, users can play and edit anything that Media Composer can handle, thanks to the integrated video engine supporting a range of HD video formats on its timeline without the need for transcoding. That speeds up workflow by eliminating the current render-transcode-import paradigm. In addition to Avid’s Nitris DX and Mojo DX, the video engine also supports a variety of third-party interfaces. The company promises future implementation of Interplay Sphere, which currently enables easy remote cloud-based interconnectivity between Avid video editors.
As for power improvements, v11 offers separate low-latency buffering for the inputs being recorded, improving monitoring without sacrificing plug-in performance. The new multi-threaded, multi-CPU engine has also enabled the introduction of dynamic resource allocation, again maximizing the plug-in count by allocating DSP resources only when and where needed.
The GUI has been streamlined, too. “It’s about trying to make people’s lives a little bit better,” said Holmes, noting that the complexity has been reduced wherever possible. For example, if no MIDI tracks are in the session then associated controls are hidden. Among other screen improvements, meter options have been expanded to include VU, K loudness scales and world broadcast PPM standards, as well as dynamic gain reduction metering, which is also on the “state plates” (the plug-in selection buttons).
Avid had already signposted that a big change was coming when it released version 10, with its HDX hardware and AAX plug-in platform. In fact, two teams were working on v10 and v11 in parallel beginning several years ago. AAX SDKs were sent to plug-in developers over two years ago and 90 percent of third parties are poised to deliver 64-bit products – some chose not to develop for the 32-bit platform – on or soon after v11’s availability, according to Avid. One major exception is Waves, which will be supporting AAX Native but elected to go its own way with its DiGiGrid DSP and networking platform.
For the first time, users can have two versions of Pro Tools on the same computer: when you buy a copy of Pro Tools 11 you also get a license for Pro Tools 10. Now more squarely aimed at professional users, Pro Tools will be available in three versions, named Pro Tools Express (entry level), Pro Tools Software (pro-sumer) and Pro Tools HD (even though it uses HDX hardware). The full version will cost $699, with upgrades and cross-grades variously costing from $299 (10 to 11) to $999 (9 to 11). (European prices were not available at publication time.)
Pro Tools 11 is certainly a break with the past: there is no support for the 32-bit fixed-point architecture of HD Accel, or TDM, or the Pro Control or Control 24 surfaces. But the new version is session compatible all the way back to Pro Tools’ 12-year-old v5.1 software. That compatibility is bi-directional: a v11 session can be opened in 5.1, if desired.
“It's hard to keep technology that's 12 years old moving forward,” observed Holmes. “It's been a long process to get to this point, because we've been doing it for 20 years, but it's a first step in a new era.”
He added, “This is way more than just a 64-bit release. Hopefully we’ve created another platform that can last a decade.”