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Avid resets bar with Pro Tools 9

The news unveiled during the recent AES Convention in San Francisco that Avid Pro Tools Version 9 would include a number of major user-requested features underscores the firm's avowed intent to both listen to and respond quickly to customer needs, writes Mel Lambert.

Acknowledging the company’s previously checkered reputation – what he described candidly as “The Evil Empire”, prior to early 2008 – Paul Foeckler, Avid VP creative professional products and solutions, told a packed press conference and international webcast audience during the pre-AES launch of PT9 that these new features represent a major turning point in product development, writes Mel Lambert. “We listened to the market,” he stated. “Our new One Avid strategy, which we unveiled in April 2009, is 100% on customer focus: the customer is number one. Period. Hence these new features, which are a direct result of our responding to their needs.”
 “We intend to reset the bar for Pro Tools to meet and ultimately exceed customer’s expectations,” stressed Max Gutnik, Avid director of audio product management. As Gutnik told PSNE during an exclusive interview, these Pro Tools enhancements centre on five key operational aspects: integral Automatic Delay Compensation (ADC) that corrects for cumulative I/O and plug-in latencies; the software no longer needs to be connected to Avid-approved hardware – instead an iLok USB key authorises use of the application under native Apple Core Audio or Windows ASIO drivers; provision of support for up to 96 mono/stereo tracks, 256 stereo busses, 160 aux sends and 32 channels of I/O; inclusion of Avid’s previously add-on Beat Detective, Music Production and DV toolkits, which adds extended I/O file compatibility (including opening and saving MP3 media) plus OMF, AAF and MXF interchange; and compatibility with the high-speed EUCON bidirectional control protocol developed by Euphonix, which Avid acquired in April. Of course, Pro Tools 9 will also continue to function with Avid’s range of I/O hardware as well as third-party I/O devices.
 The ADC function – which Avid readily concedes was the most-requested feature missing from entry-level Pro Tools – has been migrated from Pro Tools HD Native. “Having provided that increased alignment and phase-accuracy function to HD customers,” the product director explained, “it was a no-brainer to offer it to all Pro Tools users, who currently need to manually adjust hardware I/O, internal/external routing and plug-in latencies. Now it’s totally automatic.” There was much cheering at the press conference when the ADC correction was announced, and several third-party developers have expressed to PSNE what a significant leap forward this is.
 The workstation’s built-in Beat Detective module allows Pro Tools users to analyse and adjust timing across multiple tracks to ensure tighter and more consistent rhythm tracks, while DigiBase file management offers improved file organisation and asset sharing.
 “The ability to use Pro Tools without connected hardware was a major workflow request,” Gutnik considered. “Even if end-users elect to use our Avid-brand hardware, there are lots of opportunities for people who want to mix on a plane, for example, and to be more portable. They can even work on surround-sound projects away from connected hardware by adding the Complete Production Toolkit. All of which gives Pro Tools customers a truly open and flexible workflow that provides more collaboration than we have been able to offer in previous versions.

Agreeing to be open

“It is our major new philosophical approach to let Pro Tools customers work with third-party hardware if they want to,” Gutnik conceded, including systems from Apogee, Tascam, MOTU and PreSonus. “We see that [tactic] as representing separate end-user values. Our hardware should meet the requirements of Pro Tools users on its own merits, by providing best-in-class sound quality and performance.”
 During recent years the difference between the basic Pro Tools LE and high-end HD users has been narrowing. “We know that the majority of LE customers consider themselves professionals,” he said. “The expectations of these users were not being met with current LE versions, hence our decision to increase Pro Tools’ track and buss counts to accommodate larger music sessions, and to add more I/O channels.”
 Pro Tools HD 9 software is now included in various HD system bundles as either Native or DSP hardware-based versions that support TDM operation; upgrade and cross-grade paths are also available for existing Pro Tools customers, including entry-level Mbox users. In addition, Avid’s new Complete Production Toolkit 2 adds Pro Tools HD features to Pro Tools 9, including 192 internal tracks, VCA-based mixing and full 7.1 surround-sound panning.
 Addressing the question of Pro Tools providing unlimited tracks – a common DAW request – Gutnik differentiated between making empty promises and delivering stable solutions. “We believe in offering a specification that can be met consistently for our customers,” he stressed. “A total of 96 mono/stereo tracks can be sustained on the majority of today’s laptop systems. So we set that as a baseline which would offer no surprises for Pro Tools 9 customers, no matter how hard they push their systems. Those who need a more scalable solution can use Complete Production Toolkit 2 to increase this [total] to 192 voices.”
 The inclusion of EUCON Ethernet-based connectivity within Pro Tools 9 and HD 9 now offers much-anticipated direct control for Avid (formerly Euphonix) Artist Series and Pro Series controllers. “These [control surfaces] offer exciting creative possibilities for Pro Tools users now that we have direct control using EUCON,” Gutnik considered. “EUCON provides higher precision, more functionality and enhanced communications speed compared with the HUI protocol.”
 There are also exciting possibilities for users of other Avid control surfaces. “In the future we are planning to offer direct control from our ICON Series consoles of third-party EUCON-compliant workstations,” Gutnik said. “As we explained when Avid acquired Euphonix, we plan to make it an open, industry standard.” Pro Tools 9 is seen as a phase one implementation of EUCON, with deeper levels of support in development.
 “Our plan it to continue enhancing Pro Tools so that we can keep customer expectations high,” Gutnik concluded. “From the Mbox user through Pro Tools 9 to Pro Tools HD 9 in native and DSP-based configurations, it’s the same workstation experience; we want to offer a seamless transition as our users’ needs increase.”
 And let’s not forget that in August Avid launched HD I/O, HD OMNI and HD MADI interfaces, followed in September by a new range of Mbox interfaces, and by last month that Pro Tools HD had gone Native.
 Pro Tools 9 carries a retail price of $599 (€510). The Complete Production Toolkit 2 costs $1,995 (€2,023).