Tech Corner – Media Composer First

Avid’s Media Composer is very complex software that can be difficult to learn. Good. One secret to keeping employed in editing is to keep up with technology. Make it easy to learn so a bunch of bright students can take my job? No, thank you.

But Avid has been trying to solve a serious problem: how to get new users. Paying customers. And how to keep them.

Avid had a stripped-down, cheaper version of Media Composer, called Avid Xpress. It was discontinued years ago. Students at film schools like USC and Chapman University learn and work with Media Composer. But once out of school what can they use and how do they continue to learn? And besides film students, how do you attract novices/ hobbyists?

A company might not survive long if it only appeals to a small group of professionals. Avid’s answer is to release a new version of Media Composer, simplified to a point that a bright student or novice would have a much easier time learning. To replace me. Rats. With a spare laptop, I wanted to experience Media Composer First. MCF can only be installed on a computer that does not have Media Composer (um … zero?) installed. Every computer I

own has Media Composer installed, so wiping this computer clean was the first task. Getting MCF is extremely easy.’s website now opens with an offer to download and try it. The page touts the first significant selling point: MCF is free. That is a great price.

There are four steps to complete.

1) Sign in to an existing Avid account or create a new one. Creating an account just requires your name, an email address and a password you specify.

2) Verify your email address. An email is sent to the address you provide, and you just click on the link.

3) Take a survey, so Avid can get an idea of who is downloading the software.

4) Download and install the software.

The download page has links to getting-started video tutorials, a quick-start guide, and the MCF community forum. Avid has community forums for many of its products, which are excellent and underused resources. Once downloaded, installation is equally simple. Answer the on-screen prompts, then restart. The smart thing about MCF is how well designed the initial experience is for a new user. From web download to opening screen to the first edit, every step is clearly laid out.

“Create Project: Enter project name to create.” Pretty simple. MCF has already created a folder on your computer to store the project files. No external attached storage is required, unlike Media Composer (um … not lite?). The following screen makes it


pretty clear what to do next. And to edit? Also on this screen is a timeline containing a precreated sequence. “Drag clips here to start editing.” Then prepare to take my job.

Avid has done a really good job designing this program. No other software I can think of is so clearly laid out for beginner. It will get more complicated as one goes along. So Avid has offered numerous support services. There are lots of limitations to MCF, which is why it is free. A timeline can have no more than four video and eight audio tracks. Eight stereo audio tracks. MCF can’t be attached to shared storage, like the unfortunately named ISIS. Only five bins are allowed. The maximum project frame size is 1920×1080 (HD), though it will link to, or import, 4K footage.

Not all frame rates are supported. ScriptSync and PhraseFind aren’t available, nor is Marquee or NewBlue effects. The limitations mean this truly can’t be used in a professional environment. It does have limited color correction, and a series of color presets – think Instagram filters. For output, the options are to disk or to various online services (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook).

You can specify the exact output settings, and save them as a preset. The publish page also shows the estimated file size of the export –a feature sorely lacking in Media Composer (um … not-free?). MCF and Pro Tools First were announced two years ago.

Pro Tools First’s release has been a success. But MCF’s development was delayed. A very interesting aspect of MCF is it doesn’t feel like a crippled version of Media Composer (oh … whatever). It is fully functional. What it lacks are features only professionals really need. A commendable design and implementation. Perhaps Avid will now start making big money. By offering free software. Ironic.