Avid Symphony 6.5 colour grading overview and new features

Avid Media Composer 6.5 has a number of new features that it shares with Avid’s step-up in terms of colour management, Symphony 6.5. The new features are mainly situated in the domain of audio support, better file relinking management, codec support, and advanced features. But I was mainly interested in Symphony 6.5 because of its colour editing capabilities.

The new metadata based file relinking feature in Avid’s NLE are brilliant. it was a lot less complicated than when I first reviewed Media Composer a couple of years ago. Audio editing got a bit easier too, and with a maximum of 64 tracks, you won’t run out of steam any time soon. I had no difficulties importing six tracks coming from a Ninja2 and a Zoom H4n recorder, although it did require me to remember the H4n’s recording mode at the time wasn’t stereo, but four-channel. Media Composer / Symphony expect you to create audio tracks before dragging them to a sequence, and you need to get your facts right — the program isn’t very forgiving and doesn’t try to figure out which type of track you’re dragging.

screenshot of Symphony 6.5 interface

Media Composer and Symphony are much the same in the way you edit with them. It’s never simple if you aren’t editing on a daily basis, as you tend to forget the workflow basics and steps you need to take in order to achieve specific results — after each review I tend to forget most of them, anyway.

But with Final Cut Pro X not really a professional video editing environment and the only other alternative now being Adobe Premiere Pro (which I will soon be reviewing), Symphony 6.5 is now the only editor on the market that has professional colour grading built-in. Adobe has SpeedGrade, which is the only professional-grade colour editing app besides Da Vinci Resolve and Apple’s Color (which sadly isn’t developed any further). All of these solutions are external applications, just like the new Technicolor CineStyle Color Assist.

Symphony 6.5 is the only one with the whole colour grading module integrated into the NLE itself. The price premium reflects this luxury of having the ability to create a finished product with no additional apps to load in your Mac’s memory. But often built-in functionality that others regard as specialised enough to develop a separate app, is not as good as the external offerings. With Avid’s Symphony 6.5 I’m not sure.

To be perfectly clear, Symphony’s price premium isn’t just because of the colour editing tools you get. You also get Universal Mastering, which means you can output any format to any format — PAL media to a NTSC output, SD clips to a HD movie, etc., as well as a bunch of other capabilities such as audio keyframing, Active Format Description setting, and more.

Colour Correction with Avid Symphony 6.5

Avid Symphony’s colour correction functionality is a bit different from the relatively simple add-ons like Technicolor’s CineStyle Color Assist, or the built-in colour grading features you’ll find in low-end NLEs such as Final Cut Pro X. There are three colour grading types: Source, Program and Effect. These are applied in order, so you can apply two colour gradings and play with the results by changing the type. The latter is fairly easy: you can select the type in the colour grading panel.

screenshot of color grading applied

As with other NLEs, you can colour grade a single segment in a sequence. That’s the easiest. But you can also colour correct multiple segments in a sequence at once by choosing a relationship for the correction. That’s a bit more complicated as you need to establish these relationships by either creating subclips or ingesting them from the same tape. However, it serves to make the colour grading of complex sequences with clips originating from multiple cameras a lot more manageable.

With Symphony, if you want to edit all clips originating from one camera, you would correct every segment in the sequence that came from the source tape for that camera. This saves a lot of time, for example when white balance is off for that particular camera.

Other relationship options include correcting every segment from a particular master clip, or every segment on an entire video track in the sequence. You can also manage colour corrections that you have made using relationships in a variety of ways. You can update a sequence to apply existing colour corrections to newly added segments, merge different versions of a colour graded sequence, convert colour corrections in a sequence to segment-only relationships, and remove groups of corrections from a sequence.

Flexibility and unity of workflow thus seem to be the key differentiators for Symphony (its name seems to refer to this unity of workflow…).

screenshot of symphony's transcoding dialog

Symphony 6.5 is a Universal Mastering tool. It allows you to create any format from any format.

I also tested the ability to keyframe colour corrections. This involves using the keyframe interface in the Effect Editor. It allows you to animate most colour correction adjustments. The concept is the same as in Final Cut Pro X, which means you can change colour effects as the sequence plays.

Of course, Symphony comes with the common monitors, including Histogram, Waveform and Vectorscope, but I found it quite lame they wouldn’t update in real-time, unless I scrubbed the sequence. Playing the sequence in one of the video windows did not result in updated monitoring.

One final observation I want to share with you is this: Symphony’s colour correction tools integrate seamlessly with Avid’s Color Artist control surface and that must be good news for pro colorists.