This is the first in a series in which I will outline the basics of how to use Digidesign’s Pro Tools systems to work to picture. First of all, we look at the decisions you need to make in setting up your system. There are three basic ways to work to picture in Pro Tools.
- You can lock Pro Tools via time code to an external video playback machine and then Pro Tools can ‘chase’ the VT machine. This process doesn’t put any extra load on the computer but it is slow, because you have to wait for the VT machine to spool backwards and forwards and cue to the correct position on the tape before you can work on a section. You will also need some sort of timecode synchroniser like Avid’s Sync I/O or Sync HD.
- You can import video files directly into a video track in Pro Tools. This is fast, because there’s no waiting for the VT machine to catch up: Pro Tools can continue to work in a ‘non-linear’ way and will jump to the correct part of the video file as you move the cursor around the Session, just as it does with the audio files. However, handling the video file puts a load on the computer, and you will find that with high track counts and plug-in counts, Pro Tools is more sluggish when using a video file as your picture source.
- You can use a separate non-linear video player. This can be either a second computer running an application like Virtual Video Tape Recorder from Gallery Software, or using Avid’s Video Satellite software. This has the benefits of both of the first two options, with the only down side being cost.
There are more details on the curent options here in a previous post. In this series, I’m going to concentrate on the second option, as it is both the easiest one to implement and the most affordable. Pro Tools, on both Mac and PC, can use any type of movie file you like as long as it is a QuickTime movie, it is best to say away from Windows Media Player files! However, you have to be careful which codec is used to create the QuickTime movie. Pro Tools can handle most QuickTime movies, but not all. If the video card used to create the QT movie has hardware data compression, Pro Tools will be unable to play the movie unless the correct card is available in your computer. This tends to make taking the Session from system to system difficult unless they all have the same video card. Second, when exporting from Avid Xpress DV, always use the Apple DV codec in the Export dialogue box. Do not use the Avid codec — if you do then it won’t play in Pro Tools. Third, Pro Tools currently doesn’t support DV stream files, so make sure you have a DV movie and not a DV stream.
The great news is that without any additional hardware Pro Tools will play and display a QuickTime movie in a special movie window on your computer screen. Howeverit s worth having Quicktime Pro which costs around £20 (depending on the exchange rate) to unlock QuickTime Player to enable you to carry out numerous tasks such as video resizing, file conversion and so on. You can buy the ‘unlock’ code for QuickTime Pro for Windows or Mac OS from the Apple web site. The other essential app is MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5 which is free and is available in Mac and Windows.
If you prefer to view your movie on a separate screen or video monitor, then you should check the latest compatibility charts. Also look up a recent post here which outlines all the options.