In my last article, I spoke about the complex problems that face Avid because they need to support two different versions of Pro Tools, Pro Tools Native and Pro Tools HDX using DSP. I won't repeat the whole article here, but in a nutshell, this means every Pro Tools development decision has to consider the time, cost AND the politics question, that means a feature cannot be added to Pro Tools until it works on both the Native and DSP versions. For example, we understand that Track Freeze could have been released a lot early if it was a Native only feature, what took the time was to make it a feature that would work identically on both the HD and Native versions of Pro Tools. We also understand that the bottleneck for adding higher channel counts beyond 7.1 etc is the HD DSP technology. As it is based on time division multiplexing, once all the slots are used up there is nowhere else to go.
However, the nearly complete convergence of the feature sets in Native and HD versions of Pro Tools does beg the question, is it time for Avid to drop the two-tier software policy?
What we mean by this, is that historically Pro Tools HD/HDX owners get different features than those who buy the native version of Pro Tools? It's a kind of sweetener to those investing in Avid DSP cards and hardware.
The recent announcement from Blackmagic Design of Davinci Resolve 14 with Fairlight Audio demonstrates how this could work. All users own the software with all the features, but for those who want higher track counts and low latency, they can buy the Fairlight audio cards to get access to those features. This concept seems to make perfect sense, so why do Avid feel the need for a sweetener, surely the added value that the hardware brings should be enough?
We could spend lots of time talking about how Pro Tools HD owners were sold not only the hardware but additional software features and so may feel aggrieved by this change of policy. But to be honest, this is no different from those who bought Music Production Toolkit or Complete Production Toolkits; thousands did only to find later those 'paid-for' features were included for free in later versions of Pro Tools. When we buy anything, and especially technology, we need to face the fact that in the future it will be cheaper or even free.
I find it tiresome reading endless comments on forums and blogs by people who see a piece of software discounted or offered free and claiming 'their investment has been devalued.' This is only true if you have never used that product since buying it and had purchased it to one day resell it, like some Cabbage Patch Doll or Star Wars Toy in its original packaging. If you want to speculate to accumulate, then I suggest you buy stocks and not plug-ins. Even then there is no guarantee of getting your original investment back.
I am slightly more charitable to those who have bought hardware but on the whole, the number of people who don't get the value back from their investment can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most of us get significant value from our equipment investments, and Pro Tools HD/HDX is no exception, if you've been running a studio business with it for 3-4 years then it owes you nothing - ask your accountant.
Anyway, I digress, let's get back to the thorny decision that Avid will have to make at some point - one version of Pro Tools. It seems it's not a matter of if but of when.
So what's stopping them?
Would People Buy Hardware Without Any Software Benefits?
If we had been asking this question 5 years ago, then I think we would have seen a different answer, but if you consider the changes that have happened in the last few years, then we are not far from parity across the Pro Tools platform already.
Historically some people would buy an HD system to get certain features but they are now in all versions of Pro Tools - input monitoring for example. More recently, Avid announced that Pro Tools HD owners could now buy the software on its own or buy an interface of their choice should they wish to use HD with DigiLink equipped hardware.
When you face it there are not many features left for Avid to concede and roll into a unified version of Pro Tools, but the longer they insist on this two-tier system, the harder it will become for Avid to justify.
As in the DaVinci Resolve with Fairlight example, as well as other brands that offer DSP based solutions like Universal Audio, surely the benefit of using DSP cards in Pro Tools is low latency and higher track counts - shouldn't that be the reason to buy the DSP hardware?
It seems that whenever a discussion arises about the benefits of HD, you can bet the arguments put forward are low latency tracking with plugins and higher track counts. So why do Avid feel this constant need to have to justify the value of HD with software feature sweeteners? Just as the likes of Fairlight why does not Avid just offer the same software to all and for those who need or want the extra power and low latency buy HDX cards?
I was interested to see how some HDX owners would feel if Avid were to make this change. The Pro Tools Expert team has quite a lot of HDX owners some using it for music and some for post production, so I posed this question to Mike, Dan and James.
It was interesting to see how their position had shifted in a couple of years. For example, in the early days of his HDX investment Mike went on a one-man mission to make sure he got more than the hardware, encouraged Avid to maintain the feature difference, and has certainly bent our ears on more than one occasion on our weekly podcasts about feeling let down by Avid as they "gave away features he felt he had paid a premium for". But when asked about their position on HD ownership now, all of them feel it is time for one unified version of Pro Tools software, and none of them said they would feel aggrieved by this prospect having invested in HDX hardware.
Of course, there is always someone who feels they are not getting value for money, always someone who thinks they are owed more than they are getting, but this is unlikely to change. The same is the case for HD owners, if Avid implemented a one-version Pro Tools strategy, some would complain that there were not in the First Class seats on the Avid Pro Tools line. But is that a valid reason not to do it?
With the unlocking of most of the features in Pro Tools, the removal of the need to own an Avid interface and cards to use Pro Tools HD and the option to buy a DigiLink licence so you can choose the most appropriate HD interface, now seems a better time than ever to flatten the Pro Tools software model and just have one version with all the features.
If we consider some of the top applications used, is there a similar model applied elsewhere?
So What Could Be Stopping Avid From Making One Version Of Pro Tools?
With the recent announcement of new Atmos features coming to Pro Tools, this will be yet another 'HD only' feature and although it hasn't been spelt out in words of one syllable the implication is "hey HD users, here is another HD only software feature to help redress the balance for the features given away to Native users". However, we believe that this is a retrograde policy decision, especially after all that Avid has done to move away from the First/Second class model it just seems counter-productive.
We implore Avid to reconsider this policy and take the bold move of making a single version of Pro Tools now, to end this two-tier model and to believe themselves in the value of HD with its low latency, and high track counts.