On 7th & 8th June 2017, HHB Scrub previewed Pro Tools 12.8 HD, new Avid S6 software, new Dolby Atmos Production Suite software and new Dolby Mastering Suite hardware, to select industry professionals, at their demo facility in London.
Avid and Dolby have been really busy getting this integration to work well and have even brought it into the domain of Pro Tools 12HD (software only) and laptop users.
Pro Tools 12.8 HD
The big development with 12.8 HD is the new panner which now handles height. This means a brand new bus structure, new I/O management and new send & return plug-ins to be able to route audio in-the-box between Pro Tools and the Dolby Atmos Production Suite. In order to make this work with non-HDX systems, Dolby and Avid had to work together to find a way to internally route 128 channels of audio bi-directionally between Pro Tools and the Production Suite software.
There is also a new automated routing system that allows you to dynamically assign an audio path to either a bus (known in Dolby terms as a "bed") or as an object, This is a very welcome new feature - a variant of the dynamically automated routing available on DSP consoles such as the AMS-Neve DFC.
It's a feature that I've been campaigning for 15 years for. The main issue with it though is backwards compatibility. There's no "Save Session as Pre 12.8" option. What will happen though is that the X-Y panning (up to 7.1) will be readable, but no Z (height) information will come across. A bit like opening a session that uses Clip FX on Pro Tools earlier than 12.6.
This helps cut down the processing load and means that these features are available to HD users that don't use HDX. There are obvious caveats depending on the power of your host system, but Dolby reckons that you just need a late 2013 or newer Mac Book Pro minimum.
Also present is a new tab in the Peripherals Setup menu, exclusively for controlling the connection between the renderer (hardware or software) and Pro Tools. There is no need for a third party monitor app to manage the data and audio connections between the two systems. Pro Tools can also import Dolby panner information into the native Pro Tools panners, so there is no need to copy and paste the automation from the Dolby panners to the native should you wish to work without them.
In the Import Menu, there is now the option to import a BWAV ADM file, which is a standardised way of carrying object based audio as a WAV file using an additional header that carries object based metadata. This allows you to import a Dolby Atmos master that's been saved as an AVM file, and bring in panning, track labelling and grouping. In this way a Dolby Atmos Master file that's been created using a system other than Pro Tools can be file imported into your session.
These two new features will make language re-versioning in Dolby Atmos an awful lot simpler and most importantly, consistent.
The Avid Downmixer plugin and most of the existing Avid surround capable plug-ins have been updated to 7.1.2.
Dolby Atmos Production Suite
Dave Gould from Dolby headquarters in San Francisco, came over specially to show us how this new software integrates with Pro Tools. The Dolby Atmos Production Suite offers sound editors, mixers, designers, and VR content creators working in Pro Tools a complete solution for creating immersive Dolby Atmos experiences for film and TV, as well as VR and "linear" gaming production.
The Dolby Atmos Production Suite supports the film workflows used on the main stage and you can edit and pre-mix content for a larger Dolby Atmos session, even with just a laptop and headphones instead of tying up your main facility. To see a full features list take at look at Mike's article here. My headline features include -
- Allows monitoring of content on your Mac without the need for additional Avid or Dolby hardware
- Dolby Atmos Panner Plug-ins for Pro Tools, with controls for XYZ position, elevation mode and snap, speaker snap, zone selector and size, plus Dolby Atmos VR panners with controls for head-tracking, binaural distance model, top-down cube and equirectangular panner view modes (separate VR panner plug-ins are provided for XYZ and spherical controls)
- Includes Renderer Send and Return plug-ins for passing audio between Pro Tools and the Dolby Atmos Renderer (Mac Only)
- Dolby Atmos Monitor - displays signal level of objects and beds, as well the position of objects in a three-dimensional audio field
The new Dolby software is exclusively available only in the Avid Marketplace, for the bargain price of $299. When you realise that this clever piece of software allows you to create Dolby Atmos master material, suitable for distribution, without any Avid hardware or Dolby attendance, this is extremely good value indeed.
Demo - Imogen Heap
We were treated to a demonstration of a specially composed music animation by Imogen Heap, which was mixed at Point One Post in Elstree UK, with prep and panning metadata being successfully imported into the main mix system from Imogen Heap's temporary Dolby Atmos rig in her own studio. This was shown playing back both off the full Pro Tools HDX with external renderer box, and the HD Native system off a single laptop.
The new Production Suite software addresses the new challenges presented by producing Dolby Atmos on TV or streaming / on demand content and subsequently converting that to full theatrical or VR.
There is also a new hardware renderer - the Mastering Suite, which runs on a separate Windows system, which can be multi-client and is capable of working with Pro Tools, Fairlight, Nuendo and DSP consoles such as the AMS Neve DFC. This communicates via MADI and ethernet.
New S6 Software
A new panner and Dolby Atmos integration obviously means new software for control surfaces. We were treated to a glimpse of the latest S6 software, with special integration for XYZ (front-rear-height) panning.
You are able to assign both joysticks to control X-Y and Z separately but simultaneously, or use a single joystick and control the height using a knob beside the panner.
The individual controls also spill out onto the channel strips, plus the touch screen really comes into its own for this type of work.
Mac Only (For The Moment)
The only fly in the ointment is that the new send & return plug-ins, which enable in-the-box routing of audio beyond the 32 channel IO limit of Pro Tools HD (Software only), depend on Apple operating system features (at this time), so the new Dolby Production Suite software is only available for Macs at present, which presents a conflict as Pro Tools is dual platform, as Windows users would have to use the external renderer - the Mastering Suite, which resides on a separate Dell Windows box and requires the Pro Tools system to have HDX and MADI IO. This means a higher hardware cost and a reduction in portability.
However, with the raft of new features in Pro Tools 12.8 HD offering deep integration and scalability, this starts to make the increased cost of Pro Tools HD much better value. It's important to note that this isn't just a post production update. Already a whole raft of artists are working on Dolby Atmos Music content, which if it's as good as the content we saw, means exciting times ahead. As for when we might see 12.8 HD available to install, Avid would only say they would have it ready by the end of Q2. Keep your eyes peeled on your Avid account towards the end of the month. Personally, I can't wait!