In this article, we are going to try and demystify why as a Pro Tools user you might need Pro Tools HD Native or HDX hardware and because there is also some confusion about what features are hardware related and what are software related features, we are also going to look at Pro Tools Ultimate software, which used to be known as Pro Tools HD software.
Pro Tools HD Native and HDX Hardware
In a nutshell, a Pro Tools system with either Pro Tools HD Native and HDX offers two key features...
1. Effectively Zero Latency Monitoring
Almost zero-latency monitoring of the audio when recording, this is the time it takes for the computer to process the audio and then pass it back for you to hear. The latency in Pro Tools Native systems is dependent on the Hardware Buffer size which is measured in samples. Typically a hardware buffer size of more than 64 samples at 48K is likely to become an issue for performers as they will hear themselves late through Pro Tools.
2. More Than 32 Channels Of I/O
With Pro Tools HD Native and HDX systems, you can have more than 32 Inputs and 32 outputs in use simultaneously. Whereas Pro Tools Native systems can only handle up to 32 inputs and 32 outputs at the same time. Even if your interface has more inputs and outputs you will only be able to use a maximum of 32 of each at any one time. With Pro Tools HD Native you can have up to 64 inputs and 64 outputs in use at any one time and with an HDX system, it is 64 channels of I/O per HDX card. This means if you have an HDX3 system with 3 cards you can have up to 192 inputs and 192 outputs in use at the same time.
|Supported Tracks||Pro Tools Native||Pro Tools HD Native||Pro Tools HDX||Pro Tools Ultimate
|Maximum simultaneous audio tracks @ 48kHz||128||256||256 per HDX card. Up to a maximum of 768||256|
|Maximum inputs (hardware dependent)||32||64||64 per HDX card. Up to a maximum of 192||32|
Maximum I/O Configuration with HDX
HDX supports up to a maximum combination of 12 of the following audio interfaces:
HD OMNI (only 1 HD OMNI interface is supported in a single system)
HD I/O (up to 12 HD I/O interfaces can be used simultaneously—requires 3 HDX cards)
HD MADI (up to 3 HD MADI interfaces can be used simultaneously—requires 3 HDX cards)
MTRX (up to 12 MTRX interfaces can be used simultaneously—requires 3 HDX cards)
Maximum I/O Configuration with HD Native
HD Native supports up to a maximum combination of up to 4 total of the following audio interfaces:
HD OMNI (only 1 HD OMNI interface is supported in a single HD Native system)
HDI/O (up to 4 HD I/O interfaces can be used simultaneously)
HD MADI (full connectivity with 1 HD MADI interface is possible when both DigiLink ports of the HD MADI simultaneous to both DigiLink ports on the HD Native PCIe card or Thunderbolt interface)
MTRX (up to 4 MTRX interfaces can be used simultaneously)
Other Benefits Of A Pro Tools HDX and/or HD Native system
A Pro Tools Native card doesn't have any DSP on it for use with AAX DSP plug-ins, whereas the HDX cards do. This means an HDX based Pro Tools system can have low latency AAX DSP plug-ins in use, which means you can track and/or monitor through AAX DSP plug-ins with virtually no latency, bypassing the latency which is inherent in a Pro Tools Native system.
However, you need to consider what you are doing. Be aware that there are very few virtual instruments that are DSP based plug-ins so if you are mainly using virtual instrument plug-ins then an HDX system may not be the best system for you.
If you are running Pro Tools HDX then you can check out our AAX Database to see which plug-ins are available in AAX DSP format as well as AAX Native format.
Larger Track Counts
If you are working on sessions with big track counts such as large audio recordings, TV, film or gaming then you will probably need a Pro Tools HD Native or HDX system. A Pro Tools HDX system with just one card is going to give you some serious horsepower, allowing for low latency tracking and higher track counts, it’s also worth remembering that if you work with sound-to-picture then latency is going to be a killer for trying to work with audio and picture sync. It would make ADR or foley work almost impossible. Although you can get up to 256 tracks just by getting Pro Tools Ultimate software you will still have the latency to contend with. If you need more than 256 tracks at any one time you will have to go for HDX hardware with more than 1 HDX card.
Although Pro Tools Native supports MIDI timecode, if you need to support full-blown SMPTE timecode then you will need a Pro Tools Sync HD unit and a Sync HD unit only works with Pro Tools HD Native and HDX hardware-based system. Although there is less need for SMPTE timecode to lock tape machines to Pro Tools these days, there is still a need to lock Digital Console automation systems to Pro Tools so that the automation systems can run in sync with Pro Tools. You will also need MachineControl for this, which is now bundled as part of Pro Tools Ultimate, and MachineControl only works with Pro Tools Native and HDX systems.
On your HDX or HD Native system you can use the SYNC HD to resolve Pro Tools recording and playback speed with any of the following clock reference sources while slaving Pro Tools to timecode:
House video reference (SD or HD)
1 x Word Clock
AES/EBU “null” clock
Compensate for Delays After Record Pass
Pro Tools provides two options for compensating for input and output latency (due to any inherent latency in the analog to digital and digital to analog converters of the audio interface) after recording. This is really useful for post-production mixing in-the-box workflows.
Compensate Side Chains
When Delay Compensation is enabled, in HDX systems this option can also apply to Delay Compensation for plug-in side-chain signals as HDX systems let you automatically compensate for signal delays in side-chain processing as well as normal delay compensation.
The Satellite Link feature lets you link up to 12 Pro Tools HD systems, or 11 Pro Tools HD systems and an Avid Video Satellite (Media Composer or Avid Symphony Nitris DX) or a Pro Tools Video Satellite system, over an Ethernet network so that you can cue, play, and stop the transport, make play selections, and solo tracks across any of the systems from any linked workstation. This is only supported on Pro Tools HDX and HD Native Systems.
On Pro Tools HDX and HD Native Systems, when this scrolling option is selected, the Edit window’s contents scroll continuously past the Playhead, which is a blue line in the centre of the window (or a red line when recording).
Pro Tools Ultimate software with HDX hardware (not supported on HD Native systems) lets you punch in and out of cascaded tracks. You can activate and deactivate recording or input monitoring on tracks in all punch modes (and in punch modes only): QuickPunch, TrackPunch, and DestructivePunch.
If you want to be able to select where tracks are routed to when they are soloed in AFL (After Fader Listen) or PFL (Pre Fader Listen) Solo mode, you need a Pro Tools HDX or HD Native System.
Is Pro Tools HD Native Enough?
There has also been some discussion as to whether Pro Tools HD Native is a useful part of the Avid Pro Tools product range.
In many respects, in terms of track count etc a Pro Tools HD Native system is equivalent to a Pro Tools HDX system with one HDX card. But let's look at the pros and cons of an HD Native system versus a Pro Tools HDX system.
Cheaper than an HDX Core card
Can be run on a Thunderbolt-equipped computer without having to buy an additional Thunderbolt chassis
Cannot be extended - With HDX systems if you are running out of tracks and/or I/o you can add more HDX cards and interfaces up to a maximum of 3 cards.
The PCIe card version is no longer available so Pro Tools HD Native can only be run on a Thunderbolt-equipped computer.
No DSP Plug-in processing (HDX only)
Cannot delay-compensate side-chains (HDX only)
Cannot handle “In-the-box” Dubbing (HDX only)
Pro Tools Ultimate
Pro Tools Ultimate is the new name for what until recently was always known as Pro Tools HD Software. Some of the confusion came about because the phrase Pro Tools HD was used for both software and hardware products, although to be fair it used to be less of an issue because until Pro Tools 12.6, Pro Tools HD software was only available as part of a bundle comprising of the Pro Tools cards that went in your computer, the Pro Tools HD software and the Pro Tools HD interface which connected to the card via a DigiLink cable. With Pro Tools 12.6, Avid also separated the interface from the bundle so that users didn't have to buy a full bundle, then sell the Avid interface so they could buy a 3rd party DigiLink enabled interface for Pro Tools HD card.
Now it is possible to buy each of the elements, an HDX card, and HD Native unit and the Pro Tools HD software now called Pro Tools Ultimate separately as well as bundles in different combinations. Check out our article Pro Tools FAQs - How Much Does It Cost To Buy Pro Tools?
These are the features that come with owning Pro Tools Ultimate software that don't depend on having Pro Tools HD Native or HDX hardware...
Surround, Ambisonics and Dolby Atmos
If you need more than stereo then you need to get Pro Tools Ultimate software, to get tracks in LCR, Quad, 1st Order Ambisonics, 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround and Dolby Atmos to name but a few. Pro Tools Native doesn't support more than stereo tracks.
More Simultaneous Audio Tracks
Pro Tools Native only supports up to 128 mono or stereo tracks, whereas Pro Tools Ultimate supports up to 256 tracks in Standalone mode.
More Auxilary Tracks
Pro Tools Native only supports up to 128 Auxilary tracks, whereas Pro Tools Ultimate supports up to 512 Aux tracks in Standalone mode.
HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology) is now a paid software option that adds “analog colour” to Pro Tools Ultimate. Note that HEAT uses DSP Resources on HDX, but when using Pro Tools Ultimate without HDX cards HEAT uses the Host processor.
TrackPunch / DestructivePunch
If you want TrackPunch or DestructivePunch then you need Pro Tools Ultimate, although QuickPunch works with Pro Tools Vanilla.
The TrackPunch mode lets you punch tracks in and out individually (one at a time) or punch multiple tracks in and out simultaneously. TrackPunch is a nondestructive punch mode which leaves previous material on the disk.
DestructivePunch is a destructive recording mode that lets you punch in and out on during playback while preserving a contiguous audio file on each punched track. Like TrackPunch mode, DestructivePunch mode lets you punch tracks in and out individually (one at a time) or punch multiple tracks in and out simultaneously. Unlike QuickPunch and TrackPunch, Destructive- Punch replaces audio within the target parent file. DestructivePunch is essentially a destructive version of TrackPunch mode.
QuickPunch is a nondestructive Record mode that lets record-enabled tracks be punched in and punched out during playback by clicking the Record button in the Transport. QuickPunch mode is available on all systems, Pro Tools Native and Pro Tools Ultimate.
Advanced Audio Editing
These include Scrub Trim, Replace Clip, Fit to Marks, Matching Channels, Back and Play and Auto Fades.
Advanced Video Editing
These include Multiple Video Tracks (up to 64), Multiple Video Playlists and Video Editing Tools.
These include Punch, Capture, Write to Stop, Write to All, Auto, Preview and AutoGlide.
Clip Auto Fade In/Out Length
This setting determines the default length for fade-ins and fade-outs that are automatically applied to clip boundaries on playback. Using automatic fade-ins and fade-outs saves you the trouble of editing to zero-crossings or creating numerous rendered fades in order to eliminate clicks or pops in playback.
Coalesce Trim Automation Options
These options determine when Trim automation is committed to the main automation playlist on a track. After Every Pass, On Exiting Trim Mode and Manually.
|Features||Pro Tools Standard||Pro Tools Ultimate|
|Composing, recording, sequencing, editing, and mixing tools||Yes||Yes|
|Loop record track comping||Yes||Yes|
|Sibelius Score Editor||Yes||Yes|
|Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch||Yes||Yes|
|Avid Cloud Collaboration||Includes 1 GB of free cloud storage space for collaboration; additional cloud storage plans available for purchase||Includes 1 GB of free cloud storage space for collaboration; additional cloud storage plans available for purchase|
|Selective Project Sync||Yes||Yes|
|Track Freeze, Commit, and Bounce||Yes||Yes|
|Automatic Delay Compensation||Yes||Yes|
|Clip FX||Playback only||Apply, edit, and play|
|Retrospective MIDI recording||Yes||Yes|
|AAF/OMF/MXF file interchange||Yes||Yes|
|Export to iTunes||Yes||Yes|
|Full Import Session Data||Yes||Yes|
|Variable stereo pan depths||Yes||Yes|
|In-the-box dubbing||Yes - Requires Pro Tools | HDX|
|Field recorder workflows||Yes|
|Avid Video Engine||Yes||Yes|
|Dolby Atmos mixing workflows||Yes|
|Ambisonics VR workflows||Yes|
|Advanced metering with gain reduction||Yes||Yes|
|Extended RAM/Disk Cache||Yes||Yes|
|TrackPunch / DestructivePunch||Yes|
|Solo bus AFL/PFL||Yes||Yes|
|Retrospective MIDI Record||Yes||Yes|
|MIDI Editing Enhancements||Yes||Yes|
|Mixing UI Improvements||Yes||Yes|
|Improved Import Session Data||Yes||Yes|
|Playlist Comping Enhancements||Yes||Yes|
|"Start Collaboration" File Menu Item||Yes||Yes|
|iLok Cloud Support||Yes||Yes|
|Advanced audio editing—Scrub Trim, Replace Region, Fit to Marks, Matching Channels, Back and Play, Auto Fades, and more||Yes|
|Advanced automation—Punch, Capture, Write on stop, Write to all enabled, Automatch, Preview, and more||Yes|
|Advanced video editing—multiple video tracks, multiple video playlists, and video editing tools||Yes|
|Pro Tools MachineControl included||Compatible but not included||Yes|
|Avid Complete Plugin Bundle included||Compatible but not included||Yes|
Whether you need Pro Tools HD hardware now mainly depends on two key factors. Do you need virtually zero latency when recording or over-dubbing and/or do you need more than 32 simultaneous inputs and/or outputs? If the answer is yes to either or both of these questions then you need to look at whether the lower cost option of HD Native hardware with Pro Tools Ultimate is enough for you or whether you need to go all the way and get HDX hardware.
There may be other factors that will mean you need to get Pro Tools HD hardware, these include if you need more than 256 audio tracks at the same time, full-blown SMPTE timecode synchronisation, centre playhead in the Edit window and in-the-box dubbing.
Finally, if you need Pro Tools HD hardware, either HD Native or HDX, then you will need Pto Tools Ultimate software, which leads us onto the reasons you would need Pro Tools Ultimate software rather than Pro Tools Vanilla.
If you need more than 128 audio tracks at any one time then Pro Tools Ultimate software will give you up to 256 tracks. If you need more than 256 tracks then you will need HDX hardware with more than 1 HDX card. The absolute maximum with 3 HDX cards at 48K sample rate is 768 tracks.
If the type of tracks you need require more than 2 channels (stereo) then you will need Pro Tools Ultimate. Basically, any type of surround, immersive or Ambisonics will all require you to have Pro Tools Ultimate software.
Pro Tools Ultimate also gives you up to 512 Aux tracks in Standalone mode, whereas Pro Tools Vanilla only supports up to 128 Auxilary tracks.
There are also other advanced features that are not in Pro Tools Vanilla like Advanced Video Editing as well as more than 1 video track; Advanced Audio Editing, which includes Scrub Trim, Replace Clip, Fit to Marks, Matching Channels, Back and Play and Auto Fades and Advanced Automation, which includes Punch, Capture, Write to Stop, Write to All, Auto, Preview and AutoGlide. See the table about for more details.
There you have it. Hopefully, now you can use these notes to establish whether you need Pro Tools Ultimate software, Pro Tools HD hardware with Pro Tools Ultimate.