Avid Studio: Thumbs Up on Interface, Sideways on Features, Down on Sound Effects
Avid Studio is a movie editing app for iPad. Its storyboad and timeline interface will likely be immediately intuitive for anyone with experience in prosumer sound or video desktop editing apps. However, visionary auteurs may find that Avid doesn't have all the features needed to fully express their visions. And its library of sound effects is extensive but mostly low-quality.
Back when Apple promised editing features built into the iPhone 3GS (the first iPhone to have a video camera), I wondered how a video-editing program could possibly fit into a phone. It wasn't just a question of available processing power, though that was part of it. It was also a question of screen size. Video editing needs a lot of space. If you're going to be throwing around a few dozen clips and managing multiple tracks for sound, you're going to need some elbow room.
It turned out that those early video editing features were very rudimentary. Later the iPad came along, and it seemed like this larger touchscreen might be a better place to carve away at content. Sure enough, Garage Band and iMovie for iPad soon followed.
Now Avid has jumped in with its own video editing app. Avid Studio is targeted at the so-called prosumer. I've never had a problem with being called a "hobbyist," but evidently that word just isn't used anymore, and I need to stop throwing it around before I offend someone. So "prosumer" it is.
Meet the Media
Avid Studio bills itself as a distillation of film-editing technology in an easy-to-use app. Pro movie editors will call it a toy, and it may be intimidating to iPad users who rarely do anything more intricate than check email, read e-books, surf the Web and occasionally go in for a round of "Angry Birds." Anyone who's comfortable with apps like Garage Band will probably feel right at home in Avid Studio -- though its abilities still come up short when compared with desktop apps aimed at the same prosumer market.
The process of making videos, images and music available for Avid Studio to use felt somewhat clunky at first. My initial instinct was to access the iPad through iTunes, go over to Apps, and scroll down to File Sharing. This is the portal through which lots of apps allow you to load up content, and Avid Studio's icon indeed showed up on the list of file-sharing-friendly apps. So I took the handful of clips, songs and photos I had dug up and dragged them into the window.
But upon restarting the app and rebuilding the library, I couldn't find that content anywhere. Syncing with Avid is a little more involved process than drag and drop; instead you'll need to arrange your media into files and then sync the iPad in the Photos and Music categories after explicitly selecting the folder you want it to draw from. And if you're using a video not shot with an iPhone or iPad, you may need to convert it to MP4 before it will successfully sync with Avid.
The app's Help library notes that the easiest way to import photos and videos is to record them using the iPad's own camera. That's probably true, though the iPad 2 doesn't have a particularly high-res image sensor (not to mention the fact that people somehow look really, really strange when trying to use a 10-inch tablet as a camera).
Once your library is loaded with the media you want to use, it's time to arrange it. This is done by dragging and dropping files into the Storyboard section of the interface. Using the Storyboard, you can add videos and still images, rearrange the order in which items appear in sequence, insert new clips or transitions, and drag one clip on top of another to create a composite.
Below that, you'll find your timeline -- a more detailed static visualization of your movie. It's also where you drop in music files if you want a soundtrack.
The interface in this part of the app is especially intuitive. Spreading and pinching zooms the timeline in and out, sliding it will change the player's start position, and dragging the edges of a clip expands its play time, just as expected. By zooming in deep into the timeline, you can easily position a clip down to a single hundredth of a second.
A razor tool at the top allows you to make a precise cut, and the wrench will give you the ability to adjust that clip's sound qualities, including fade in and out, as well as adjust the picture fit if the clip is a video.
One thing I could not figure out how to do, though, was put photos on top of a video clip yet keep the sound from the original clip running in the background. It might be something the app's capable of, but after 20 minutes of trying on my own and a 10-minute hunt through the help menus, I still wasn't getting anywhere.
Despite that, the help menu usually had the information I needed when I consulted it.
Below the timeline is your library, which includes more than just the photos, videos and songs you've imported. The Transitions section allows the insertion of a dissolve or fade in/fade out -- just drag that transition icon up to the Storyboard. Unfortunately, Avid Studio currently only features two transitions.
The Montage section contains over a dozen montage formats -- templates for combining videos and images in a more interesting way. Another section, Titles, offers both standard and motion titles in a variety of fonts.
The music section contains the various songs you've imported into the app, as well as a wide variety of sound effects. But I was surprised at how lousy the built-in sound effects came through -- flat, buzzy, hissy, and overall not what you'd expect from a product that's otherwise well-polished.
Video editing is normally done on large, pricey computers with big processing horsepower. The iPad 2 is not that kind of machine. For the most part, that doesn't really get in the way when it comes to Avid. Dragging in new content, making precision cuts and arranging all your clips just so to make a finished movie aren't generally impeded by the iPad's relative lack of upper body strength.
But once in a while it'll strike, and you'll be reminded that you're editing on a mere tablet, not an industrial-strength workstation. For example, I wanted to do picture-in-picture to combine a short YouTube clip I downloaded with a 20-second full HD clip I recorded with a DSLR camera. Rendering took about 10 minutes and crashed the first time I tried it (though the work wasn't lost).
Avid Studio isn't going to be a replacement for anyone's desktop editor. Even people who don't use professional software and are more used to prosumer apps may get frustrated to find that their vision can't be realized with Avid Studio's toolset. But for a returning vacationer who wants to whip up a nice video to show friends and have it ready before the plane even lands, for instance, or anyone who just wants to put a little shine on a home movie, Avid will do the trick.