Avid has continually built new technologies to solve our customers’ strategic problems, which means we must advance our plug-in platform, in order to address your current and future needs. But it’s hard to talk about the evolution of Avid’s plug-in platform, without mentioning HDX and 64-bit in Pro Tools 11, so let’s start there.
Some people have asked why we would create a product like HDX when native processors are growing in computational power so quickly. Native processors are great. We are thrilled to have that power available to native plug-ins in Pro Tools, but computational power isn’t everything. There are three things we believe our customers are looking for in an audio engine: Power, Low-Latency and Determinism. Those three things are our engineering design space.
On the top, we’ve got computational power. Native processors are excellent at that, but they come with tradeoffs; tradeoffs that are mostly OK but not always. Those of you who are experienced with the “hardware couldn’t meet the deadline, try increasing your buffer size” dialog are already aware of this. These processors combined with typical Operating Systems make great high power systems; they just don’t make great low latency or highly deterministic systems.
When we were discussing HDX, we knew we wanted to provide new computational resources that give you unique advantages over purely native systems. I think you all look to Pro Tools to provide those professional options. We found that embedded DSP chips were not only highly predictable (deterministic), they were also well suited for very low buffer sizes, like a single sample. When you look at where this option lives in our design space, you’ll find that it fits in perfectly to cover the weak points of purely native based systems.
Looking at that, we strongly believed we needed a plug-in platform that could efficiently cover the entire triangle. Design goal: our plug-in platform must provide the ability to target unique processors that give our customers the resources they need.
Now, let’s talk about 64-bit, and portability in general. In addition to 64-bit, we have mobile, multi-touch, distributed systems, etc. If we want any sort of longevity in a plug-in platform, we need to think about those things, too. And those concerns ultimately translate into two design goals: portability and modularity.
Portability means we want most of the code we write to be easily movable to new hardware and systems. The old plug-in formats, RTAS and TDM, were directly tied to Pro Tools and not at all portable. Design goal: we want plug-ins to be able to support many different applications and hardware platforms.
Modularity means we want the different pieces of plug-ins to be separate so we can move them around to create unique products and workflows. Historically, a plug-in is one monolithic block. We have found that this limits our ability to extend the design to newer platforms. This is really about providing you with flexibility. Design goal: we would like the right amount of modularity to enable technical innovation.
Let’s bring out those main goals:
- Our plug-in platform must provide the ability to target unique processors that give our customers the resources they need.
- We want plug-ins to be able to support many different applications and hardware platforms.
- We would like the right amount of modularity to enable technical innovation.
When we looked at RTAS and TDM, we found we simply couldn’t resolve those formats with any of these goals, let alone all three. So we took these three goals, along with the best parts of RTAS, TDM, and Audiosuite, and we created AAX.
Pro Tools 11 was built for speed and performance; and with this release, we’ve taken the plug-in platform a leap forward and redesigned the audio engine to take advantage of this new flexibility in plug-ins. It is able to take full advantage of 64-bit multi-threading and multi-processor support, leading to improved plug-in performance. It can also move the processing pieces of the plug-ins around, enabling them to operate at peak efficiency. We even created a new type of plug-in, called AAX Hybrid, which allows plug-ins to tap into the audio engine in previously impossible ways, giving plug-in developers the ability to combine the greatest advantages of all the various engine resources.
It has taken many years of development, but with Pro Tools 11 and AAX, we believe we have truly created the highest performance, most deterministic, lowest latency DAW and plug-in platform in the world.