Avid Media Composer, Apple macOS Catalina Support, and the Universal Media Engine

By in Video Editing

With the advent of Apple’s macOS Catalina, software companies have been making changes to their products in order to support the functionality this update brings. Avid is no different. Over the past several months – in some cases, years – we have been working closely with Apple on making the necessary changes to our software, so we can continue to provide support on the latest and greatest client systems. For Media Composer, this means making changes to our installers, some of the tools we include within the application, and most significantly, how we work with file-based media. In an effort to provide full transparency as to the effects of the move to support the Catalina OS, we have released this comprehensive article detailing what is happening with Media Composer, why it’s happening, and what you need to know before you upgrade.

 

Impact to Media Composer

Media Composer is a 64-bit application. However, we’ve been relying on some 32-bit components for import, export, linking and playback of certain file types. These components – specifically, the QuickTime libraries – are no longer included in Catalina as it is completely 64-bit. This maximizes the potential speed and the processing power of your CPU. It also means that we must replace our existing media engine with an entirely new one.

This process of replacement started with Media Composer 2019.6 and the release of the Universal Media Engine, or UME. This engine is a replacement for AMA (Avid Media Access.) The initial release of the engine provided support for native OP1a media, as well as a 32-bit full float color pipeline and support for Open EXR. What we have been working on now is the completion of that media engine to fully replace our reliance on QuickTime for working with file-based media. As working with file-based media is a vital function of Media Composer, we needed to make certain that we’ve done everything we can to remove as much risk to our users’ workflows as possible. This is a very complicated and complex matrix of work that needs to be done, the effects of which play a significant role in the workflows of all our Media Composer users.  It is for this reason that Avid has taken a comprehensive approach to ensure that users don’t experience any interruption in mission critical production workflows.

These changes do not just apply to Catalina users, but to any system that does not have QuickTime installed. Users running Windows OS or other macOS that do not install QuickTime will have the same experience as users on Catalina. While the UME successfully replaces Media Composer’s reliance on QuickTime, it also provides several performance benefits, support for new formats, and new features and functions. More on that later.

Avid’s Approach

Given the amount of effort required to fully support Media Composer on macOS Catalina, we took a conservative, phased approach to providing that support. Our users depend on the reliability of the tools we provide for working with file-based media throughout all aspects of their workflows – from linking and importing to exporting and conforming: these tools must perform at the highest level required by our most demanding users.  As people upgrade and collaborate across projects, the version of software they’re using can often change. In order to ensure our customers’ success, we took extra time to verify that the new media engine not only properly supports new projects and media, but that it supports upgrading existing projects and media, as well. Simply put, unlike other software products, Avid Media Composer is used in some of the most critical and sensitive broadcast and post environments in the world, used as part of a larger workflow via complex integrations with other solutions like asset management, production management, video servers, and automation solutions. We have to make certain that we do not break these workflows.

To that end, Avid released a public beta of Media Composer 2020.2 with support for macOS Catalina. We had anticipated a January 2020 launch, but we felt it was important to do the maximum amount of testing both internally and externally through beta to ensure the best possible outcome.  Users who were running macOS Catalina could download and install Media Composer 2020.2 from the Avid Download Center.

 

Media Composer 2020.4

Full support for Media Composer on macOS Catalina includes the completion of the replacement of reliance on 32-bit libraries for working with file-based media. We have support for the most common formats, and support for additional formats will be released in subsequent builds.

UME is used for linking to and importing the following file types:

  • MOV*
  • MP4
  • TIFF – Single image and Image Sequences
  • PNG – Single image and Image Sequences
  • JPEG – Single image and Image Sequences
  • EXR* – Single image and Image Sequences
  • MP3
  • AAC

*Also used for export

UME enables not only working with these files on systems without QuickTime, but it also adds significant performance improvements, support for new file types and codecs, and new features and functionality.

  • Improved performance. UME was written in a way that maximizes the use of existing resources to ensure that working with file-based media is faster and more responsive. Export MOVs up to 3x faster, transcode DNx up to 25% faster, and deftly operate Trim and Scrub functions with speedier response times.
  • Extended Apple ProRes support. Native support of ProRes RAW is made possible through UME, as is writing OP-Atom, MXF OP1a, and MOV files with ProRes on Windows clients.[1]
  • Support of asymmetrical QuickTimes. If you have a MOV or MP4 file where the audio and video are different lengths, UME allows you to link to and import those clips by either inserting black (when audio is longer than video) or inserting silence (when video is longer than audio.) This means you can use all of the video and audio media available to you rather than having it cut short during import.
  • Image based sequence support. UME adds support of PNG, TIFF, JPEG and EXR image sequences to Media Composer
  • Native OP1a media. UME isn’t just about QuickTime. We’ve leveraged our entirely new media engine to enable native support of OP1a media, something we couldn’t have done with our previous media processing code. Now you can access OP1a originals directly without having to transcode to OPAtom in order to get superior performance.

These are just the things that are available in our first release of a fully integrated UME. Additional features – like support for H.265, custom raster exports, framerate and raster changes on import, and MP4 export – are all possible thanks to the UME. It truly is the next generation media engine.

What You Need to Know

Given the scope of changes happening to Media Composer, there are important factors that you should consider before upgrading.

  1. For systems with QuickTime installed (pre-Catalina macOS or Windows), you may still use AMA QuickTime for linking media.
    1. If you’ve already linked via QuickTime in a previous version, the media will continue to be linked via QuickTime. You will not need to relink your media.
    2. If you intend to go back to a previous version of Media Composer or if you don’t know what version of Media Composer may be used with a project, you may want to use AMA QuickTime for linking
    3. For files that aren’t currently supported by UME, Media Composer will automatically use AMA QuickTime for linking (see below for the list of files or formats that UME does not currently support)
  2. Clips linked using UME will not be supported in pre-4 versions of Media Composer. If you link to media on a system that does not have QuickTime installed and you intend to bring that project and/or media to a system with a prior version of Media Composer, we recommend that you first import the media before moving. Otherwise you will need to relink your media in the prior software version, and not all media may relink.
  3. Linked files from previous versions of Media Composer will not be automatically promoted to using UME.  As a result, on systems where QuickTime is not installed, customers will need to manually update their sequences with newly linked clips.
    1. If you aren’t sure how your media is linked, you can refer to the Plug-in column in your bin.
  4. Export will default to using UME, however there will be an option to use QuickTime if it is installed. This may be desirable if you need to export a format that UME does not yet support.
  5. Some files or formats will not be supported in this release of UME. Some functions will be added to UME in a future update, as indicated below.
    1. Support for 3GP, 3G2, AVI[1], AU, BMP[2], DV, GIF, MID, MP2, MPE
    2. Support for linking to MOV or MP4 with Meridien, MPEG 50, DV, MPEG 4 (H.263), Apple None, Apple Intermediate, DVCPro, PNG[3]
    3. LiveLink (Future update)
    4. DMF (Dynamic Media Folders) (Future update)
    5. QuickTime Ref support
    6. SAS (Same as Source) export (Future update)
    7. Support for Variable Frame Rate (VFR) H.264 (Future update)
  6. DNxHD in MOV files is also affected by these changes. DNxHD was updated to support the ADHRv2 standard, which requires changes to how DNxHD is written and interpreted when wrapped in MOV.
    1. Existing MOV files containing DNxHD with Alpha, as generated in earlier versions of Avid products and 3rdParty products, will need to be converted to MXF OP1a before linking. We have included a utility to do that which will be integrated to automatically convert the files in a future release.
    2. DNxHD MOV files created using UME will require an updated QuickTime PE/LE codec package in order to be supported by previous versions of Media Composer and 3rd Party products.
    3. The long-term maintenance streams of Media Composer (2018.12.x, 2019.12.x) will be updated with these codecs. In addition, a separate installer will also be available for use in 3rd Party applications.

 

[1] ProRes RAW support will be in a future release
[2] AVI Import is still supported on Windows systems without QuickTime installed
[3] Linking for BMP is not supported without QuickTime, however Import of BMP is supported without QuickTime
[4] Note this is just PNG in a MOV container; PNG image files will still be supported

 

Additional Considerations

“Classic” Title Tool and Marquee Title Tool will not install on macOS Catalina. Titles that are already rendered and still linked to title media will playback fine. If you need to edit or re-render Classic Title Tool titles, you can promote them to Titler+. You cannot promote Marquee Titles to Titler+.

Users on non-Catalina macOS who wish to continue to use “Classic” Title Tool or Marquee will need to install the Media Composer Legacy Components package – a separate installer that will be made available via My Avid Accounts, Avid Link, and the Avid Download Center.

In addition, Media Composer 2018.12 will not be supported on macOS Catalina. This release is meant to be a long-term maintenance stream; that means it receives bug fixes and minimal feature / functionality updates. This reduces the risk of encountering bugs, does not force a change in workflow, and does not require the user to learn something new. To support Catalina, we must replace the media engine. Doing so in a long-term maintenance release, which is relied upon by many of our larger customer sites, is not only technically challenging, but goes against our stated intent and customer expectation for such a release stream.

Avid is working to maintain the ongoing stability and functionality Media Composer customers demand and expect. We understand that many users are eager to upgrade to macOS Catalina – in some cases because they must – and that waiting for a software update from us that will allow them to do that can be frustrating. We also understand that our customers rely on our products every day to do their job, and that anything that prevents or impairs that threatens their livelihood. The stakes are too high for us to get this wrong, and so we made the tough calls to delay releasing our Catalina update until we were sure it was right.

 

So to recap:

  • Media Composer systems that do not have QuickTime installed will use the new Universal Media Engine (UME) for linking, import and export of a number of file-based formats, most notably MOV and MP4 files
  • UME enables a number of new features and functions, adds native support for more formats, and improves performance for export, transcode, and playback
  • Media Composer systems that do have QuickTime installed can use UME or QuickTime AMA, depending on user choice
  • Support for some file formats will be added to upcoming versions of Media Composer
  • Media Composer systems on macOS Catalina will not install Title Tool or Marquee
  • DNxHD media wrapped in MOV require updated QuickTime LE and PE codecs for 3rd party products and long-term maintenance releases of Media Composer

You can find more information about macOS Catalina support and the UME on our Knowledgebase. You can also subscribe to these articles to receive updates and new information as it’s known.

Avid Media Composer

Industry-standard video editing software for independent editors and moviemakers

Kate Ketcham has been with Avid for 15 years. She spent the first 8 in Customer Care, starting as an intern and working her way up to Technical Account Manager, and the last 7 as the Product Manager for Media Composer. Kate was also presented with one of Studio Daily’s very first Exceptional Women in Production and Post Awards in 2018.