Digidesign Pro Tools|HD

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 PM, BY GEORGE PETERSEN


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It's here. After years of speculation, Digidesign has unveiled Pro Tools|HD (High-Definition), its next-generation flagship. The announcement was hardly shocking, given the number of competing systems on the 24-bit/96kHz market. But the real surprise was Pro Tools|HD leapfrogging most of the industry, offering a 192kHz system with greater resolution and increased flexibility, but priced essentially the same as the existing PT|24 MIX 888|24 platform.

Find books, DVDs, guides and more on Pro Tools here...

Although recent Pro Tools enhancements (V. 5.0, V. 5.1) were software-oriented (adding MIDI sequencing and surround mixing), the focus is now on hardware. The downside? It's gonna cost you. If you're buying a PT rig for the first time (or adding another), the news is good — you'll get a lot more DAW for your money with PT|HD's better routing and I/Os, higher track counts, more DSP and vastly improved audio.

Besides making the hyperspace leap to 192k, PT|HD incorporates improved TDM II chips (providing double the time slots of previous systems, with dynamic, bidirectional use of the slots) and slicker interfacing between the I/Os and cards, so a simple upgrade from an existing PT system is impossible. Certainly, Digidesign wants to keep its customer base happy, so to soften the impact, the company offers trade-up discounts on a new PT|HD system in exchange for users' old hardware. Also, Legacy ports on the new converters allow connecting previous-generation hardware — i.e., 888|24 I/O, 882|20 I/O, 1622 I/O or 24-bit ADAT Bridge I/O — providing more physical signal pathways when working at 48 kHz or lower sessions, using gear you already own. Of course, taking full advantage of PT|HD's high-res audio demands 96 or 192kHz converters.

Pro Tools|HD requires V. 5.3 software (included with the system), which, other than accommodating the new high-performance hardware, functions almost the same as the V. 5.1x software you're used to. Also, PT|HD V. 5.3 offers full session compatibility with 48kHz systems running on V. 5.1. And, it's not Mac OS X compatible — yet. Digidesign wisely took this change in the Pro Tools platform one step at a time, so stick to System 9 for the time being and expect an OS X assault sometime down the road.

The big news is the hardware. Based around an HD Core PCI card, the basic PT|HD system comes in three flavors — all are expandable later with more DSP cards and numerous converter/interfacing options. The $7,995 Pro Tools|HD 1 has one HD Core card (with support for up to 32 I/O channels of audio I/O and 96 simultaneous audio tracks) and one or more new HD interfaces. Pro Tools|HD 2 ($9,995) combines an HD Process card ($3,995 each when sold separately) with the HD Core card — double the mixing and processing power of the HD 1 system (up to 64 channels of I/O and 128 simultaneous tracks). The top-of-the-line Pro Tools|HD 3 system ($11,995) packs an HD Core and two HD Process cards for up to 96 channels of I/O and 128 simultaneous tracks. Note that the maximum track numbers quoted here apply to 44.1/48kHz work; the number halves at 96 kHz.

Each system includes a promo HD-pack suite of free plug-ins, and speaking of plug-ins, all of Digidesign's plug-ins have been updated for PT|HD, along with all releases from Waves, Wave Mechanics, McDSP and Bomb Factory. Selected releases from Aphex, Focusrite, Access, Line 6 and Drawmer will be HD-ready by presstime, with more slated for future release.

Pick a basic system and the fun heats up. Priced the same as its predecessor 888|24, the $3,995 192 I/O offers 24-bit/192kHz resolution via eight onboard A/D and D/A converters, up to 50 analog and digital ins and outs, real-time SRC on any digital inputs and support for up to 16 simultaneous I/O channels. The 192 I/O adds nice touches such as LED meters for 16 I/Os, +4 and -10dB inputs (on two D-25 subs); stereo AES and S/PDIF I/O, a soft-clip limiter (for overload protection or tape saturation effects), Lightpipe I/O (no ADAT Bridge required!), multichannel AES I/O, TDIF I/O and the Legacy connector for earlier Pro Tools interfaces. An extra bay houses an optional card for any additional (analog or digital) I/O.

The 96kHz 96 I/O interface outperforms the earlier 888|24 at half the price ($1,995). Supporting 16 I/Os, it includes eight analog I/Os on ¼-inch TRS jacks, ADAT Lightpipe I/O, stereo AES and S/PDIF, and a Legacy port. Also new is the $2,095 SYNC I/O audio/video sync box that features timecode window burn, low-jitter clocking, pull-up/down for film/video, machine control pass-thru to allow 9-pin master or slave operation, and support of MTC, video, blackburst, bi-phase, LTC and VITC — at any standard timecode rate.

Overall, Pro Tools|HD rocks. It sounds great. Digi went the extra mile in pumping performance specs, with the 192 I/O boasting 118dB dynamic range and -109dB THD on the ADCs, low-jitter clocking and fully dual-differential internal signal path (with discrete buffer amps) — tough to match on a feature-laden, multichannel converter in this price range. The system price is right, and there's more to come, with PRE, a high-res, remote-controllable, 8-channel mic preamp ($2,495), and MIDI I/O, a $595 USB-powered interface with 10 I/O ports.

Digidesign, 2001 Junipero Serra Blvd., Suite 200, Daly City, CA 94014; 650/731-6300; www.digidesign.com.

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