Field Test: Digidesign Pro Tools Version 6

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Erik Hawkins

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Version 6 of Pro Tools is more than simply an update to make it compatible with Apple's new OS X operating system; there have also been many important new features added. Most of these changes affect both LE and TDM systems, but there are some slight differences. (This “Field Test” covers the TDM enhancements; see page 98 for the critical LE improvements.) Though Version 6 is optimized for HD, MIX systems can partake of the update on a Mac running OS X, Version 10.2.3 or later. Hot on the heels of 6, an upgraded Version 6.1 (free as a download to current 6.0 owners) has been released, bringing this newest version of Pro Tools to PC (Win-XP) users.


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The Mac I employed was a dual 500MHz G4 with 1 GB of RAM carrying a Pro Tools|HD2 and a single 192 I/O. Storage was handled by a Glyph Trip2 FireWire drive system, the MIDI interface was a MOTU MTP AV Mark II, and the control surface was a Mackie HUI.

My initial installation of OS X and Version 6 presented various problems, which took me a good deal of time to weed through. I was reasonably sure that my problem wasn't hardware-based because everything previously ran perfectly under OS 9.2.2, so I'm going to point my accusatory finger at OS X. After several attempts to remedy the situation by re-installing Pro Tools Version 6.0.1, I eventually conceded defeat and started from scratch. I wiped the entire system, reformatted all of the drives, swapped out the computer's RAM, re-seated the HD cards and re-installed OS X. It was an extreme solution, but it worked. I am writing this now only after the system has been running fine for more than a month, with no crashes.

LOOKING GOOD IN OS X

The Pro Tools GUI has received a major overhaul, adding attractive shading effects and redesigned controls to match the look and feel of OS X. The new look is appealing and has a lot more personality than the Version 5 GUI.

The Selector tool has finally been updated so you can now click and drag tracks over vertically and horizontally to make a selection. You'll never lose the playbar again with the new Playback Cursor Locator feature, a small arrow that appears in the Main Timebar Ruler. It shows up on the ruler's left when the playbar is pre the area displayed in the Edit window, and on the ruler's right when the playbar is post this area. Grid mode can now be temporarily suspended by holding down the Command key when trimming or moving audio and MIDI regions. This is a very convenient new feature when you're working in Grid mode, because it circumscribes the need to switch to Slip mode whenever you don't want an edit to snap to the grid.

A Relative Grid mode has been added, allowing regions to be moved while retaining their position relative to the nearest beat. For example, a region whose start point falls 500 samples after the beat can be moved without causing the region to automatically snap to the beat, as it would in Absolute Grid mode. This feature is particularly handy for moving regions that have a unique groove, where the regions are not falling squarely on the beats. However, I was disappointed to discover that Relative Grid mode does not extend to audio regions when a session's tempo is changed. That is, audio regions do not keep their relative bar:beat:tick positions like MIDI events do after a tempo change.

PLUG-IN REPORT

Pro Tools' stock bundle of DigiRack plug-ins now includes the DPP-1 pitch correction and D-fx effect plug-ins. An AudioSuite version of D-Verb has also been added. Though these plug-ins have been around for some time and have often been given away in various promotional bundles, it's nice to have them officially added to the core package. A handy click plug-in, aptly dubbed Click, is now included (RTAS and TDM). Volumes of the accented and unaccented clicks can be independently adjusted, and there are several click sounds to choose from, including an MPC click. Click is very convenient and doesn't suffer from MIDI timing delays. All that's missing now to round out Pro Tools' stock plug-in bundle is a virtual synth.

Plug-ins can now be inserted or removed during playback on HD and Mix systems. You do, however, need to stop playback to drag/copy a plug-in to a new location, add a sidechain, enable automation parameters and change a plug-in's format (change from a TDM to a RTAS plug-in). The ability to insert and remove plug-ins in this fashion is a huge time-saver, especially during mixing.

To make the upgrade from Mix to HD, every third-party plug-in had to be updated. Unfortunately, the same is true once again with the step up to OS X. When I first received Version 6, many of the most essential third-party plug-ins weren't available. However, by the time you read this, that will have changed, as more and more are shipping every month. Because Waves' Version 4 plug-ins were ready at the tail end of this test, I installed them straightaway and they worked beautifully. You can still manage your plug-ins by manually pulling them in and out of the DAE Plug-Ins folder; only in OS X, that folder is now found in Library/Application Support/Digidesign.

FUN WITH MIDI

Now that Apple's CoreMIDI is supported, say goodbye to OMS. Setting up your MIDI studio connections in CoreMIDI is a piece of cake, especially if you are familiar with OMS: A similar type of icon to patchbay routing is employed. Once everything is properly connected, your MIDI devices show up in Pro Tools as usual. The Input Filter, Input Devices and MIDI Beat Clock menus all remain basically unchanged. However, there are now four virtual Pro Tools inputs that appear among the Input Devices. These inputs are for sending Pro Tools MIDI data from other supported applications running on the same computer (such as Ableton's Live program). I was able to get the Propellerhead Reason program and Pro Tools synchronized through CoreMIDI with the help of a handy shareware application, MIDI PatchBay, by Pete Yandell (www.pete.yandell.com/software). [Editor's note: Pro Tools 6.1 will accomplish this synchronization without the need for a third-party app.]

Also new is Groove Quanitize. It comes with a nice selection of groove templates called DigiGrooves that includes grooves in the style of Logic Audio, Cubase and the MPC (the perfect companion to the Click plug-in's MPC click). In addition to using the supplied grooves, you can also extract one from a MIDI or audio track and apply it to a different MIDI or audio track. The functions for extracting a groove from an audio track or groove-quantizing audio regions are now part of Beat Detective. Its improved trigger detection and new trigger-point editing features make groove extraction from a recorded performance a snap. Unfortunately, because Beat Detective is only for TDM systems, the LE groove quantize is limited to MIDI tracks.

Up to 256 MIDI tracks are now supported per session, and when the Digidesign MIDI I/O interface is employed, sub-millisecond-accurate MIDI timing can be achieved. MIDI performances can now be flattened, locked to their current state and then restored to this state at a later time using Restore Performance. This ensures that there's no chance of losing that last, best performance. Editing MIDI notes in Pro Tools is a little bit easier now that the Trim tool can trim note durations, even when the MIDI track is set to Velocity view. The Pencil tool can now draw and trim MIDI note and controller data, and the MIDI Operations, Tempo and Meter dialogs have been made into floating windows.

BROWSERS TO BRAG ABOUT

The options for importing tracks from other Pro Tools sessions have been greatly expanded. The Import Session Data window offers a place to select the type of track data that you want to import. The choices are pretty comprehensive, from voice assignment to pan. Track Offset Options and Sample Rate Conversion (SRC) options have not changed. With the DigiTranslator ($499) extension installed, OMF files can be imported, as well.

DigiBase is a new built-in file-management system that's super cool. There are two main floating windows: a Workspace Browser, for managing files and folders across several drives at the same time; and a Project Browser, where you can view and manage all of the files in your current session, no matter where they are located. A powerful search function, available in either window, lets you hunt for files according to a range of criteria, from file type to metadata. Best of all, files can be dragged and dropped directly from the browsers into your session. DigiBase becomes second nature after a short time. It offers a great way to keep your sound libraries organized right from Pro Tools. In short, it's extremely convenient.

Another nice new feature is the Task Window. Here, you can view and pause background tasks, such as file conversion, copying and relinking. This is nice for managing your system resources during those delicate operations (like recording through effects) when you need to be sure that there are no processor time-outs. AudioSuite rendering has not been made a background task, so this operation still ties up your computer.

TIME TO SYNC

The Session Setup window has been reorganized to present more information, including timecode and Sync I/O or Universal Slave Driver (USD) settings. There are now three different session start offsets available that can be set individually or linked: MMC, 9-Pin and Sync (the currently selected synchronization peripheral). A new feature, called Redefine Current Time Code Position, lets you drop your cursor any time within a Pro Tools session and enter a new timecode location number. Pro Tools will then instantly reset your whole session so that the event will correspond with the new timecode number.

There are several 9-Pin Emulation Mode enhancements with Sync I/O and the MachineControl extension. In Remote 9-Pin Deck Emulation Mode, Pro Tools will generate frame-edge-aligned timecode at 1x speed or can be set to receive 9-pin record and track-arming commands while chasing LTC. Track-Arming Profiles for different 9-pin machines can now be created from the Create Track-Arming Profile window, saved and opened in other sessions. Sync I/O is nicely implemented in Version 6. My only gripe is that MachineControl costs an additional $799.

CONCLUSION

The newest version of Pro Tools is a wonderful update with many features that I am quickly growing attached to (like DigiGroove and DigiBase). With Digidesign's smart vertical marketing strategy (graduating users from Pro Tools FREE to LE and, finally, TDM), its continued push to provide real-world content-creation features, and its position as one of the few cross-platform digital audio sequencers around, Pro Tools is arguably one of the best applications on the market. But for those of you who prefer to use a different front-end application without giving up the powerful DAE engine, Logic Audio and Digital Performer (promised in Version 4.1; should be available by the time you're reading this) both still support DAE mode in OS X.

The price to update to Pro Tools Version 6 and enter the realm of OS X is very reasonable: $75 for LE or $195 for TDM. With the release of Version 6.1, even more great features are available, including ReWire support. There's no looking back now.

Digidesign, 650/842-7900, www.digidesign.com.


Visit Erik Hawkins' indie label at www.muzicali.com to hear music made with today's hottest studio gizmos and check out his popular virtual studio recording book, Studio-in-a-Box (Artist Pro/Hal Leonard).

Version 6 Features for Pro Tools LE:

  • 32 voiceable tracks

  • Increased track counts (128 audio, 128 aux, 64 master, 256 MIDI)

  • Inactive tracks are now supported

  • Time Trimmer tool has been added

  • New key commands and shortcuts

  • QuickTime DV playback






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