Pro Tools HD Native In Action

2011 Mar 09, 2011

If you follow the world of Avid and Pro Tools, then last year you may have noticed some serious changes. In a span of 4 months, Avid launched new HD interfaces, completely redesigned new Mboxes, the highly anticipated Pro Tools 9, and of course a “native” version of Pro Tools HD. When HD Native first came out I did a brief write up covering some of the main features of it but until recently I hadn’t gotten a chance to witness it in person. Until yesterday.

Hear What You’ve Been Missing

Avid has been taking Pro Tools HD Native around the country to demo it and show people just exactly what makes it so special. They call their campaign the “Hear What You’ve Been Missing Tour” and it just so happened to stop in Orlando last night. So I registered, grabbed up my notebook and camera, and headed over to hear things for myself!

Hosted by Avid Product Specialist Gil Gowing and Account Manager Jake Schaefer, the event was a setup as a demo of a brand new Pro Tools HD Native card running with the their Omni I/O interface, all running into a MacBook Pro. That’s right, Pro Tools HD running off of a laptop! They used a Magma chassi to get the PCI Native card to hook into the express slot on the MacBook. Pretty cool.

The Latency “Non” Issue

The biggest draw for a Pro Tools HD rig is the almost complete lack of latency when recording. Latency is that annoying issue of hearing an echo of sorts when you sing into your DAW let’s say because it takes a few milliseconds for sound to be converted to a digital signal by your interface, run through the software, be converted back into audio, and finally hit your headphones. There are many workarounds with host based systems like internal DSP mixers that can really help, but with HD you don't’ have to deal with that.

The big deal with this native version of Pro Tools HD is that you now have a host based system (like Logic, Sonar, Cubase, Studio One, etc) but you can track up 64 inputs and outputs simultaneously, with up to 192 voices (or streams of audio) running in a session, with tons and tons of plugins open, and all at less than 2 ms of latency (compared to a USB or FW device running anywhere from 5 to 7 ms.

HBO’s “The Pacific”

To give us examples and to show off the power of this system, Gil opened up a Pro Tools session for an episode of HBO’s “The Pacific” a war movie series. This session had 150+ tracks running tons of plugins with a million little edits (think music tracks, dialog tracks, guns and tanks sound fx tracks, etc). It was insane. They basically ran this complex setup along with HD quality video at a super low buffer setting of 128 samples and even recorded along with it…all on a dual core laptop using only 50% of the CPU. No hiccups, just pure audio goodness.

Imogen Heap Remix and EUCON

They also pulled up an Imogen Heap track she let them remix to show some of the new features in Pro Tools 9. Using the great sounding Elastic Audio engine, Gil took Imogen’s lead vocal on a song originally at 164 BPM, slowed it down to 142 BPM with no sound quality loss. Then used a bunch of the built in virtual instruments like Boom and Xpand to build a rhythm layer with some pad type effects.

Gil then proceeded to demo the latest Artist Mix EUCON control surface from Avid as he added and tweaked plugin effects and parameters to the mix. It was a pretty elegant control surface allowing him to do all tweaks with no keyboard strokes or mouse clicks. Nice.

Witnessing The Power

As someone who personally uses a non HD Pro Tools system in my studio, it was helpful for me to see Pro Tools HD Native up close and personal. And to see it in action in a few different scenarios gave me a clearer picture of where this product fits in for the Pro Tools user. Here are my thoughts:

  • Pro Tools 9 with a simple USB or Firewire enabled audio interface (whether Avid or 3rd party) is still all that many of you will ever need. It’s fast, powerful, even more full featured and expandable than version 8 was, and of course is on the more affordable spectrum of things.
  • Pro Tools HD Native, though, is actually not out of reach for a project studio that is doing paid work regularly and who wants top of the line A/D conversion, insanely high I/O, all in a practically zero latency environment.

I honestly was impressed with what Pro Tools HD Native can do. I don’t know of any host based system out there that can do what this is doing. For me it’s overkill right now. I don’t run into situations where I need to tracks more than 32 inputs at a time or have sessions with over 100 tracks. But, it tells me that computer recording is only getting more powerful and what Avid is doing on both a software front (with Pro Tools 9) and a hardware front (new interfaces that rock) is a good thing for the audio world and for us Pro Tools users in particular.

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