The rivalry between Apple and Avid in the pro video world is well documented, and has taken on new dimensions since Apple completely revamped Final Cut Pro. It’s telling, then, that Avid still wants its software to be available for the iPad, and that Apple apparently has no problem with this. But since tablets are for the moment really just sketchpads as far as video editing goes, perhaps it’s not surprising. Nobody is going to edit a feature film on an iPad, at least not for a while. As with all things however, there is a starting point, and the arrival of iMovie showed that video editing on the iPad could work, at least in a basic form. And so it is that Avid has produced Avid Studio, which requires iOS 5 and runs on an iPad 1 or 2. At just £2.99 / $4.99 it’s hardly going to break the bank, so we gave it a road test.
Before you start, you’re going to need some content. The iPad 2 has a camera, and Avid recommends this as one of the ways of getting video into the app. This is easy, as anyone who’s used the iPad’s video camera wil know, although the quality could only really be described as “fair” despite the camera being specified as 720p HD. People also look pretty silly holding a tablet up in public and waving it around so that’s something you’ll have to be prepared for. Avid says you can also attach storage devices via the Camera Connection Kit, though as I don’t have one to hand I couldn’t test it.
Connect your iPad to your Mac and up it pops in iTunes. In the Apps tab, scroll down to the Sharing section and there’s Avid Studio. Try to drop videos from your computer into this area and they will copy over but they will not show up in the app itself. It turns out the process for transferring videos is actually pretty convoluted. You have to take your files (MP4 files seem to be greatly preferred) and drop them into an iPhoto album. Then in iTunes, choose to sync that album, being sure to check the “include videos” box. The files should then transfer over and after a library rebuild, appear in the app as available source files. It took me a couple of tries to get this to work, though.
This strikes me as an unnecessarily long-winded way to work. I’m used to Apple forcing me to sync data when all I really want is to be able to drag and drop it like an adult who doesn’t need his hand held. But third party developers are generally pretty good at letting you put stuff where you want via the Sharing tab. If you’re reading this Avid, please change this in an update. You would make the app so much more accessible for new users.
Once you have some content you can tap to create a new project. At the top left is the media selector with sections for video, still images and music, and these can be previewed prior to dropping them into a project. Drag and drop actually works really nicely and is more natural in my opinion than iMovie for iPad. The touch interface is accurate and smooth, and achieving a frame-by-frame scroll for dropping or splicing clips works well. There’s a Storyboard track as well as one video and three audio tracks and you can pinch to zoom the timeline. As far as edits go, you can define in and out markers before dropping audio or video clips into a project, and easily pick up anything in the timeline to move it. There’s a razor tool for cutting clips at the playhead and a settings buton which will display options for whatever is selected, including clip volume and in and out fades. Clips on the timeline can be shortened or lengthened by dragging their edges.
You can add transitions but there are currently only two: dissolve and fade. Montages are more interesting: these are pre-built templates for combining video and stills in video motion clips, which generally look OK. There’s a titling option as well with a range of fonts and while these aren’t going to trouble Hollywood anytime soon, they are workable on the iPad. One further option lets you add sound effects from the onboard library, which is quite handy. Transitions, montages and text all need rendering before they can be seen, but this is relatively quick on an iPad 2.
I didn’t experience any of the crashing that some users have reported, and the app seemed very stable. Incidentally there’s a fullscreen option for playback, and the app works in Portrait as well as Landscape modes, which is a nice touch. In the main screen you can retitle projects and make global settings including default durations for transitions, stills and titles, and toggle automatic transitions.
Once you have finished, you can export in a number of formats. You can render out to a video file at 480, 540 or 720p, and this will be placed in your Photos app (not Videos, for some reason) and available to copy from iTunes, thankfully. You can also compress to an email video or post to Facebook or YouTube. The final option lets you export raw project data to Avid Studio for PC for further editing, and you can get the file in iTunes’ Sharing section or upload it to iCloud. This isn’t much help for Mac users, but then iMovie for iPad can only export raw files to iMovie for Mac, so perhaps there’s a little tit for tat going on here.
Avid Studio for iPad is never going to replace a desktop system, but it is nice to edit in. The chances are you’re going to be using it to cut holiday or music videos rather than the next Scorsese feature but as far as that goes, it acquits itself well. The only major gripe is the nonsensical way you have to go about importing video to the app, which really needs changing.
As for how it compares to iMovie for iPad, Avid Studio sacrifices less clarity in its interface for the sake of aesthetics. iMovie looks slicker, but it’s perhaps less clear how to use it at first, with its non-standard timeline. iMovie has a voice recorder which is nice, and has more transitions, though they are based on Themes. Avid Studio feels more like a conventional video program, and some people prefer that. At that price, it’s well worth checking out.
Hollin Jones was classically trained as a piano player but found the lure of blues, jazz and boogie too much to resist. After cutting his teeth producing with Portastudios he graduated to hardware and then computer-based recording, and has remained at the cutting edge of recording technology ever since. Formerly a lecturer in soundtrack composition, videographics and music production, Hollin has been a freelance writer on music technology, multimedia and Mac issues for almost a decade, along the way publishing several books on Reason. As well as consultancy, full-time journalism and the occasional tech support, he still finds time to produce his own music, running a band as well as composing for film and TV. He occasionally plays session keys for people who ask nicely.