[ This article was first published in the October, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
Recently, Richard McKernan, Director of Western Regional Sales for Euphonix, invited me to their LA offices to take a look at a suite of new products designed for video and audio editors. These are:
* MC Control
* MC Mix
* MC Transport
* MC Color – to be released in about a month.
Euphonix got its start in the high-end of the audio market, providing audio mixing consoles and control surfaces that would incite lust in the eyes of anyone who felt they just HAD to mix 48 channels of live audio.
They had a couple of these large boards set-up and I spent 30 minutes just looking at them and sighing deeply. However, the last time I did a 48-channel mix was… um… never, so I reluctantly left the room to discover something that was much more interesting. The Euphonix Artist Series of control surfaces.
A control surface is designed to work in conjunction with a computer in that no audio or video signals flow through the control surface. Instead, it provides remote control to the editing functions on your computer.
Sitting next to these three units was JC Haydon, product manager for Euphonix. Talking with JC is like a high-dive into the deep end of the audio pool – the guy really knows his stuff.
QUICK PRODUCT OVERVIEW
MC Mix ($1,399) is an eight-channel audio control surface that is specifically designed for audio mixing. It can run stand-alone or work with MC Control or MC Transport. The dark monitor strip at the top contains high resolution OLEDs for displaying volume, parameter and track names, and values.
MC Control ($1,499) is a hybrid system providing four channels of audio mixing (on the left), full transport control (on the right), and a LCD touch screen monitor with programmable soft-keys and visual feedback in the center. Audio channels can be switched in banks to control multiple audio tracks.
MC Transport ($399) provides full transport controls with programmable soft-keys, but no audio mixing. It contains both a high-precision shuttle and jog wheel; along with seven navigation keys, six programmable soft-keys, and a small OLED monitor in the top left. It also supports audio mixing by assigning fader control for an autio track to the jog wheel.
You can use the MC Transport alone, or in conjunction with up to four MC Mix units or an MC Control.
MC Color ($1,499) is a three track ball system designed to simplify working with Color 1.5. It offers high-resolution trackballs, trackwheels, touch-sensitive encoders and programmable keys in a slim-line design
All four units support the HUI and Mackie interface control protocols, as well as the Euphonix EuCon ethernet control protocol.
THE CONTROL SURFACE DIFFERENCE
The benefit to using a control surface is that you can do things with them faster than you can with a mouse and keyboard. And, as someone who has used many, many audio consoles in his life, I was anxious to give it a try.
So, Euphonix graciously loaned me an MC Control for a week to play with. I eagerly took it home, plugged it into my MacPro and started playing with it.
Like the DroboPro I discussed earlier, Euphonix gear connects via Ethernet. Final Cut Studio (3) includes drivers for this gear, so connecting and configuring takes about five minutes. (Be sure to allow time to download and install the latest drivers and, if necessary, firmware.) Even better, you can run your network, DroboPro, or Euphonix connections thru the same Ethernet switch, so that even a single port MacBook can access all of these through a single Ethernet cable connected from the computer to the switch.
However, after installing and upgrading all the drivers, I found myself having more questions than answers. First, I discovered that Final Cut Pro supports control surfaces but not for everything. FCP supports transport (playback) controls, keyboard shortcut and macros, and mixing in the audio mixer. FCP does not support control over filters or motion effects. (More on this in a minute).
Soundtrack Pro is similar to Final Cut. The implementation was better, but nowhere near as glossy as what you can do with an MC Control system in Logic. One important benefit is how it provides a very complete touch-screen implementation of the surround sound panner.
NOTE: By default, Soundtrack Pro sets the shuttle to move in 1 frame increments. Although you can change this using the STP toolbar so that the playhead moves in smaller chunks, I found this setting had no impact on how MC Control moved the cursor. I could not find any setting that would allow the playhead to move smoothly.
Further, I discovered that as a keyboard-and-mouse editor, I had a lot of muscle-memory behaviors I needed to change. Instead of grabbing for the mouse to move the playhead, for example, I needed to grab the transport shuttle wheel.
However, I could see the potential for how this system could make my work easier – but there was no way I could write a detailed review of on using this system in the time I had that would do it justice. The problem wasn’t the unit – the problem was the operator of the unit – me.
It was the little things: knobs can be turned or pushed. Which should I do?
[Answer: Select a track on the touchscreen. Press the knobtop like a button next to the word “pan” you will now have pan controls for that track. ]
Should I push a button on the screen or the soft-key beneath it?
[Answer: The soft-keys on the bottom of the screen relate to the labels above them on the screen.]
Um, what can I do with this thing?
[Answer: With the MC Control, you can write fader automation, perform edits, and multiple keyboard shortcut commands packaged in macros, as well as use the touchscreen to pan. And the surround panner is very nice, too.]
By the way, in working with this unit, I’ve become an enthusiastic fan of soft-keys – these are very helpful in getting more done in less time.
So, to solve this conundrum caused by an inexperienced operator, I sent JC Haydon, Euphonix product manager, a series of questions that would help me explain the significance of their products without requiring me to be an expert in them. Here is our conversation, along with some additional comments.
Larry: What can a control surface do that can’t be done with a keyboard and mouse?
JC: Euphonix media controllers not only let you to use multiple keyboard shortcuts or [build] macros with a single button press, but also give you hands-on control over multiple faders and pans simultaneously for keyframing audio. The jog wheel offers precision control in navigating your project and can be assigned to many different functions. Media controllers like MC Control and MC Transport are first and foremost designed to give you tactile access and control of your media applications, and really bring the functionality out of the computer and onto your desktop. Also, both MC Control and MC Transport can control audio faders in Final Cut Pro.
Larry adds: This ability to create keyboard macros can be a big timesaver. MC Control allows you to control up to four faders or pans at once, while MC Mix can control up to eight. MC Transport has no audio controls at all. As for precision jogging, FCP worked as mentioned. STP, however, did not. No matter how I changed the nudge factor, the playhead still moved stiffly and in steps.
Larry: What Apple applications are optimized for control surfaces?
JC: The new Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro and Color, as well as Logic Pro, all natively support Euphonix’ EuCon control protocol. One of the unique features of the EuCon protocol is that it is application aware, and automatically updates all surface displays, soft-keys and controls to match the selected application. Although these four Apple applications natively support EuCon, Euphonix media controllers can actually control any application via soft-keys to trigger keyboard shortcuts, so you can use even use them to streamline your workflow in applications like Photoshop, Motion and others.
Larry adds: Keep in mind that the level of support between these four applications varies from deeply integrated with Logic to only partially supported by Soundtrack Pro.
Larry: Which control surface is best suited for Final Cut Studio?
JC: All Euphonix media controllers are well suited for FCS, but most editors will probably find MC Control and MC Transport the most interesting, as they feature soft-keys that are customizable to suit the way an editor wants to work with Final Cut Studio, as well as offering a jog wheel to speed up navigation and editing. With its eight faders and pan knobs, MC Mix is an audio controller that many top editors have adopted for keyframing audio tracks. The new MC Color, on the other hand, is a dedicated [color] grading surface for Apple Color. What all of these controllers share is Euphonix’ EuCon Ethernet control protocol, and they can each be used standalone or in conjunction with other Artist Series media controllers.
Larry: What can you do with a control surface in Final Cut Pro that you can’t do with a keyboard and mouse?
JC: MC Control ships with a template [in the EUCon software, illustrated above] that has a navbar of soft-keys for Browser, Viewer, and timeline commands. When you press the soft-key for each, FCP selects that window, and the MC Control updates with context sensitive commands. These can be programmed to suit your workflow, but the product ships with highly effective, preprogrammed keys. MC Transport also ships with preprogrammed keys and can be customized with two layers of soft-keys. These soft-keys not only trigger everything from traditional Final Cut Pro quick keys to custom macro commands, but these soft-keys can also switch the functionality of the jog wheel on the fly, giving you high-resolution, tactile control over a host of functions.
A few examples:
Example 1: Rough edit
The Keyboard sequence of commands is “Command+4, up/down arrow keys, Enter” to load clip into the Viewer. Then “J, K, L or left/right arrow keys” to locate the In point. Then “I” to mark the In. Then “F10” to perform the edit.
MC Control/MC Transport performs the same sequence with the “Preview previous” soft-key which loads the clip into the Viewer. Use the jog wheel to find the In point. Press “In” soft-key. Press “Edit” soft-key.
Benefit: Reduces 10+ keystrokes to three soft-keys.
Example 2: Effect and motion favorites
Once favorites are assigned key commands in FCP, they can be called singularly or in multiples to reproduce looks. This is ideal for color correcting multiple clips in a timeline from the same reel with the same color problems, or applying effects plus motion to a lower third or reveal.
The Keyboard sequence of commands is “down arrow” to find clip, “x” to mark, “option a” to select, then “control shift 2”, “control shift w”, and then additional keystrokes for more combinations.
MC Control/MC Transport performs the same sequence with the “next clip” soft-key, then one macro soft-key to perform the sequence of “x, option a”, and any combination of effect and motion favorites.
Benefit: Quickly move through timeline to normalize effects, corrections, and motion reveals across clips.
Example 3: Audio keyframes
Keyframing audio in FCP, or adjusting clip volume is a process of drawing with the pen tool, or dragging clip volume.
MC Control: To adjust clip volume, simply jog over the clip and use the fader(s) to adjust volume. When you let go, you will set clip gain. To keyframe, turn audio keyframes on with a soft-key and press play. As you move the faders you will write keyframes.
Having multiple faders lets you keyframe multiple clips simultaneously, allowing you to mix them in real time with greater precision for a more organic result.
Example 4: Custom wheel functions
You can use the wheel on MC Transport and MC Control in Final Cut Pro to jog through the timeline, and then with the touch of a button assign the wheel to adjust clip audio levels, trim an edit, or move a clip in Final Cut Pro. Switching over to Soundtrack Pro, the jog wheel allows me to jog through my timeline like in Final Cut, and then assign the wheel via my Soundtrack Pro soft keys to trim the In point and outpoint of a clip, fade in and out and more.
Larry: Why does Logic work so well with a control surface and Soundtrack Pro does not?
JC: In 2006 Logic Pro 7 was the first application into which Apple integrated Euphonix’ EuCon control protocol. Every release of Logic has brought deeper EuCon integration and new functionality. The new Final Cut Studio, including Soundtrack Pro, is the first version to natively integrate EuCon. As with Logic, additional functionality and deeper integration will come with new releases.
Larry adds: This, to me, is the key point Final Cut editors need to consider. If you are spending a great deal of time in Logic, the integration between the software and Euphonix is deep and helpful. However, the integration between Soundtrack Pro and Euphonix is far more rudimentary. This is NOT Euphonix’ fault, rather the problem is in how Apple allows third-party gear to connect into STP. While we can hope for future improvements, Apple is notoriously reluctant to share any thoughts about what it is planning for the future.
Larry: How should a video editor decide which control surface is best for them?
JC: Any video editor performs thousands of repetitive key command combinations over the course of an edit. Both MC Control and MC Transport can speed the editing process and are flexible enough to be programmed to suit an individual’s workflow. MC Transport’s weighted jog wheel and high resolution shuttle ring may appeal more to any editor working with repetitive processes of creating and refining edits in the timeline, while MC Control is a full range audio/video solution.
Larry: What is the new MC Color?
JC: MC Color is a color grading surface that has been specifically designed for Apple Color, with a host of features optimized for the Apple Color workflow. Euphonix worked directly with Apple on the new API for Color, and MC Color is the first grading surface that makes use of it. And as part of the Artist Series family, MC Color makes use of the same compact, slim-line designs as Euphonix’ other media controllers that makes it very portable and easy to integrate into any desktop setup.
Larry: Why does Color benefit from a control surface?
JC: The Color interface is really simplified and made more accessible with a control surface. Using a mouse allows you to control only one parameter at a time, while having two hands on MC Color allows you to adjust contrast or color balance and contrast in multiple zones simultaneously. Color correction has traditionally been performed with control surfaces, and MC Color makes the type of control offered by more expensive solutions more financially and ergonomically accessible.
Larry: What’s the biggest hurdle that traditional keyboard and mouse people, like me, need to overcome to use a control surface successfully?
JC: Euphonix control surfaces can speed and enhance any media professional’s workflow. If you have a deep knowledge of an application, you can simplify the way the application is presented to you with customized labels and colors on soft-keys that describe the action you will perform. This can be anything from a one off key command to a macro that moves media through multiple windows of FCP, and applies effects to the resulting clip in the timeline. One or two editing sessions should be all it takes to see the benefits.
Larry adds: Here, I think, marketing has, perhaps, misdirected JC’s answer. The biggest hurdle is that we need to teach our hands an entirely different way of editing. For some of us, that will be easy, for others, more difficult. Especially for editors that have memorized hundreds of keyboard shortcuts, not grabbing the keyboard will be difficult.
LARRY’S FINAL THOUGHTS
I spend most of my time in Final Cut and Soundtrack — none in Logic. For me the key question is: can these products help me edit so much faster and better that they become worth the cost.
And here the cost isn’t the products – for what they do they are very reasonably priced – its the cost in my time and effort to retrain how my brain thinks and my hands move.
And the answer is different, depending upon the software we are using.
Depending upon your needs, each of these is worth considering.
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