SPECIAL FEATURE
A Snapshot of Pro Tools HD 7.2 Software
By Rob Kelly

Pro Tools 7.2 is a major software release for Digidesign. The release is for Pro Tools|HD systems only, but it combines new features that both music and post production users will find invaluable. Most of the new features focus on mixing and workflow improvements, along with faster and better integration with the video world. The “What’s New” document reads like a wish list of all the mixing and post production features users have been requesting for years, plus other welcome additions and surprises.

Version 7.2 offers tons of new grouping and automation features, including plug-in parameter linking and several enhancements specifically designed for ICON console systems. Other features include improved fade capabilities; redesigned menus with right-click functions; and new metering and analysis plug-ins.

Several features should prove especially valuable to film and video post production users. Digital video is now fully integrated; multiple QuickTime or Avid video tracks can be added to Pro Tools sessions and edited along with the audio. Dubber/stem recorder functionality transforms a Pro Tools system into a standalone dubber. A streamlined “field recorder” workflow allows multichannel audio to be imported into Pro Tools, and keeps the relationships between tracks intact. And edited QuickTime or Avid video files can be bounced with new audio as a QuickTime movie directly from Pro Tools, speeding up the review and approval process.

Upgraded Grouping
Figure 1: The new "Create Group"
window.
Let’s start by looking at some of the grouping enhancements. In previous versions, 26 individual groups were available; in Pro Tools 7.2, this number has quadrupled. Now there are four banks of 26 groups each (listed as A to Z), for a total of 104 (see figure 1).

Grouped panning controls now allow relative pan offsets to be maintained between grouped tracks — a feature that’s been requested for a long time by many users. Other functions include linked plug-in parameter and bypass controls, grouped LFE sends, grouped send levels, automation modes, and more. The new grouping window also lets you control groups of tracks via a new track type: a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA) master.

VCA groups allow you to control multiple faders without mixing their signal paths. It’s a feature modeled on many large-format analog consoles, where VCA faders located near the center of the desk can be assigned to set master levels for a group of “slave” channel faders. In a music mix, for example, you’d have one VCA fader assigned to drums, one to backing vocals, one to guitars, and so on. Moving the VCA fader lets you “ride” the level for the corresponding group of slaved faders.

In Pro Tools 7.2, the VCA track type replicates this useful function. All VCA tracks can be easily and simultaneously accessed from any Digidesign control surface, and on ICON systems, VCA faders can be “spilled out” to show the individual tracks that make up the VCA group. These discrete tracks can then be adjusted individually and collapsed back to the VCA master. Mixers who are used to working on traditional consoles will love this function.

Figure 2: VCA trim data applied to group members.
Figure 3: The new volume trim display.
Figure 4: Automation data is displayed as it is written in real time.
VCA faders can also be automated. This overall automation is graphically superimposed on each track within the VCA group; the cumulative level is displayed as a blue line that indicates the track’s volume automation combined with the VCA volume data (see figure 2).

At any point the VCA master volume and mute automation can be “coalesced.” The VCA fader volume and mute data is combined with the existing automation of the corresponding tracks within the VCA group, and written as new combined automation data for each group member. Coalescing causes a VCA fader’s data to be flattened back to zero, ready for further rides if required.

Automation Updates
In Pro Tools 7.2, all track types (except MIDI tracks) now have a second, editable volume trim playlist that is entirely separate from the main volume level. In figure 3, this volume trim level is displayed in yellow; the blue line is the composite result of both volume graphs.

Figure 5:
The updated
Automation
window
displays many
new functions.
As with VCA automation, at any point a volume trim playlist can be coalesced to combine with the track’s main volume data. All automation controls now update “live” onscreen, and are colored red when automation is being written (see figure 4).

Further automation enhancements include onscreen access to the Automatch/Autojoin functions introduced in Pro Tools 6.9, which previously required an Ethernet-based control surface (see figure 5).

Other automation features in Pro Tools 7.2 include new preview and capture modes. Preview provides a quick method of auditioning automation moves before committing to them. Any automation-enabled parameter can be isolated from the automation system so you can experiment freely, and preview mode can be temporarily suspended so you can toggle between the preview values and the existing automation. And preview values can be “punched in” to overwrite the main automation.

There are too many powerful and elegant automation enhancements in Pro Tools 7.2 to mention, so the last two I’ll touch on are the new Touch/Latch automation mode (where the faders are in Touch mode and return to previous value on release, but all other controls are in Latch), and Latch automation priming in Stop, which lets you set up individual levels and controls to start writing the moment playback begins.

Clearly a lot of thought has gone into creating these new automation features, and they should satisfy mixers who work in a variety of styles. Most, if not all, of the techniques that mixers have adopted from traditional console automation systems are now provided for in Pro Tools 7.2.

DestructivePunch Recording
All these powerful automation features combine with a new DestructivePunch recording mode for “in the box” film and video mixing. An audio track (for example, a 5.1 stem) can be set up so the mixer can punch into Record on the fly. The audio records to the stem track, writing the changes permanently to the corresponding audio files. This function was traditionally performed by stand-alone “dubber” recorders from Akai and Tascam, now out of production. Using DestructivePunch mode eliminates many file management issues before and after mixing, making for simplified export of deliverables and completing the “in the box” workflow, as source tracks are contained in the same session as the printed stems.

Pro Tools 7.2 also supports third-party paddle controllers from Soundmaster and CB Electronics (as found on many dub stages) to provide PEC/Direct switching, mute, solo, and record control of stems and individual tracks — again, a great feature for film mixing or traditional ADR recording.

Fade Upgrades, Menu Enhancements
Figure 6: One of many new right-
click contextual menus.
Fade editing has been revamped in Pro Tools 7.2: Now fades can be individually nudged, copied, and moved independently from their parent regions. This will save many hours of editing time on complex sessions, and is a feature I (and many others) have wanted for years!

Editing is further speeded up by complete integration of right-click mouse functionality into Pro Tools (see figure 6).

A set of drop-down contextual menus is now available throughout the application, giving speedy access to all sorts of functions, including:
  • Making plug-ins, tracks, and I/O active or inactive
  • Edit commands like cut, delete, copy, and paste
  • Bypassing plug-ins or making them automation-safe direct from their nameplates
  • Spotting single regions without changing edit modes
  • Group and ungroup regions
  • Show/hide tracks
  • Split tracks into mono
  • Select alternate channel audio

Figure 7: the "region matches" pop-up list.
This last function, “select alternate channel audio,” refers to Pro Tools 7.2’s new integration with popular field recorders: hardware used to record location sound on the set of film and TV shoots. Many of these devices are hard-disk based, and allow several individual microphone feeds to be recorded simultaneously into a multichannel or polyphonic audio file. With the new version, these files can be imported into Pro Tools, along with their associated metadata (including scene, take, shoot date, sound-roll timecode, and other information), which is now supported by DigiBase. Pro Tools 7.2 also supports the iXML standard — now it can read and write metadata into broadcast WAV files, making for better integration with Avid Media Composer and the data fields written by location field recorders.

All this metadata is cross-linked, so you can quickly and easily switch mic channels on a region-by-region basis by right-clicking on a region and choosing “matches” from the pop-up (see figure 7). This allows users to switch between the guide tracks sent from an Avid and the alternative high-quality audio recorded during production. Switching source files preserves existing fade edits, a detail that’s sure to be a godsend for feature film audio post.

New Tricks with QuickTime and Avid Video
Figure 8: An edited QuickTime movie and the
new video universe.
One of the most dramatic improvements in Pro Tools 7.2 is the software’s advanced video integration. Pro Tools 7.2 now allows QuickTime video to play back natively through Avid Mojo or V10 peripherals — and you can now edit video as if it were audio, using all the same tools and techniques. In fact, you can group it with audio, something I thought we’d never see. Your edited video can be bounced to disk along with your audio mix as a new QuickTime movie. You can import multiple Avid or QuickTime video tracks into a session, and place multiple video files sequentially in one track, allowing you to assemble consecutive reels of a film into a single session timeline. QuickTime video files can now be imported in one step, loading audio and video to separate tracks, and the floating onscreen video window can now be resized by dragging its corner.

The Pro Tools universe bar now has a “video universe” mode with picon frames for each edit; these can even be color-coded to identify new, changed, or problem scenes (see figure 8).

ICON and Surround Features
There are many new functions just for ICON D-Command or D-Control users (for whom the 7.2 upgrade is free of charge). These include enhanced automation features, a new two-knob surround panning mode, and lots of new navigation and zooming functions based on the jog wheel, which will be particularly welcome to those familiar with AMS AudioFile, DAR, and Fairlight editing systems. Users can now set preferences for default EQ and dynamics plug-ins for super fast plug-in assignment, while a new “knobs only” mode allows custom fader editing of plug-in parameters without disturbing the layout of the corresponding channel faders (useful for D-Command systems with fewer physical faders).

ICON users can also focus a channel by soloing it, use one-shot “Do to All/Selected” functions, and move any floating window with the jog wheel. Main, Alt, and Mini speaker levels can now be linked, so users can change levels simultaneously across different sets of speakers.

Metering and Analysis Tools
Figure 9: The updated SurroundScope
plug-in.
Finally, Pro Tools 7.2 includes SignalTools, a new, free suite of DigiRack metering plug-ins. The existing SurroundScope has been revamped (see figure 9), and there’s a new PhaseScope plug-in.

SurroundScope supports TDM and RTAS plug-in formats, all Pro Tools sample rates, and track widths from mono to 7.1. The flexible meter scale supports a variety of standard international metering types (Peak, RMS, VU, Peak+RMS, BBC, Nordic, DIN) with user-customizable peak metering preferences, and even includes an Leq loudness metering function, an increasingly common requirement for mixing theatrical and broadcast deliverables.

Pro Tools 7.2 is a beast of a release, and certainly my favorite so far. Having had the pleasure of using version 7.2 for a few weeks, I can’t imagine working without this wealth of new, intelligently designed, powerful, and time-saving features.


Rob Kelly is a musician and sound engineer. Previously a product specialist for Digidesign UK, he now works for Strongroom and Air Studios in London.