Paying for .5 releases. Really?

As professional NLE software users, we’ve been conditioned to the 18 month release cycle, wherein we dole out our hard-earned cash about every year and a half for a new version of the software we already use, with a new number attached (i.e. version 6 becomes version 7, etc).

In the meantime we’ve come to expect that any version of the software that includes our original version number (say 6.3. 6.6 etc), should be ours to download for free. On the whole this is because successive versions are generally bug-fixes that fix problems that should not have been there in the first place, that they released anyway. They modify our ire at purchasing buggy or broken software, by making the fixes downloadable for free. It’s an assumption that’s now built into the customer-software vendor relationship.

This somewhat masochistic policy of buying known buggy software and hoping that the company eventually fixes most of the major issues, was the price we paid for the rapidly developing technical capabilities of our software and hardware. While the software was buggy, it made up for it in additional productivity features that our old version and old hardware just couldn’t handle.

Now things have changed. I submit to you that the Computer Based Non-Linear Editor is now a mature product. We’ve been editing video on computers for about 20 years now, we’ve got the basics down and refined long ago. There has really been nothing earth-shattering in the basic way we edit video for a long time. We ingest the video somehow, we edit it on a timeline, we add some bells and whistles, and then output it to a format of our choice.

Almost all the progress made in the last 10 years has been in the “bells and whistles” part of the process. Which, while nice to have, is not really pertinent to the day to day use of an NLE.  For example, one of the the last multi-million dollar Hollywood features I worked on, we edited on an Avid Meridien system, running on OS9, on a circa 1997 Powermac 9600. Why? because all we needed to do was output a negative cut list, and this system could handle that, and Avid Meridien version 11 is still considered the most stable system they made. The NLE has become like the Word Processor, good enough for the vast majority of common and professional users.

So where does that leave most NLE software providers? In a tough situation. Long ago their main competition ceased being other companies, but the last version of their own software. Avid’s main problem is not that you won’t buy Media Composer 5 because you bought Adobe CS5, it’s that you won’t buy Media Composer 5, because you already own Media Composer 4, and it still works just fine. So with computer power and software features plateauing, software vendors are now trying to sell you .5 upgrades and stretching the amount of time that goes into updating enough features to make a new full version update.

So for $199 Avid will give you this if you upgrade from MC 5, to MC 5.5:

  • Capture, monitor, and output video with support for the AJA Io Express interface (in addition to Matrox MX02 Mini monitoring)
  • Natively access and edit Sony HDCAM SR Lite media through AMA (Avid Media Access)
  • Accelerate Panasonic AVC-Intra projects—and use multiple streams—with support for the new Nitris DX AVC-Intra hardware interface
  • Take hands-on control of your video and audio editing/mixing with EUCON support for Artist Control, Artist Mix, and Artist Transport control surfaces
  • Find the right clips fast with support for the new PhraseFind option, powered by Nexidia*
  • Directly manipulate transitions in the timeline with the expanded Smart Tool
  • Quickly find files across local and shared storage bins using the improved Find tool

For $179, Adobe gives you this if you upgrade from Premiere CS5 to CS 5.5

  • merged clips for synchronizing audio and video tracks in dual-system sound workflow, in which audio is recorded separate from video (common for HDSLR work)
  • Mercury Playback Engine performance improvements, including additional effects and tasks processed with CUDA and an expansion of the set of graphics cards that provide the CUDA-processing features
  • added ability to edit audio with Adobe Audition CS5.5, interchanging a single clip or an entire sequence
  • audio effects unified, such that you no longer need to apply a different effect depending on whether the audio track is mono, stereo, or 5.1 audio
  • improved speech analysis with scripts from Adobe Story
  • ability to attach a closed captioning data file to a sequence and preview the closed captions in the Program panel
  • new overlay that enables dragging of clips from the Media Browser, Project panel, or Source panel into the Program panel to perform an insert or overwrite edit
  • improved keyboard shortcut customization, including addition of a search field to the Keyboard Customization dialog box
  • improved RED (R3D) features, including new color science support (REDcolor2, REDgamma2, REDlogFilm, etc.) and better curves and levels UI
  • enhanced native Canon XF support, including preview in the Media Browser and use of metadata
  • several user interface improvements that add up to a much more efficient user experience, including the following:
    • The Unlink command now decouples the audio portion of a clip while automatically deselecting the video portion. The Unlink command now works on multiple clips at the same time, as well.
    • ability to add keyframes directly into the timeline using the Pen tool or Selection tool without having to first enable keyframing
    • ability to set keyframes without a modifier key

Now while some of these are indeed new features, a lot of these would normally be given as a free upgrade.  Essentially everything with an “improved” in front of it is marketing speak for, it didn’t work they way we wanted it to the first time.

On the whole I’m torn. I feel these .5 releases are obvious gouging attempts to keep cash flow coming in, as full releases get further and further apart. I also really worry that software companies will start charging for every “dot” release, including bug-fixes. On the other hand, I feel churlish about complaining about software prices, which are ridiculously low compared to ten years ago, and really fall into the noise if you’re working in a professional video environment.

In the end, it still somehow rubs me the wrong way though. What being expected to pay for .5 releases actually does, is make me pay special attention to each upgrade offer, and really evaluate if I need the features in it. Whereas before I would almost automatically drop $500 per station for a version upgrade, now I’m really nickel and diming my upgrade options, because hey, that’s what they’re doing to me.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *