Can Avid’s Pro Tools HD Native Bridge the Gap?
Early in October, Avid (formerly Digidesign) released the much anticipated Pro Tools HD Native. This release carried with it the potential to help stave off the competition from Logic, Cubase, and many others.
One of the major issues that some users have with Pro Tools, is the disparity of features between Pro Tools LE, and Pro Tools HD. Those features are both software and hardware based.
With Pro Tools HD, you can utilize the ample HD audio and synchronization interfaces, which offer better sounding audio convertors, a potential for many other audio inputs and outputs, as well as the ability to synchronize to timecode, video, and wordclock.
On the other hand, the software features are perhaps, more compelling, specifically to the small sized recording studio, as they provide a greater track count, delay compensation, more busses, and whole host of smaller features for the more experienced user.
In some regards, bridging the gap comes down to individual needs, input/output, and, of course, cost.
On the hardware front with a Pro Tools LE 003 setup you can have a total of 18 simultaneous inputs. This is assuming the addition of an ADAT lightpipe convertor, as well as a two-channel S/PDIF convertor. So that is two additional pieces of hardware that you may need to achieve the 18 inputs.
With Pro Tools HD Native, the PCIe card allows the use of four Pro Tools HD audio interfaces (two Digilink connections, which can be daisy chained to one additional interface), for a total of 64 possible inputs and outputs. Since Pro Tools HD Native requires a PCIe slot, this limits the types of computers that you can use, as these card slots are primarily found in desktop systems. In some instances you may not be able to use Pro Tools HD Native with a laptop, or an iMac.
One of the most attractive features of a Pro Tools HD system is the ability to run TDM plug-ins, which offloads the processing of these plug-ins from your computer’s main processor to a PCI card. This feature is obviously lacking in the Pro Tools HD Native system, where all of the plug-ins need to be in the RTAS format, which runs natively on your computer’s host processor. It should be noted that this is becoming less and less of an issue, as computer processors become more powerful every year.
In the end, if the bottom line comes down to cost, which it usually does, a basic 8-channel I/O Pro Tools LE system will cost you $749 (street price) for the new MBox Pro. The lowest you will find for a Pro Tools HD Native system will be $5995 (street price). Of course, the difference is in the software features, sound quality, and upgradability.
Overall, the Pro Tools HD Native is a decent mid-sized post or music facility option, but if you can afford the price difference between Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools HD Native, you just might be able to also afford the price difference between Pro Tools HD Native, and a Pro Tools HD Accel 1, especially since the computer requirements are the same.
With a little shopping around, as of this writing, a Pro Tools HD TDM PCIe Core card with software is listed for $3450 on eBay, and a 192 Analog HD interface is going for $1999, bringing my eBay version of the Pro Tools HD TDM equivalent to less than the HD Native system, which has more processing, and a greater potential for expansion.
Lorne Bregitzer is a professional engineer and Assistant Professor for the University of Colorado Denver. He has recorded or mixed such artists as TV On the Radio, Styx, Eminem, Blues Traveler, NSYNC, & D’Angelo. He’s the author of the book Secrets of Recording, as well as the Pro Tools in Minutes video series, both on Focal Press.