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Digidesign Pro Tools 8 Tips and Top Features

March 1, 2009
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Go to a laundry list of new features and add-ons in Pro Tools 8.

There's no Denying that Digidesign Pro Tools is everywhere in the audio, music and film industries, but something that is so widely standardized can't rest on its laurels alone. With Pro Tools 8, Digidesign doesn't do that. Many people use other digital audio workstations with Pro Tools because, historically, it has lacked some tools and features that are standard options in nearly all other DAWs. But the company has been stepping up features at an incredible rate: Pro Tools 7.3 was a huge leap into nonstop work flow and productivity, and with the introduction of Elastic Audio in version 7.4, Digidesign gave all music makers a new excuse to stay inside the software.

Some may say that the company is playing catch-up with such features, but you have to hand it to Digidesign for thinking about its customer carefully. For one, Digidesign intends to streamline and simplify, not complicate, the application's updates. Moving from Pro Tools 7 to Pro Tools 8 is easy once you realize that you're doing some things faster than ever before. Pro Tools 8 isn't a copy of another program — it's Pro Tools with some necessary, modernized enhancements.

CRACK THE NUTSHELL

Pro Tools 8 software comes with an overhauled graphical user interface (GUI), an incredible amount of new and updated plug-ins, expanded editing and mixing, and improved control-surface integration. Also, with PT8's new MIDI Editor window, you get a better work flow with more MIDI functionality, scoring for MIDI and a Score Editor.

Pro Tools LE and M-Powered versions now have a higher standard track count of 48 stereo tracks. And thanks to Elastic Audio, they have improved sound quality and Elastic Pitch, a region-based pitch transposition. Also included are enhanced Toolkit options for LE and M-Powered that provide more Pro Tools|HD functionality and compatibility between HD and LE and M-Powered systems.

Other enhancements include simpler key commands and indicators for common preferences, a new approach to track compositing and five additional inserts (for 10 total), multiple automation lanes (big thanks for that), and session templates. Other updates, such as a customizable toolbar, help simplify and streamline many common tasks.

QUICK START

Launching Pro Tools 8 brings up the new Quick Start box with four options: create a new session from a template, create a new blank session, open any of the previous 10 sessions or open any other session on your system. You cranky old Pro Tools users could turn off the Quick Start box, but you'll soon learn to love it.

GETTING GUI

Seasoned Pro Tools users may go through shock and denial when first launching 8, but it's still Pro Tools and you can customize it significantly. Some things have moved, but everything is still there. For instance, your edit focus is on the right side of the Edit window, and some things have moved up to the customizable toolbar. The Link Timeline and Edit Selection, and Link Track and Edit Selection options have moved up below the toolbar; next to those is my favorite new indicator, Insertion Follows Playback, which will be worth the upgrade alone to some.

Pro Tools 8 introduces two new main windows: MIDI Editor and Score Editor. You'll also notice a Universe window, a past HD and DV Toolkit feature that is now standard in Pro Tools 8. It's now called the Universe, or Universe View, located in the top right-hand menu button on the toolbar.

YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND: THE TRACKS LIST

You are going to love the new functionality of the Tracks List. I now leave it open all the time. You get little solid dots to the left of the track names — click on them or move them up and down to show or hide tracks instantly. You also see additional edit playlists in the Tracks List when the Tracks view is in Playlist mode (new). The Tracks List will indicate the additional edit playlists underneath your main playlist.

CUSTOMIZABLE TOOLBAR

A menu button on the right-hand side of the Edit window toolbar lets you show and hide the toolbar's available controls and displays, or you can select all. To move these from left to right on your toolbar, simply hold CTRL (Windows) or Command (Mac), and your mouse arrow turns into the grabber for moving the toolbar sections. The new MIDI Editor and Score Editor windows use the same customization methods. A new GEN MTC button for the toolbar automatically generates MIDI timecode for all assigned MIDI ports, without having to go to your session setup.

The new Snap to Grid feature lets you combine edit selections that are constrained by the Grid mode and any other Edit mode. What that means is that you can snap to grid while being in Shuffle, Slip or Spot mode. When it is enabled, edit selections and cursor placement will constrain to the current grid, and region editing and placement are based on the other Edit mode. For example, with Slip and Snap to Grid enabled, you can make a selection lock to the grid and then move or separate the selection or regions in Slip mode. That opens up many quick editing possibilities.

MIDI EDITOR WINDOW

The idea behind the MIDI Editor window is to give you more detail for working on MIDI compositions and editing tasks. This window gives more focus on specific MIDI-editing tasks, as well as a bigger and better dedicated environment. The window can show MIDI data for incoming aux inputs and instrument and MIDI tracks. And you can open multiple MIDI Editor windows to get different views.

SCORE EDITOR WINDOW

Now that Avid (Digidesign's parent company) owns Sibelius Software, PT8 incorporates the Sibelius render engine — but don't expect to get fancy Sibelius scores. The idea is to be able to print out a quick arrangement for a player in the studio or, should you have a session player who only reads notation, have some quick scoring options. It works well and has all of the basic tools, but it won't give you the fine print necessary for a full, detailed composition.

The Score Editor works like the MIDI Editor window but doesn't dock. Inside its more traditional page view, you can view, edit, arrange, print, import, draw, navigate, step and transcribe MIDI data in real time. You can show and hide tracks from the Edit window or from its own Track List. You also get Notation Display Track settings to show how individual MIDI and Instrument tracks will appear in the score. Using the Score Setup Window, you can set the page layout, staff spacing and clefs, as well as specify the composer and title.

TRACK COMPOSITING

If you haven't fallen in love already, now you will. Track Compositing is PT8's new way of creating traditional comp tracks. In previous Pro Tools versions, it was fairly time-consuming and tedious to build comp tracks from multiple takes, but the basic methods used have now been combined into a unified work flow using playlists.

Pro Tools 8 track composite

DRUMROLL, PLEASE: ELASTIC PITCH

Before you get too excited, Elastic Pitch isn't as fancy as Antares Auto-Tune or Celemony Melodyne. Rather, it's a convenient, real-time, region-based audio-pitch-transposition tool. Elastic Pitch lets you transpose the whole region in semitones or cents on Elastic Audio-enabled tracks (but not with the Monophonic algorithm). You do this through the Elastic Properties window or the Transpose window. Assigned key signatures on the Key Ruler have no effect on Elastic Pitch tracks. It is a real-time region transposition, and with a little practice and a good ear, you can easily fix pitch problems.

BUT WAIT … THERE'S MORE

If Digidesign's goal was to create a one-stop app, it may have achieved it with PT8. The developers added so many enhancements it's crazy. Go to page 2 for a more comprehensive list of new specs, including a description of the new virtual instruments, plug-ins and software bundle.

NEW FEATURE IN PRO TOOLS 8

Pro Tools 8 includes the following new or enhanced features:
  • Restore Last Selection. We get a new command in 8 that enables us to restore our last Edit or Timeline selection, should we accidently lose our selection. Like this never happens. Ctrl + Alt + Z (Windows) or Command + Option + Z (Mac)
  • New to 8, all WAV, AIFF, and SD II files can coexist in a session without requiring conversion when import copying or adding audio files into your session as long as the bit depth and sample rate are the same as your session.
  • New Ruler view, Chord Symbols, allows you to add chord symbols to the session to indicate chord changes.
  • Xpand 2 is multi-timbral, and allows for 4 individual sounds with separate MIDI channel and settings to be played seperately, rather than all as one patch.
  • Strip Silence now goes to a threshold of -96db.

GENERAL PRO TOOLS FEATURES AND ENHANCEMENTS

  • Improved, modernized user interface
  • Pro Tools QuickStart dialog for quickly and easily creating new sessions from templates, from scratch, or opening existing ones
  • New Session Templates
  • Auto-update Notification and Checking for Software Updates
  • Open Session with Plug-ins Deactivated
  • DSP Cache maintained for faster session opening and closing
  • Improved window management:
  • Tile windows
  • Cascade windows
  • Window Configurations include Score Editor window and targeted MIDI Editor window
  • New RTAS Hardware Buffer Settings
  • Increased File Size Limit
  • Increased Waveform Overview Bit Depth
  • MIDI Beat Clock Sample Offset on a port-by-port basis

CHANGES TO PRO TOOLS PREFERENCES

Display Preferences
  • “MIDI Note Color Shows Velocity” option Operation Preferences
  • “Latch Forward/Rewind” option
  • “Automatically Create New Playlists When Loop Recording” option
  • “Show Quick Start Dialog When Pro Tools Starts” option

Editing Preferences

  • Moved the following “Matching Start Time” Takes List options to the Match Criteria dialog
  • “Includes Take Region Names That Match Track Names”
  • “Includes Take Region Lengths That Match”

MIDI Preferences

  • Moved the “Play MIDI Notes When Editing” option to the Edit, MIDI Editor, and Score Editor windows
  • “Remove Range Selection After Opening the MIDI/Score Editor” option
  • Moved the “Default Note On Velocity” setting to the Edit, MIDI Editor, and Score Editor windows
  • “Double-clicking a Region Opens…” options:
  • MIDI Editor
  • Score Editor
  • MIDI Event List
  • Name Dialog
  • MIDI/Score Editor Display section:
  • “Additional Empty Bars in the Score Editor” setting

Synchronization Preferences

  • Synchronization section:
  • “Delay Before Locking to Longitudinal Time Code” setting
  • “Delay Before Locking to Serial Time Code” setting
  • Satellite Link section:
  • Transmit Solos
  • Receive Solos
  • Solo Independent Of Linked State
  • DAE Errors Stop All Linked Systems
  • Transmit Play Selections
  • Receive Play Selections

EDITING FEATURES AND ENHANCEMENTS

Edit Window Features
  • New Universe View
  • New MIDI Editor View
  • New Waveform Views
  • Customizable Toolbar
  • Chord Symbol ruler
  • Restore Last Selection
  • Edit selection enhancements and key commands
  • Region Edit and Time Locking
  • MIDI and Instrument tracks now default to Regions view in the Edit window
  • Timeline Insertion Follows Playback indicator
  • Strip Silence to –96 dB
  • MIDI/Score Editor Display section:
  • “Additional Empty Bars in the Score Editor” setting

Synchronization Preferences

  • Synchronization section:
  • “Delay Before Locking to Longitudinal Time Code” setting
  • “Delay Before Locking to Serial Time Code” setting
  • Satellite Link section:
  • Transmit Solos
  • Receive Solos
  • Solo Independent Of Linked State
  • DAE Errors Stop All Linked Systems
  • Transmit Play Selections
  • Receive Play Selections

Edit Window Features

  • New Universe View
  • New MIDI Editor View
  • New Waveform Views
  • Customizable Toolbar
  • Chord Symbol ruler
  • Restore Last Selection
  • Edit selection enhancements and key commands
  • Region Edit and Time Locking
  • MIDI and Instrument tracks now default to Regions view in the Edit window
  • Timeline Insertion Follows Playback indicator
  • Strip Silence to –96 dB

Elastic Audio Region-Based Pitch Transposition (Semitones and Cents)

  • Event Operation Transpose can now be applied to Elastic Audio Regions
  • Pitch Elastic Audio Property setting

Track Compositing

  • Playlists Track view
  • Rating Regions
  • Match Criteria

MIDI Editor Window

  • Superimposed MIDI and Instrument tracks
  • Auxiliary Input tracks
  • Multiple Automation and Controller lanes (such as Velocity, Volume, and Pan)
  • Notation or Piano Roll view
  • MIDI Region Group editing
  • Additional MIDI editing improvements:
  • Separate MIDI notes
  • Consolidate MIDI notes
  • Mute MIDI notes
  • MIDI Scrub and Shuttle
  • Audition velocity changes
  • Play MIDI notes when tabbing

Score Editor Window

  • Multiple MIDI and Instrument tracks can be shown in the Score Editor window independently of the Edit window and MIDI Editor window
  • Real-time transcription of MIDI
  • Real-time editing (linked between Edit, MIDI editor, and Score Editor windows)
  • Page layout
  • Print score or parts as displayed
  • Global and local staff attributes
  • Each Track displayed on a grand staff or a single staff:
  • Grand Staff with automatic or user definable split point
  • Treble, Alto, Tenor, and Bass clefs
  • Display Transposition for Transposing Instruments
  • Display and edit Key Signatures
  • Display and edit Meter Changes
  • Display and edit Chord Symbols
  • Export Sibelius (.sib) files

PRO TOOLS 8 MIXING FEATURES AND ENHANCEMENTS

  • Track Automation and Controller lanes for editing track automation (such as Volume, Pan, and Plug-in automation) and MIDI CC (such as Velocity, Pitchbend, and Modulation) without changing Track views
  • 10 inserts per track
  • Improved Automatic Delay Compensation

Score Editor Window

  • Multiple MIDI and Instrument tracks can be shown in the Score Editor window independently of the Edit window and MIDI Editor window
  • Real-time transcription of MIDI
  • Real-time editing (linked between Edit, MIDI editor, and Score Editor windows)
  • Page layout
  • Print score or parts as displayed
  • Global and local staff attributes
  • Each Track displayed on a grand staff or a single staff:
  • Grand Staff with automatic or user definable split point
  • Treble, Alto, Tenor, and Bass clefs
  • Display Transposition for Transposing Instruments
  • Display and edit Key Signatures
  • Display and edit Meter Changes
  • Display and edit Chord Symbols
  • Export Sibelius (.sib) files

PLUG-INS

  • DigiRack EQ III -- stereo version
  • DigiRack D-Verb -- chorusing added to RTAS version

Additional plug-ins included with Pro Tools 8 (previously only available by purchase)

  • Digidesign Maxim now DigiRack Maxim
  • Digidesign D-Fi now DigiRack D-Fi
  • Sci-Fi
  • Lo-Fi
  • Recti-Fi
  • Vari-Fi
  • Bomb Factory Sans Amp now DigiRack Sans Amp
  • TL Utilities free and installed with Pro Tools
    -- TL Metro
    -- TL InTune
    -- TL MasterMeter

A.I.R. Creative Collection Plug-ins

  • Instrument Plug-ins:
  • Boom
  • DB-33
  • Mini Grand
  • Structure Free
  • Vacuum
  • Xpand2
  • Effects Plug-ins:
  • Chorus
  • Decimator
  • Distortion
  • Dynamic Delay
  • Enhancer
  • Ensemble
  • Filter-Gate-Sequencer
  • Flanger
  • Frequency Shifter
  • FuzzWah
  • KillEQ
  • MultiChorus
  • MultiTap Delay
  • Nonlinear Reverb
  • Phaser
  • Reverb
  • Spring Reverb
  • StereoWidth
  • Talkbox
  • Vintage Filter
  • Drag and drop to plug-ins:
  • MIDI regions
  • Region groups

Pro Tools Controller Features and Enhancements

  • Accessing 10 inserts
  • Plug-in mapping
  • New Matrix Assign mode
  • New AutoWrite layout
  • Interrogate I/O Settings on a per-track-basis
  • D-Command Enhancements:
  • Plug-in Channel Strip Editing
  • Change Plug-in Settings
  • ICON Soft Keys Enhancements:
  • Support for Pro Tools Window Configurations
  • Write Memory Locations
  • Show MIDI Editor (toggle)
  • Audio Files Softkey
  • Modes Softkey
  • Operations Softkeys for D-Command
  • Softkeys With No Session Open
  • Identify Empty Sends and Inserts
  • No Group Members on VCA Master Encoders
  • Removing Multiple Assignments from ICON

Pro Tools Video and Avid Interoperability

  • Support for QuickTime HD playback using the Blackmagic DeckLink Extreme and Intensit (Mac Only)
  • Windows Vista support for Interplay
  • Media Composer Video Satellite Software Option

  • -- Support for Video Satellite with Pro Tools and Avid Media Composer 3.1 with Mojo DX and Nitris DX peripherals
  • Video Satellite LE Software Option (Mac Only)

  • -- Lets you connect a Pro Tools LE Mbox 2 Micro system to a Pro Tools HD system for use as a QuickTime HD video satellite
  • Satellite Link Software Option

  • -- Support for linking Pro Tools transport with multiple Pro Tools|HD systems and Avid Media Composer with Video Satellite or Pro Tools LE with Video Satellite LE

    ADD-ONS FOR PRO TOOLS LE AND M-POWERED

    COMPLETE PRODUCTION TOOLKIT (PRO TOOLS LE ONLY)

    The new Complete Production Toolkit for Pro Tools LE provides an extensive set of Pro Tools features and enhancements. It also includes several additional plug-ins and software options for Pro Tools.

    Pro Tools Features

    • Session and track features:
    • Up to 128 mono or 64 stereo audio tracks of simultaneous playback or recording
    • Up to 20 5.1 tracks
    • Ability to use QuickPunch on up to 64 tracks
    • Up to 64 Instrument tracks
    • 128 internal busses
    • Multiple video tracks, with multiple video playlists and multiple QuickTime movies per track
    • Import Session Data options (Destination Track Names, Time Code Mapping, Find Matching Tracks, Session Data to Import, Track Playlist)
    • MP3 export option (for Bounce To Disk and Export Regions as Files)
    • DigiBase Pro (including support for Catalog browsers and the ability to search on multiple criteria simultaneously in DigiBase browsers)
    • Improved session interchange between Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools LE
    • Mixing and Automation features:
    • Surround mixing up to 7.1 with 003, 003 Rack, 003 Rack Pre, Digi 002, and Digi 002 Rack, and up to 5.1 with Mbox 2 Pro
    • Snapshot automation for writing or trimming automation data
    • Glide Automation commands
    • Editing features:
    • Continuous Scroll
    • Scrub Trim tool
    • Replace Region command
    • TCE Edit to Timeline Selection command
    • Selection of alternate field recorder audio channels in the Pro Tools Timeline
    • Expanding alternate field recorder audio channels to new tracks
    • Beat Detective features:
    • Ability to apply Beat Detective across multiple tracks
    • Collection ModeExport Regions as Files)
    • DigiBase Pro (including support for Catalog browsers and the ability to search on multiple criteria simultaneously in DigiBase browsers)
    • Improved session interchange between Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools LE
    • Mixing and Automation features:
    • Surround mixing up to 7.1 with 003, 003 Rack, 003 Rack Pre, Digi 002, and Digi 002 Rack, and up to 5.1 with Mbox 2 Pro
    • Snapshot automation for writing or trimming automation data
    • Glide Automation commands
    • Editing features:
    • Continuous Scroll
    • Scrub Trim tool
    • Replace Region command
    • TCE Edit to Timeline Selection command
    • Selection of alternate field recorder audio channels in the Pro Tools Timeline
    • Expanding alternate field recorder audio channels to new tracks
    • Beat Detective features:
    • Ability to apply Beat Detective across multiple tracks
    • Collection Mode
    • Time code and synchronization features:
    • Timebase rulers (Time Code and Feet+Frames)
    • Time Code Rate selector
    • Feet+Frame Rate selector
    • Current Time Code Position command
    • Current Feet+Frames Position command
    • Use Subframes option
    • Audio Rate Pull Up and Pull Down
    • Video Rate Pull Up and Pull Down

    Additional Software

    • DINR (Digidesign Intelligent Noise Reduction) -- LE Plug-in For reducing noise in audio.
    • DigiTranslator 2.0 Software Option -- For exchanging audio and video files, and sequences with other AAF and OMFI-compatible applications.
    • Eleven LE -- Plug-in for use as a guitar amp and speaker emulation.
    • Hybrid Synthesizer -- Plug-in for use as a virtual instrument in your Pro Tools sessions.
    • Smack! LE Compressor -- Plug-in for applying compression to your audio.
    • Structure LE -- Plug-in For use as a virtual instrument in your Pro Tools sessions.
    • TL Space Native Convolution Reverb -- Plug-in for applying convolution reverb to your audio.
    • X-Form -- Plug-in for high-quality time compression and expanssion, and formant corrected pitch-shifting (based on the Radius® algorithm from iZotope).

    DV TOOLKIT 2 ENHANCEMENTS (PRO TOOLS LE ONLY)

    Pro Tools LE with DV Toolkit 2 supports up to 64 tracks (128 available voices), mono or stereo, at 48 kHz and up to 48 tracks (96 available voices), mono or stereo, at 96 kHz.

    QuickPunch Tracks
    Pro Tools LE with DV Toolkit 2 supports Quick- Punch simultaneously on up to 32 tracks at 48 kHz and up to 24 tracks at 96 kHz.

    Additional Software

    • DINR (Digidesign Intelligent Noise Reduction) LE -- Plug-in for reducing noise in audio.
    • DigiTranslator 2.0 Software Option -- For exchanging audio and video files, and sequences with other AAF and OMFI-compatible applications.
    • TL Space Native Convolution Reverb -- Plug-in for applying convolution reverb to your audio.
    • X-Form -- Plug-in for high-quality time compression and expanssion, and formant corrected pitch-shifting (based on the Radius® algorithm from iZotope).

    MUSIC PRODUCTION TOOLKIT 2 (PRO TOOLS LE AND M-POWERED)

    Pro Tools LE and M-Powered with Music Production Toolkit 2 support up to 64 tracks (128 available voices), mono or stereo, at 48 kHz and up to 48 tracks (96 available voices), mono or stereo, at 96 kHz.

    QuickPunch Tracks
    Pro Tools LE and M-Powered with Music Production Toolkit 2 support QuickPunch simultaeously on up to 32 tracks at 48 kHz and up to 24 tracks at 96 kHz.

    Enhanced Beat Detective

    • Ability to apply Beat Detective across multiple tracks
    • Collection Mode

    Included Plug-ins and Options

    • Eleven LE Plug-in For use as a guitar amp and speaker emulation.
    • Hybrid Synthesizer Plug-in For use as a virtual instrument in your Pro Tools sessions.
    • Smack! LE Compressor Plug-in For applying compression to your audio.
    • Structure LE Plug-in For use as a virtual instrument in your Pro Tools sessions.
    • TL Space Native Convolution Reverb Plug-in For applying convolution reverb to your audio.
    • MP3 Option For exporting MP3 files from your Pro Tools session.

    System Requirements

    Mac/Leopard only, Windows XP/Vista

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