VIDEOGUYS USER SPOTLIGHT - Jake Riossi
I write this amidst chaos and mayhem. Chaos, because I'm deep within the throes of moving, and literally find myself typing this on a chair in the middle of a barren bedroom, notebook computer on my lap. Mayhem, because my copy of Artbeats' "Mayhem" stock footage library arrived today. I can't wait to play with it!
I'd like to start out this article with a bit of disclosure. For starters, I'm not what you might refer to as a "professional"…at least, not in a video-oriented sense. I work full-time as an Air Traffic Controller (you know, one of those folks who stands high in the sky in the Control Tower at an Airport, and prevents collision between aircraft) at an airport in Ohio. Video is not my living, it's my escape. My release. My hobby, I suppose you could say. Yes, I've done work-for-hire in the past, and occasionally do it to this day, but that's only a means to help pay for my habit…er, I mean, hobby. I never went to school for video production or editing; everything I know is either self-taught, or has been taught to me by various true professionals who have taken me under their wings. I'm also a lover of all things Avid. I love Avid products, Avid as a company, and all the wonderful people who work behind the big, purple logo back at the Mothership in Tewksbury, MA. I may gripe about some things Avid does, but make no mistake: I LOVE AVID!
With all that out of the way, let's get down to business, shall we? The point of this article is to provide just a bit of an overview of the new Studio Toolkit 5.6 that shipped a month ago. I hope to provide an unbiased viewpoint of the software, as well as a quick overview to help users decide whether or not this product is for them, or if they should upgrade or not. My review is fair (I think) and I hope it will assist those out there who are considering this suite to add to their Avid toolbox.
In the Beginning…
Avid Studio Toolkit first came on the scene back in 2004, on the heels of the brilliant (and first-of-its-kind) Xpress Studio. Merging hardware and software together, Avid Xpress Studio gave users an all-in-one video production studio offering video editing, effects/compositing, 3D animation, audio editing, and DVD-authoring, supported by "purpose-built hardware," as Avid used to say. What made this suite so wonderful was that it was all fully integrated. By "fully integrated," I mean that Xpress Studio allowed users to remain within the Studio environment, by allowing media captured in the foundation Xpress Pro editing software to be seamlessly (and even easily!) sent to the other 4 various applications and back to XPro when finished. Originally called "Studio Tools" and available as a Media Composer Adrenaline-only option, Avid Studio Toolkit was a lower-cost version of Xpress Studio that didn't include any hardware, and also lacked Avid Pro Tools LE (the industry-standard audio app in the suite), along with the Digidesign DV Toolkit option. In 2005, Avid changed the name from "Studio Tools" to "Studio Toolkit HD," and made the software available as an option to either Media Composer Adrenaline or Xpress Pro users (either as an add-on option, or bundled with XPro and called the "XPro PowerPack"). The rest, as they say, is history.
Integration is what fuels this baby. Once you've captured your media, your options open up immensely. Need an AniMatte effect that's available in Media Composer, but lacking in XPro? Enter Avid FX. Looking for a 3D spinning globe to add to your piece about world issues? Enter Avid 3D. Need a wicked fast, in-depth, robust, vector-based titling application, complete with advanced effects? Enter Avid FX. Want to blow up the world (the spinning globe mentioned earlier)? Enter Avid 3D. Want to archive your project to clean off your video drives, or for distribution? Enter Avid DVD. Once your media is sitting on your drives, you can send it to the various different applications, do whatever it is you need to do, then send it back to XPro. Quickly. Easily. Enjoyably!
As you can see, this is a wonderful enhancement to your Avid toolbox. Think of it as receiving a delivery from the "Snap-On" tool guy: new toys (tools) mean that you can do lots of new tasks. New tasks mean new jobs!
The improvements in Studio Toolkit 5.6 over its predecessor, 5.2.1, are immense, and it is impossible to discuss them all here. I will quickly touch upon some of the more prominent new features and try to give you a general feeling of how the software "flies." Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, Xpress Studio and Studio Toolkit are both named after the most current release of Avid Xpress Pro software that is both available and supported by, or ships with each release. Studio Toolkit 5.2.1 was compatible with XPro 5.2.1 and later, and Xpress Studio 5.2.1 shipped with XPro 5.2.1. Make sense?
Avid FX is the software I find myself going to more than anything. To me, this is the software that forms the core of Studio Toolkit. Essentially nothing more than Boris Red 4 in an Avid "wrapper," Avid FX 5.6 gives you the power of a fully-featured effects and compositing application right inside your Avid editor. It's all here: effects, compositing, keying, motion-tracking/stabilization, vector paint/rotoscoping tools, titling, and much, much more. Available as a plug-in directly inside your Avid and accessed directly from the Effect Palette (don't forget to click the ‘Other Options' button to the left of the "Avid FX" effect listing!), or as a stand-alone rendering engine, Avid FX has most of the basic tools editors need to finish today's various different tasks.
One of the biggest professional improvements to the software is that it now features a 16-bit color-depth, for more available color-ranges (are trillions enough for you?), along with the ability for more precise color-correction and to generate smoother gradient patterns. Boris mentions on its website that one result of this is that "gradients are far less prone to mach banding or color stepping." This is huge, folks. Sure, it's not the 32-bit per-channel floating-point color depth that some of the more elite compositing apps feature, but this software isn't trying to compete with those apps. Yet.
Another major improvement that is apparent the second you launch Avid FX 5.6 for the first time is the new interface. Completely retooled from the ground up, Boris really worked hard to make the new interface both easier to learn and use. "Editor-friendly" is the term that comes to my mind. Examples of improvements include the fact that you can now change the background color of the software to something less eye-straining than white (gray, for example); magnetic windows that snap together when placed within 10 pixels of each other; bigger buttons that are now user-configurable (!!); buttons that highlight when you roll the cursor over them (no more clicking the wrong button and having to Undo!); automatic layering windows (tabs remain visible regardless of window-size); "sticky windows" (Boris-speak for windows that automatically resize as you resize a particular window, ala After Effects 7's interface); a new redesigned Composite Window, complete with "Integrated Keyframe Track" (as Boris calls it - very handy!); and the list goes on and on. I just want to congratulate Boris/Avid for their efforts in improving this aspect of Avid FX. I found myself working in an easier, quicker, and more-relaxed state than I ever have before. The software is not only powerful; it's truly a pleasure to use. Well done, folks!
For me, the very first thing I wanted to see was the numerous new effects additions. I'll admit: I'm an effects junkie. When a new release comes out, I could care less about "under-the-hood" improvements; I want cool new standout effects and features! As a result, Avid FX 5.6 really delivers on this, as well it should: it's an EFFECTS application, after all! Immediately noticeable are the "more than 40" new effects filters as Boris says (I counted 59, personally), both from Boris Continuum Complete (BCC) 4 and Final Effects Complete (FEC) plug-in suites, and ranging the gamut from Color and Blurs (9 new filters), Effects (9) FEC (14), Lights (9), Wipe Transitions (7), and others. It was refreshing to see the addition of "Witness Protection," Radial and Motion Blurs, various different light-ray effects, as well as others, and I laughed out loud when I saw the cheesy "Mr. Mercury," and "Blobbylize" effects from the classic FEC suite - originally for After Effects - in my Avid.
What I really wanted to test-drive was the new Boris Motion Key effect that first appeared in Boris Continuum Complete 4 earlier this year. Having heard mixed reviews about this, I was eager to see how it performed. I loaded up a piece of footage consisting of a dirt-biker flying through the air after hitting a jump (culled from the wonderful VideoTraxx 3 library from Digital Juice), with the intention of removing both dirt bike and stunt-junkie from the shot. Since I was having difficulty getting the effect to work at all, I consulted both the Effects Guide (that ships with Studio Toolkit and is available on the installer DVD) as well as the User's Manual for more information on how to use the effect. I even ended up watching the online video "tutorial" on Boris' website, but found that to be no help at all, due to the ridiculous speed in which the artist in the video was moving. Once I had it somewhat/kinda/sorta figured-out, I went to work on erasing my flying friend. The effect was, in my opinion, rather difficult to use and slower than I expected when it came to rendering. I suppose this is to be presumed, since this effect is doing some intensive image processing - and while the end-result was impressive, it wasn't dazzling. There were still some noticeable artifacts around where the dirt biker and his ride once were, and while my subject had been thoroughly expunged, it was obvious that there was once something there, thanks to the artifacts. I ended up having to use the new Clone Brush tool to replace the remaining artifacts with sky and land background, then track that effect over the course of the shot, using the wonderful tracker included in Avid FX. Needless to say, I wasn't nearly as blown-away by this effect as I was expecting to be - it required help from an additional effect, plus the tracker - but in all fairness to Boris, this is a brand-new, industry-pioneering effect, and it's incredible what they've been able to accomplish. I'd also bet you a nickel's worth of silver that they will continue to tweak and refine this effect over time, and will eventually get it perfected. For now, when you can get it to work right, it's impressive, but not perfect. I'll also add that I noticed that on some clips, the motion keyer removed the subject perfectly with no artifacting whatsoever, and on others it left artifacts. It seemed to me that clips featuring subjects in faster-motion (a race car screaming by, as opposed to a person walking their dog) were harder to key out - meaning more artifacting - than clips with slower-moving subjects. A professional I know who's been using the Motion Key effect in BCC 4 since its release has told me he's discovered the exact opposite. As a result, I can't ascertain if either is the case, or if there is a specific pattern to the artifacting issue or not.
The new improvements to the Paint engine are impressive too. Without going too much into this, the above-mentioned Clone Brush is but the beginning. Boris has completely rewritten the old rules about what users can do with its paint tools. Additional new improvements include full (yes, FULL) Wacom graphics tablet support (yay!); new spray and roller brush-styles; the ability to convert raster-based paintbrush strokes to vector-spline shapes at the push of a button, and lots more. One feature that I briefly played with and saw great promise in for future projects was the new Image-Based Brushes. This feature allows you to take any clip or media format in residence on your drives and use it as a paint source to paint with! You can even use imported Photoshop files - multi-layered ones at that - as a brush-source, too! Again, according to Boris' website (who worded this so perfectly I couldn't help but quote them), "When using layered Photoshop files as the brush source, each individual layer can be automatically sequenced over the course of the paint stroke, either in the order that they exist in the Photoshop file or in a random order. When using a movie clip as the brush stamp, the movie will update as the user moves through the timeline." Is that cool, or what? Imagine importing a piece of clip-art into your composition and being able to paint just that clip-art all over your composition if you wanted to…in whatever way you desired. The possibilities are absolutely endless!
There are plenty of other new features in this software that make it more than worthwhile to purchase, including Avid AVX 2.0 support, which gives 16-bit color support while plugged-in to Avid NLE's.
One disappointing factor of this software was that Avid seems to have removed the included Tutorial PDF file that has shipped with past versions of Avid FX in both Xpress Studio and Studio Toolkit. This could very well be due to the fact that the old tutorials are now obsolete, thanks to the new interface. If that's the case, I'd really like to see Avid/Boris rewrite the old tutorials for the new version of Avid FX, or write some entirely new tutorials (on the Motion Keyer, especially). There really aren't a lot of tutorials out there for Boris products - especially for newbies just getting started with the software, and I, for one, am deeply indebted to those tutorials as a major factor in my learning how to use Avid FX. I think their return is a rather paramount issue of consideration for Avid if they wish to continue teaching their up-and-coming editors (read: customers!) how to use this amazing software.
In conclusion, I'll say that this improvement makes Studio Toolkit the powerful suite that it is. Let me make it very clear that Avid FX does not replace a dedicated, stand-alone compositing application for professional workflows; a copy of After Effects, Combustion, Shake, or other app is essential, as there are things those programs can do that Avid FX cannot. Bearing that in mind, I'll also add that once you have Avid FX in your arsenal, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.
Avid originally released Avid 3D under the premise of "3D for everyone." What a great concept and they've achieved it for the most part. I've always had mixed feelings about Avid 3D since the day I first saw it. On one hand, you have a simple 3D modeling/animation program that is accessible to any user. On the other hand, many of the tools and capabilities inherent in even an "entry-level" 3D animation application are missing, and I suspect that is largely due to the fact that Avid does not want to step on the toes of its entry-level (though professional), industry-standard 3D animation app, Softimage XSI 5 Foundation. In fact, Avid 3D is actually based upon the now-defunct Softimage 3D product that is no longer being sold.
Let me clarify one important detail: Avid 3D was designed to be simple-to-use, and geared toward the editor who needs the ability to add 3D models/elements/effects to their compositions. It was NEVER intended to be a professional 3D animation/modeling program, though it has always featured many of the most basic, core tools you'd expect in a CGI app. If you're considering Avid 3D, you need to reflect upon what your needs are. If you're looking for a product that will allow you to model and animate complex characters, do fur/hair/cloth simulations, advanced physics and crowd simulations, or any other advanced visual-effects tasks, you'll need to look elsewhere, as that is beyond the scope of Avid 3D. If you need to add/animate prebuilt models, create custom (simplistic) models from scratch, create/animate true 3D text, or create 3D particle systems, deformations, explosions, or lighting effects, then Avid 3D is the product for you.
To echo my fellow reviewer, Alex Alexander, who recently wrote a wonderful article about Studio Toolkit 5.6 (Click here to view the article), 3D applications have always been largely above my head. They require a ferociously steep learning curve, and I even found that here in Avid 3D, which is considered an "elementary" program. They also require lengthy rendering times, among other things. As a result, when I have need for serious 3D animation work, I consult one of my good friends, an absolute master of all things 3D, and he usually hooks me up with Hollywood-quality work. With Avid 3D, however, I wanted to learn the software myself and begin to create my own simplistic 3D scenes, in hopes of eventually becoming, at the very least, competent in the world of 3D.
The first thing you'll immediately notice upon launching Avid 3D 5.6 for the first time (other than the fact that the version number has jumped from 2.1 to 5.6, likely in an attempt to create a sense of parity across all the Studio Toolkit applications) is the new interface. Softimage really mixed things up, and the new interface is much easier and a sheer joy to use. So simplified is the new interface that it took me several hours to figure out just what the heck I was doing…until I realized that what I was doing was over-complicating the software and trying to drive it like the legacy versions. Once I came to this conclusion, my mind immediately snapped into place and I embraced the new interface for the simple, retooled pleasantness it is. I also noticed a very SERIOUS detraction from previous versions, but I'll touch on that in a little while.
At its heart, the new interface includes a new tabbed-browser system, which is largely how you now navigate the software when not using the on-screen controls for working in the viewports. Many existing buttons have either been relocated or eliminated, leading to a cleaner, less-cluttered appearance. I can't stress enough how nice this new interface looks, and it's nice to see the software now make perfect use of screen real-estate. In past versions, I found myself either having to run the software at ultra-high resolutions to get all of my various different buttons and controls to show up (which was hard on my eyes), or I'd have to use the software in 2-monitor display mode. The negative side to this was that you couldn't configure the interface to look how you wanted it to, and it had this nasty habit of placing tools and control panels in an illogical order, which led to excessive mouse traveling and ultimately, fatigue.
Gone are several major areas that were crucial to using the software previously. The Multipurpose Editor has been replaced by a new "property editor area," located on the right side of the screen, below the explorer on the new Editing Panel. The rendering tools are now available either via keystroke/menu commands, or via the new Render Options button on the bottom-left corner of the interface. The individual model tabs for the various types of models are gone and all models are now grouped together under one tab, for easy browsing. These all represent huge improvements in the interface and I'm just giddy with how easy it is to use!
The new interface is hardly the only new improvement in Avid 3D 5.6. Additional new features include support for HD 720p 29.97 project types, as well as support for MXF MPEG 30, 40, and 50 resolutions for 30i NTSC and 25i PAL projects, additional text creation capabilities (or so the Avid web page says, but I never saw anything in the ReadMe about this, nor did I discover any of these new capabilities in my time spent with the software), additional lights/lighting options, and of course, the obligatory bug-fixes. Bug fixes are always an ongoing, endless task, so a software programmer's work is never done. I did notice that Avid 3D 5.6 seemed to be extremely stable, far more so than in previous versions, where I frequently experienced errors and crashes…even though I was working on a fully-certified HP workstation. It also seemed to perform a lot faster than in past versions.
Unfortunately, however, all this newfound improvement comes at a horrible, horrible cost. For some reason, Avid has removed ALL of the modeling tools from Avid 3D 5.6! No longer can a user do ANY sort of modeling in Avid 3D. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't major software upgrades supposed to ADD new features to them, as opposed to removing basic, fundamental ones? I honestly have to admit that when I discovered that I no longer could do any sort of from-scratch modeling like I could in past releases, I was both angered and troubled beyond words. In the blink of an eye, my outlook on Avid 3D changed from a limited, entry-level 3D modeling/animation program with great promise, to worthless toy that you should give your kids to keep them occupied and off the video game console. Fun for the whole family, but not good for much else.
In all fairness to Avid, I can't help but give them the benefit of the doubt in light of this horrible omission on their part. Avid is made up of some of the most intelligent, wonderful people I've ever met, and they take great pride in their products, as well as their customers. My prayers are that this is a temporary setback while they address some deeper issues that users - myself included - have been reporting over the past several months. However, according to the Avid 3D 5.6 ReadMe file, it says that "due to the new workflow improvements, the modeling tools" (as well as several other features) "have been removed." This sets my hopes of this being a temporary setback on fire and sends them crashing down in flames. The other thought that comes to my mind is that in an effort to make Avid 3D more accessible to everyone, the modeling tools may have been removed in an attempt to make the software even more easy to use, with a greatly-reduced learning curve. Either way, this is an unacceptable regression for Avid 3D, and due to this, I flat-out refuse to recommend it to anyone to use. Period!
I'll close this by simply saying that I haven't given up on Avid 3D…if Avid addresses some of the issues that plague the software, as well as adds in a few of my feature requests, including bringing back the modeling tools (as well as adding more of them!), and adding in native HDV support (there's NO EXCUSE for the software not supporting this yet!). Additional features that would benefit the software include the ability to import .max files (saving time by not requiring the user to convert to the supported .3ds format for importing), support the import of Maya, Lightwave, and Cinema 4D models, as well as create/save custom workspaces (this is AVID, the interface-configuration masters that we're talking about here!). The software ships with a generous helping of pre-built models, but you can never have enough. Factor in that at $995+ per model, buying more Digimation models is an expensive proposition, should you not be working for a client, so more models would indeed be a virtue in Avid 3D 6.0. This may sound absolutely crazy, but I'd also love the ability to do 3D keying in Avid 3D. Import your greenscreen footage, position it into your 3D composition, then key/composite it in real-time. Very handy. Vector/Raster paint tools would also be well received by me, as well…though I think it's safe to say that the previous two requests would definitely begin to make Avid 3D stand on the toes of both Softimage XSI Essentials/Advanced, as well as Avid DS Nitris. By no means does that bother me, but you won't find me holding my breath in anticipation of these features.
This is honestly the area I am weakest at when it comes to the realm of video production, and that's due to the fact that very rarely do I author (or need to author) a DVD. In fact, the number of DVD's I've authored could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand…maybe both, but definitely not more than that.
After slamming Avid for their crippling of Avid 3D, I'd like to make note that Avid DVD 5.6 is a great piece of software! Users of Studio Toolkit 5.2.1 or Xpress Studio 5.2.1 will notice some nice improvement in this release, though users of Studio Toolkit/Xpress Studio earlier than 5.2.1 will notice major improvements.
With Avid DVD 5.2.1, Avid took a dramatic change in direction by changing the product from being founded upon the powerful (but heavily-limited and severely-overpriced) Sonic DVD Producer platform, to the current Sonic DVDit Pro v6 platform. While this may seem as though it were a step backwards, I can assure you it wasn't! In doing this, Avid has given its users a more vast base of improvements in functionality/usability at a price-point far less than what they were ever able to offer in the earlier releases of Avid DVD based off of DVD Producer. The new interface in Avid DVD 5.2.1 was the biggest improvement, and while there were plenty more improvements than just that, the new interface made the software amazingly easier to use.
Having come to Avid DVD 5.6 from 5.1.3, I found myself somewhat alarmed at the drastic change in the interface. I suddenly realized that my Avid DVD training disc from the set of Xpress Studio training DVD's I own wasn't going to be of any help when it came to learning this new interface. Happily, I wasn't hung out to dry, as the new Avid DVD 5.6 is remarkably simple to use. After a quick trip throughout the new interface of simply clicking to my heart's content after asking, "Hmm, I wonder what this button does?", I found myself starting to pick things up rather quickly. Another few minutes digging through the included Avid DVD User's Manual (included in the software installation as an Adobe PDF file), and my DVD-burner was cooking up a new disc. When finished - approximately 15 minutes after starting the authoring process, my new disc played without problem in both of my DVD players (one old, one new), but wouldn't play in my 4-year-old Microsoft Xbox video game console. This was no fault of Avid DVD's, but rather was due to the fact that the original Xbox console won't play "burned" DVD's as a piracy-prevention measure.
It was after my successful completion of this first crudely authored disc that I discovered the included "Avid DVD by Sonic Tutorial" that also ships with the software (delivered in the Adobe PDF format, and accessible from within the Documentation Menu in the Avid DVD installation folder), so Avid hasn't left new users completely in the cold. The tutorial is informative enough for a basic How-To guide, but an update to Avid's Xpress Studio/Studio Toolkit Training DVD's is definitely in order. I think a few freebie video tutorials being included into their wonderful ALEX online-training system would be a courteous nod towards its customers, as well.
Version 5.6 of Avid DVD features both Blu-Ray authoring (one of 2 main flavors of high-definition DVD's), with resolution support as high as 1920x1080p, along with support for widescreen DVD menus. These 2 features, while seemingly small, represent a huge step-forward for this product, and definitely enhance its sense of professionalism. Additional new features include increased menu templates - always a good thing, and the most useful feature to me personally: one-click DVD-authoring. Yes, it's as simple as right-clicking on your sequence within your Avid NLE, selecting the "Send-To" menu, then selecting "DVD" and lastly "DVD One-Step." A straightforward, easy-to-use dialog box opens, allowing you to make your desired format selections, and in one click, your sequence is burning to DVD. Is that sick, or what?
There are plenty of other things I could say about Avid DVD, but I'll let you read Alex's review of Studio Toolkit 5.6, as he's far more in-tune with DVD-authoring - and thus Avid DVD 5.6 - than I am. I'll close by saying good job with Avid DVD 5.6, Avid. Keep it up!
Tying It All Together
Again, Studio Toolkit 5.6 is all about integration, and it does that very well. It must be noted, however, that the integration as of version 5.6 isn't perfect. It's close, but not completely there yet. The main reason I say this is because certain formats aren't supported by all of the applications, such as no native HDV support in either Avid 3D or Avid DVD. In a perfect world, the various apps in Studio Toolkit would be able to support and natively work with whatever format the host NLE - be it Xpress Pro or Media Composer - can handle. I realize that's a tall order, especially with more and more new formats constantly being released by the various major manufacturers, but it's a goal to strive for. Additionally, installation of Studio Toolkit is a fickle thing, so I recommend you follow the installation instructions EXACTLY for best results. Studio Toolkit (as well as Xpress Studio) must be installed as one single product, as opposed to multiple products working together. This can be a bit of a nuisance. If you uninstall any one of them, you essentially must uninstall/reinstall the entire suite, or you will "break" Studio Toolkit, of which the fix is to uninstall/reinstall the entire suite as one product to get things working properly again. With Avid and its wonderful sense of integration, it would be nice if the various elements of Studio Toolkit (and Xpress Studio) would work together as one large suite of software….while still giving you the flexibility of being able to download or upgrade individual software components individually, without "breaking" it. "All for one, and one for all" is a great motto to have if you're one of the Three Musketeers, but it doesn't bode very well if you're one of the millions of Avid customers trying to install/upgrade Studio Toolkit/Xpress Studio. It would be nice to see Avid fix this so each piece of software will play together nicely, whether all elements, or varying degrees are present.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
So, who should buy this product? Users of Xpress Pro should not even think twice about purchasing this suite…they should simply pay the $1295 fee and consider it a must-have addition, as well as a remarkable deal, especially if one considers that the cost of Boris Red (Avid FX) alone is $1595. For $300 less, you're getting Boris Red, along with a limited 3D animation/effects program, plus a full-featured DVD-authoring program, complete with widescreen and Blu-Ray DVD-authoring support! Or, think about it this way: you're getting Avid 3D and DVD for free, plus are getting a remarkable deal on Boris Red. To me, that's a no-brainer. When it comes to Media Composer users, however, I find this suite to perhaps be a little more difficult to recommend, due to the fact that much of what you will gain in Avid FX is already built-in to your Media Composer. Unless you find yourself in desperate need of a quality titling solution, DVD-authoring app or 3D animation/effects app, perhaps your money will be better off spent elsewhere. For users of Studio Toolkit 5.2.1 or earlier (especially if using 5.1.3 or earlier), I highly recommend purchasing the upgrade to Studio Toolkit 5.6, due to the vast improvements you will receive in Avid FX and DVD. The improvements in Avid FX alone will more than justify the generous $295 upgrade cost…which you could easily recoup in your first paying gig alone. If there's one positive thing Avid is very good at, its offering fairly priced software upgrades, and this is a regal example. $295 is what you will pay to upgrade to Boris Red 4 from an earlier version alone. Factor in the improvements to Avid DVD (and I suppose 3D), and you're getting a remarkable deal.
In conclusion, Avid did 2 things with Studio Toolkit 5.6: 1) in regards to Avid FX and DVD, they really hit one out of this world, and 2) regarding Avid 3D, they even further limited an already-limited application. With some newfound dedication to Avid 3D, they could have an absolute, must-have winner on their hands. I give the new Studio Toolkit 5.6 a 7-out-of-10 rating, with the detraction of Avid 3D holding it back from achieving a much higher score.