Pro Tools 10 New Features: AAX Plugins.
So, once upon a time (like, last week) there were 3 Pro Tools plugin types: Audiosuite, RTAS (Real-time Audiosuite), and TDM (Time Division Multiplexing–exclusively for Pro Tools HD systems). With Pro Tools 10, we see a new plugin format: AAX (Avid Audio eXtension). While at first this may seem a bit unnecessary, the new AAX format could be a significant improvement in plugin efficiency, and also in the way we purchase and work with plugins in Pro Tools 10…or we could all just get hit will big upgrade costs.
In earlier versions of Pro Tools HD, you could choose to insert TDM or RTAS plugins on a track. Many plugins had both TDM and RTAS versions (though the TDM version was usually a bit more expensive). The main difference between the two was that TDM plugins ran off the processing cards that are part of an HD system. These cards have chips that expand the processing power of your computer, and can be used to handle processing for TDM plugins and the Pro Tools mix engine. RTAS plugins simply use your computer’s native processor to handle the DSP. This is fine, until your computer becomes overworked and can no longer keep up with routing/summing audio, processing via plugins, running virtual instruments etc.
RTAS and TDM are now becoming legacy formats–still supported, but for how long?Pro Tools 10 software will allow you to run TDM plugins, but only on the older (now legacy) Pro Tools HD Core and Accel cards. The newly unveiled Pro Tools HDX DSP cards (as they are now branded), are not compatible with TDM, and only support AAX DSP. What is this “AAX DSP” you say?
AAX plugins come in two different formats: AAX DSP and AAS Native. As mentioned, AAX DSP is compatible with Pro Tools HDX only (and conversely, TDM plugins will not work with HDX hardware!). AAX Native plugins will work with any version of Pro Tools 10.
Here is where things get a little muddy. From what I understand, RTAS plugins are inefficient when it comes to processor usage, and are also a bit tweaky to code. Programmers would typically have to code an RTAS version, and then an entire other version for TDM. Given the smaller market for TDM plugins (you must own an Pro Tools HD system), this also made those versions more expensive. The new AAX format supposedly allows a programmer to code the plugin once, and then essentially compile a DSP version and a Native version.
The question is, will plugin developers bundle the two AAX versions together, or still stick Pro Tools HDX users who want DSP plugins with a higher cost? Ideally you would purchase a plugin in AAX format, install it, and get the option to run DSP or Native if you own Pro Tools HDX, or just Native if you run non-HD Pro Tools 10. If that turns out to be the case, will the cost of the AAX format be more than the old RTAS format, if you are now getting the DSP version as well (which non-HD users don’t care about so much)? How will this affect compatibility as you move between HDX and non-HD Pro Tools 10 systems? This all remains to be seen…but I’ll be posting more on this in the near future.
I have a feeling that plugin manufacturers will still sell the AAX DSP and AAX Native plugins separately, just as was done in the days of TDM and RTAS. The real difference to the average Pro Tools user will be that the new AAX architecture will make more efficient use of computer resources, and that certain plugins will now be available to run natively, that previously were only available in the TDM/DSP format. For example, Channel Strip, Revibe, Reverb One, Impact, and Down Mixer are all AAX plugins that are included in Pro Tools 10, both in AAX DSP and AAX Native formats.