Avid Xpress Pro
At a Glance
Perennial rivals Avid Xpress Pro and Final Cut Pro took decidedly different upgrade paths this year. With version 4, Apple reinvented Final Cut Pro as a massive five-program bundle containing extra titling and music-scoring tools. Meanwhile, Avid Xpress Pro's core has become a more refined, more powerful version of the Xpress DV platform. Avid distilled features from its professional products, added hardware acceleration with the optional Mojo unit, and lowered the price.
At press time, Xpress Pro worked on Panther only with dual-G5 systems; a bug prevented it from working in single-processor Macs. (The company says that the bug will be remedied by the time you read this.) It does work in OS X 10.2, and it will undoubtedly appeal to the Avid faithful. To counter Final Cut Pro's massive upgrade, Xpress Pro now includes a free application bundle, once part of the Avid Xpress DV Power Pack, that includes Boris Graffiti 2, Boris FX 6, and Avid FilmScribe. New to the Avid bundle is a full version of Sorenson Squeeze 3 Compression Suite ( ; August 2003). As with Xpress DV, Avid includes both Mac and PC versions of Xpress Pro in the box (but provides only one dongle, which limits the number of users to one at a time).
Avid Xpress Pro addresses many of the criticisms directed at Xpress DV 3.5 ( ; November 2002): it has offline video resolutions, analog-capture hardware, and JKL trim support. Xpress Pro also includes many welcome improvements, such as film-project support, 24-frame video editing, solid color-correction tools, multicamera editing, and extensive real-time effects. These additions make it a far more powerful editing system for a pro user. For editors who require only DV editing, Avid still sells Xpress DV, now priced at $695.
The Pro Feeling
For editors who work with Avid's more professional offerings, using Xpress Pro is somewhat like having a security blanket -- it's comforting. The interface and workflow are practically identical all the way through the Avid line of products, apart from Avid DS, the family oddball. For editors accustomed to Final Cut Pro, Avid takes some getting used to, but it quickly grows on you. It's also quite stable, which often means more to an editor than flashy add-ons.
Professional editors who use the Avid Meridian or Adrenaline system will rejoice at Avid Xpress Pro's support for 24P film projects, which lets editors import and edit previously captured 24P video footage and export negative cut lists. The only thing Xpress Pro can't do is capture 24P footage. Even so, the ability to drop an existing Avid film project onto a FireWire drive and take an Xpress Pro–equipped PowerBook on the road will definitely appeal to many editors, as traditional Avid systems can weigh more than 200 pounds. With Xpress Pro and its film-project support, you can conceivably edit a feature film on a 5-pound PowerBook while sipping a mai tai on a beach in Maui.
Projects created in Xpress Pro are upward compatible, which makes online editing of projects on an Avid Symphony or DS system quite simple. Xpress Pro now offers a smattering of offline-quality video resolutions that, like Final Cut Pro's Offline RT and other offline codecs, allow editors to store large amounts of video efficiently. Editors can capture to 15:1 (29.97 fps) and 28:1 (23.98 fps) resolutions, and they can also import projects with media captured on an Avid Meridian or Adrenaline system to 14:1 and 35:1 resolution ratios. This is a welcome addition, although real-time play-out of these offline video formats to tape requires either the Avid Mojo accelerator, also known as the Avid Mojo DNA (see our review below), or a transcode to DV (available only for the 15:1 format). (Transcoding is the process of converting one video format to another.)
With the Mojo, Avid Xpress Pro can capture and edit uncompressed 1:1 video footage. It can also play a timeline with mixed resolutions. This is useful, for example, when you're laying uncompressed titles over DV. (DV titles are notorious for their poor quality.) Rendering titles in an uncompressed format preserves as much information as possible, which is especially desirable when the material is intended for DVDs. The one drawback of uncompressed video is that it requires a RAID for playback, and is therefore problematic for PowerBook users.
Avid has improved its already strong color-correction tool by adding a one-step AutoCorrect feature. This lets you adjust contrast and color balance in one click.
The company claims that Xpress Pro fully supports the 24P Panasonic DVX100, but the truth is a bit more slippery. You can remove the Advanced 3:2 on-the-fly during capture and edit the resulting footage without any problems. But if you buy only the Xpress Pro software, you'll need the Avid Mojo to reinsert the 3:2 and output 24P video to tape. A possible workaround involves rendering the video with 3:2 insertion through After Effects. This is somewhat disappointing, particularly since Xpress Pro's rival Final Cut Pro 4 can output 24-fps digital video to tape with 3:2 properly inserted (smooth looking) -- no additional hardware required.
For better or worse, the Avid Mojo is a necessary add-on to the Xpress Pro package -- it's essential to making Xpress Pro more than a DV-only experience, and it doubles Xpress Pro's price.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Avid Xpress Pro, with its generous third-party software bundle, has a lot to offer pro video editors. Support for 24P film projects alone will prompt many Avid stalwarts to snap it up. The less-expensive Avid Xpress DV will better serve casual DV editors.