capsule review

Avid XPress DV 3.5

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At a Glance
  • Avid Technology AVID XPRESS DV 3.5

When Avid announced that it was releasing an OS X­only version of its formerly Windows-only Xpress DV professional video-editing software, many video pros immediately took notice. With more than 100 real-time effects, real-time color correction, and strong media-management tools, Xpress DV's feature set easily rivals that of Apple's Final Cut Pro. Video editors who use Macs will now have to choose between the two programs.

That Avid Feeling

Avid Xpress DV 3.5 comes in two consumer flavors, both of which work only on G4 sys-tems: Xpress DV and Xpress DV PowerPack. The latter includes Avid's FilmScribe, a matchback program for generating film cut lists, and full versions of Boris FX 6.1 and Graffiti 2.1. Xpress DV ships with both the OS X and the Windows XP software, although you can run only one version at a time because the program requires a USB dongle.

For seasoned Avid professionals, Xpress DV is like manna from heaven--it feels and works like any other Avid product, such as the high-end Symphony. You can even quickly personalize Xpress DV to resemble your favorite Avid system by importing your user profile from one to another.

But for loyal Final Cut Pro users, Xpress DV may be daunting at first. Its interface is radically different from Final Cut Pro's, as is its workflow (for example, you may wonder how to apply an effect). But once you get past this unfamiliarity, Xpress DV shows its true colors: it's a program for serious video editors.

Editing with Xpress DV

Editing with Xpress DV is less tactile than with Final Cut Pro (for example, although you can grab clips and slide them around, you won't tend to work that way), but it's still effective and efficient. It also runs remarkably well in OS X, something that took Apple two updates to achieve with its OS X version of Final Cut Pro. (One editing feature the Avid faithful will surely miss is the JKL Trim mode, found in higher-end Avid systems, for changing edit points on-the-fly.)

In addition to standard capture methods, Xpress DV offers the Record tool, an option that lets you log your clips as you digitize them--a nifty little time-saver. Moreover, Xpress DV has a DV scene extractor that divides your media into subclips based on where your DV camera started and stopped recording.

When it comes to real-time (RT) effects, Xpress DV openly challenges Final Cut Pro. Xpress DV has more than 100 such effects, including a broad range of blend, wipe, key, matte, and motion effects. And Xpress takes a different approach to playback of RT effects. Where Final Cut Pro plays back only effects it knows it can play without dropping frames, Xpress DV plays back all RT effects to the best of its ability. In some cases, if you've stacked effects and titles, this results in some stutter, but the preview is still useful. Final Cut Pro, on the other hand, forces you to render effects first, defeating the purpose of a RT preview. (Xpress DV lets you toggle between a RT mode and a DV mode. In DV mode, you'll need to render all effects to play them.)

Like Final Cut Pro's, Xpress DV's RT effects previews don't travel over FireWire. But you can see the effects on a large monitor if you have an ATI Radeon video card in your desktop system or a PowerBook G4 with an S-Video­out port.

Xpress DV 3.5 has two settings for video playback: High Quality, which limits the number of RT effects, and High Performance, which lets you play many more RT effects--at the expense of video quality. The substantial impact on video quality with the latter option makes lip-synching difficult to recognize. This setting is helpful when you're previewing very complex effects sequences, but it should not be used for normal editing.

Color Correction

Xpress DV offers a powerful color corrector, refining the process beyond even Final Cut Pro's 3-way Color Corrector. Xpress DV displays three video windows while in Color Correction mode. The middle window shows the current scene, and the windows on either side show the previous and next scene. This way, you can see how the scenes work with one another. You can also change these side windows to display the waveform and vectorscope values for the current frame (although, unfortunately, these values don't change dynamically as you play the video). And you can even split the window so you can compare your adjusted color with the clip's original color.

Expandability or Compatibility?

As the name suggests, Xpress DV edits the DV format. In fact, it edits only DV--don't expect a low-resolution option like Final Cut Pro's OfflineRT. You also can't expand Xpress DV's capabilities to work with uncompressed video: there's no compatible video capture card. While these limits somewhat restrict Xpress DV, they also reduce the possibility of conflicting project settings--the source of many problems for Final Cut Pro video editors.

But for Xpress DV, Avid lauds compatibility above expandability. All Xpress DV projects can be seamlessly imported into higher-end Avid systems for finishing--there are no messy edit decision lists to worry about. For example, you can use Xpress DV to edit a documentary at home and then finish your uncompressed video master at a facility with a Symphony system.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Avid Xpress DV 3.5 will meet the expectations of video editors seeking a reliable, feature-rich DV editing solution. But if you want expandability or low-resolution offline capabilities, consider Final Cut Pro or Avid's higher-end offerings.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Versatile RT effects
    • Stable
    • Great color-correction interface
    • Upwardly compatible project files


    • No support for G3 processors
    • No offline RT format
    • No JKL Trim mode
    • Not expandable
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