SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
Shootout: Final Cut Pro 3 vs. Avid Xpress DV 3.5
A head to head, toe to toe, head to toe comparison of Apple's and Avid's DV editing software
By Peter May

Shootout between Apple Final Cut Pro 3 vs. Avid Xpress DV 3.5I'm psyched ...

Right here, right now I'm going to compare Apple's relatively young Final Cut Pro 3 to the veteran Avid's entry into the DV edit market, Xpress DV 3.5. In this contest I am determined to pick a winner.

See, the tendency is to say something like, "These are both fine programs, each with unique and compelling abilities," but that'd be copping out. If I did that, I'd hate myself. If I falter here, what choice will confound me next? Paper or plastic? Your money or your life? So, if you just want to cut to the chase, jump to the last page. I'll probably call the paragraph something like -- The winner is ... (I'll try to think of something more appropriate before then). Bottom line, I will call one the better program.

I've been editing on Final Cut Pro (FCP) since February but before that always on Avids -- big ones, small ones, networked ones, both Windows and Mac. I've been on Avid's Xpress DV 3.5 (XDV), our entry in today's comparison, since early July.

I've had a chance to lay down thousands of edits and look at both systems under stress. I've had the opportunity to do some effects and a lot of color correction. I've done a lot of basic audio work -- mostly mixing and EQ. I can confidently say right here and now these are both fine programs, each with unique and compelling abilities.

This is a sMACkdown.
All Mac. This challenge arose when Avid Xpress DV 3.5 climbed into the ring with Final Cut Pro. Buy Avid Xpress DV 3.5 and you'll get a Windows version in the same box.
I don't do Windows.
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Both programs installed on my Mac G4, Dual 1GHz, 1.5GB RAM without a hitch. Both recognized my deck, a Sony DSR40, and established machine control easily. Both programs offer a comprehensive tutorial. Being new to FCP I did that one. I did read through the tutorial manual for XDV and decided I wouldn't learn much more than fourteen years on Avid products had already taught me. I decided to jump right in and digitize some footage. The record tool was easy and familiar. Pop in a tape and the system insists you name it. You determine whether you want to log footage for a batch capture later or just capture as you go. You choose your tracks with clicks of the very clear and obvious buttons -- V1, A1 and A2. Set an in and out and click record. While the shot is recording you can add comments. When it's digitized it pops up in the bin with the title selected. Add more info or move on.

Click for enlargement -- Avid Xpress DV 3.5 Record tool
Click for enlargement -- Avid Xpress DV 3.5 recording

Click for enlargement-- Apple Final Cut Pro Log and Capture tool
Click for enlargement-- Apple Final Cut Pro capture

If the XDV Record tool is built for speed, the FCP Log and Capture tool is built for organization. The program forces you to name each clip and you can't choose a name that's been used. Depending on checked buttons the system will take shot, take or description and compose a name. If the name includes a number, the system will advance the number with each capture. For instance, if you name a shot scene 4, take 1, the next shot automatically advances to scene 4, take 2. This is especially useful for me since I often assign numbers to shots, scenes and, of course, takes. Choosing tracks to record is done on a different tab. A pull-down menu offers video only, audio only or audio and video. A second asks channel 1 only, channel 2 only, channels 1 and 2, stereo or mono mix? You won't be clicking audio channel 2 on and off with different shots. I don't want to give you the impression that you're forced into anything here. The system tries to bring order to your work but it'll let you make all the mistakes you want. For example, load a tape in your deck and Avid forces you to assign tape numbers, suggesting a list of past choices. When you pop a tape into Final Cut it simply suggests you choose a new name. This may seem like a small thing but it points to one of the key differences between FCP and XDV. Though they're aware the distinction between offline and online is blurred in the DV realm, the folks at Avid consider Xpress an offline system, a way to get a jump on the edit between flights. XDV wants precise reel numbers because you're probably going to be reloading these reels when you redigitize your footage into your Symphony. People who own bigger, better Avids are their target consumer.

"First and foremost we assume that many of these folks are also Avid editors, they've used Media Composer, they've used the DS even," says Steve Chazin, the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Express DV. "We wanted to make sure that that customer was extremely comfortable in the Xpress DV environment so they can translate all that knowledge ... without relearning anything ... so you can map the keyboard in Symphony and put that setting file on a floppy disc or e--mail it to yourself and bring it into Express DV, and your keyboard maps entirely."

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