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
Page 2 of 9

Settling In
Both programs allow you to define the shape of your workspace. You can move and resize windows until you're satisfied with the look and feel, then save the setup. Avid offers a half a dozen basic configurations they call their toolsets. "Basic" looks like the old Xpress, Source/Record looks like the Media Composer and Symphony layout. The other toolsets are Effects Editing, Audio Editing, Record (formerly Digitize) and Color Correction. You can rearrange any of these suggested toolsets to suit your own needs and then save your revision. Final Cut offers a half a dozen layouts as well. There's Standard, Alternate, Standard 16x9, Cinema, Wide and Three-Up, the preferred setup for Color Correction in Final Cut. While the Avid toolsets are tied to modes -- the edit mode, the effects mode, etc., the FCP window arrangements are more tuned to media size and shape. You can rearrange the preset layouts in FCP but you canít save the changes directly to the preset. You can however save your modified preset in one of the two "Custom" slots in the pulldown menu or you can save an unlimited number of altered configurations as files another two clicks away.

Avid allows you change the look of the windows themselves.  You can assign a broad spectrum of colors to the tracks
Avid allows you change the look of the windows themselves. You can assign a broad spectrum of colors to the tracks

While both allow windows to be arranged differently, the Avid allows you change the look of the windows themselves. You can assign a broad spectrum of colors to the tracks (see graphic above). Choose the setting "Interface" then the tab "Appearance" and you can change the color, shape and shading of buttons. You can add separation between buttons and choose button styles from "Oval" to "Antique" to the provocative "Swoosh." While each change is incremental and doesn't really alter the look wildly, add up all the choices and colors and you have the ability to create interface looks from the classy to the truly hideous. FCP doesn't allow this kind of fun. A clean, subtle brushed aluminum with a moderate degree of depth by shading -- that's it in FCP, take it or leave it.

If you know me, this makes sense.
I bought my new G4 on Wednesday and had it shipped priority. It arrived Friday morning. I already had the FCP software and a plan. Fortified by arrogance and ignorance, I would set up the computer, load the software, learn the software and be ready to satisfy a first time client in a supervised edit Monday morning. The way I figured it, I already knew how to edit. I've run everything from a CMX suite to an Avid Symphony. My only challenge would be learning where they put the buttons. I was in a blind sweat when the client called early Monday, full of apologies. They had to push back the start of the project by a week. That's why I don't get any smarter. Things work out despite all my efforts. In any case, it was a good thing. It turns out I had a lot of unlearning to do.
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From my first day with Final Cut I knew I was going to write this article so I was constantly taking notes into a little recorder. Looking back, I hated FCP. First of all, it crashed a lot. Second, it wasn't just finding the buttons. It's a different editing experience. Just like the five ways to make an edit, there are at least ten ways to trim an edit. I won't bother listing them here but suffice it to say some methods are better for trimming music, others for trimming action. Sometimes you're working in a trim window, very much like Avid's trim mode, other times you're working directly in the timeline. In the timeline you can either use the trim back and trim forward keys on the keyboard or you can Roll the edit point by dragging it with the mouse or, if you know where you're going, you can enter the number of frames to trim with the keypad. That's four. Brian Meaney, product designer for Final Cut Pro, listed ten for me! By the time my client showed up for real I was stockpiling an impressive toolbox. I began to forgive FCP for not being an Avid. It took me longer to get over the crashing thing.

Give 'em a break!
Last year on these pages I did a review of the Avid Symphony. Long story short, I loved it. Killer box! In the course of that review I talked to a top Avid reseller, Mike McDonald of the Midwest Media Group. Mike's words: "Here's something we've learned about Avids. You think a Symphony is a Symphony but it's not. It's a whole bunch of software and hardware working together. Every Avid system is built of components and 90% of the systems that come through here have an issue, there's something glitchy, something wrong." That's why resellers set up every system and burn it for a while before shipping. "When everything appears be working right, then we ship it," Mike explains. "Once you get them running they run forever." OK, now, that's a turnkey system that, storage -- everything -- can run six figures. Now, let's talk about FCP and XDV. These companies don't know your processor speed, how much RAM you could afford or whether you're still running Hypercard 1.0 for the Zip Code finder your brother wrote in '92. People, there are going to be problems. I had them with both programs. To the credit of both Apple and Avid, they're working on it. I now have both running smoothly (mostly) on my system. The only caution I would offer is, if you intend to run them both, don't run them at the same time and switch back and forth a lot. They don't like that. Can you say Kernel Panic?

Still, if I'm going to crash, I like to crash on FCP better. Both systems autosave at user--specified intervals. Being long on memory and short on confidence, I have mine set to autosave at seven minutes. Avid stores previous saves in the "Attic." FCP uses its "Autosave Vault." In order to restore an Avid project to an earlier version you follow the 12-step instructions in the User's Guide. In order to retrieve and earlier version of your FCP project you can do one of three things. If you're willing to go back to your last hard save, click on Revert in the File menu. If you want something more recent, click on Restore and all the most recent autosaves are offered in a pulldown menu.

Final Cut Pro restore dialog box
Final Cut Pro restore dialog box

Another method is to visit the Autosave Vault in your Finder and double-click on the most recent version. It'll open right up. As a matter of fact, if you're not sure how far back you want to go, double-click on the last three or four versions. They'll all open simultaneously under separate tabs in the Browser! When I first started editing FCP there was a Dual Processor issue (now corrected) that caused frequent crashes. I can honestly say that for all the crashes I barely lost fifteen minutes of work, total! I did however have a day scared off my life every time I saw the interface disappear.

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