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 4 of 9

15 Rounds, toe to toe...

Round 1.
Xpress DV dances. Final Cut jumps right in.

Launch XDV and it asks you what project to open. Launch FCP and it takes you back to where you left off, opening every bin and sequence you had open when you last quit. This can be a problem if you were working on an hour long doc last night but today you want to make a minor revision in a :30 PSA. You're going to have to wait for the documentary to load. In a busy professional edit environment, I think Avid's way is smarter.

Controlling the ring is important.

I'm editing on a big Apple Cinema Display. I got all the real estate a single monitor system will allow and I feel cramped. If you're pricing a PowerBook for editing, include the cost of new glasses.

Avid's "Super Bin" is a nod to this space issue. The Super Bin is simply derivative of the Project window Avid vets will recognize as holding your settings, bins and now a copy of your effects palette. If your Super Bin is open and you single-click on a bin name in the project window, it opens in the Super Bin. FCP's solution is in its browser, where clips, sequences, titles and stored effects are simply nested in the familiar Mac-style folders with triangles to twiddle.

Both programs use sticky windows, get two close and the edges jump together. Final Cut does it a little better. Their windows are stickier and try to align noncontiguous edges as well. Actually, my feeling is that overall; Final Cut uses the screen better. The windows, especially the monitor windows, are more infinitely adjustable and since you don't switch modes, you're not dealing with temporary contextual windows like the Effects Editor or Audio Mix Tools. On XDV things just don't fit together that well. Look at the Audio Toolset and you'll see what I mean. There's always wasted space.

Click for enlargement -- FCP with edit overlay
Click for enlargement -- FCP with edit overlay

Round 2.
Look (above) at this screen grab. What you're seeing is the primary edit method, the easiest, most foolproof way of laying one shot after another in Final Cut Pro. What you do is set your in and out on the Scrubber Bar in the Viewer, then click and drag. The instant you click a thumbnail of the shot it will appear beneath your cursor. Here you see it in the upper left hand corner of the Canvas (Final Cut Pro calls the player side the "Viewer" and the record side the "Canvas." Avid prefers "Source" for the player window and "Composer" for the record). When the thumbnail you're dragging is anywhere over the Canvas the Edit Overlay appears. I hope you can imagine my surprise the first time I saw it because it didn't happen the first time I observed editing on FCP! I went to an Apple FCP Introduction Seminar last year. Sat there for two hours and, though I saw edits made, I never saw the overlay. Then I spent an hour or so with a friend who owned FCP 2. Again, never saw the overlay. That's because there are at least four ways to accomplish an edit on FCP. You can set a player in and out, then a recorder in and drag the shot to the Canvas. The overlay appears and you make the appropriate choice. Or you can use the edit buttons in the lower left of the Canvas and you get the same seven choices as the overlay offered. Notice the buttons are color coded as per the Avid paradigm -- red for overwrite, yellow for insert. You can drag the shot from your Viewer directly into the timeline or drag the shot directly from the Browser into your timeline (it'll use whatever ins and outs might be set on the clip). Or, you can use the copy command to take a marked shot out of the browser, viewer or another sequence and paste it into the timeline. Imagine my surprise.

I've come to learn that there are at least four ways to do darn near anything in FCP. I have to give points to Final Cut for the versatility.

Round 3.
Notice in Round 1 I said when launched, FCP opens every bin and sequence you had open when you quit. Yes, you can have multiple sequences active under separate tabs in the timeline window (although too many will affect system performance). Nest a sequence or part of a sequence and it shows up under its own tab. Double click on the nested sequence in that tab and it opens back up to all the tracks you nested. Make a change to the nested track and the change appears in the original sequence. Nested sequences in XDV become clips and can't be opened back up for revision, but segments of sequences Collapsed in the timeline can. All told, I prefer the Final Cut way. It's especially convenient if you're working with multiple projects that share elements, like a weekly broadcast series.

Round 4.
There was basic luma, chroma, gamma color adjustment in Xpress 3.0 for Windows.
Apple came out with some serious color correction in FCP 3.0.

Xpress came out with come serious color correction in Xpress DV 3.5. Coincidence? Avid's Steve Chazin says it just timed out to the release of Xpress DV for Mac. "We just looked at the calendar and figured out if the stars aligned we could do (it) all at once." he insists, " it wasn't a reaction to what they did. We were (asking ourselves) how do we take the best of Symphony and give it to a customer who's mostly a DV customer and make it possible for them to understand what they're doing and not become a colorist and not have to read a 780 page color correction manual which comes with the Symphony product?" All I can say is thank goodness for cosmic coincidences (and the 140 page manual that comes with XDV). Both these color correction systems rock!

Click for enlargement -- Final Cut Pro color correction
Click for enlargement -- Final Cut Pro color correction

I've been able to salvage totally backlit footage by dropping luminance in the blown out curtains, boosting luminance in the middle range face. Whether you're trying to correct for bad fluorescents or going for a unique look, both FCP and XDV offer welcome latitude. But if I had to choose one over the other, Avid wins hands down. Four reasons. First, its windows.

Click for enlargement -- Avid Xpress DV 3.5 color correction
Click for enlargement -- Avid Xpress DV 3.5 color correction

The color correction setup in XDV (shown above) gives you three windows in which you can assign previous shot, current shot, next shot, reference shot or choose scopes. In FCP I've had trouble seeing everything I want to see when doing corrections. Second, a little something called "Dual Split." Notice in the middle window of the screen grab there's an area defined by four triangles. That's your before and after. You can resize and reposition the box for maximum advantage. Third, C1 through C4 are positions in which you can save your most-used corrections. In long-form programs that's an advantage. Last but by no means least, Avid gave us one of the best things to come out of Tewksbury in the last decade. Symphony's own "Natural Match." Here's the idea: You shoot the same person talking on two different cameras with slightly different color characteristics or you shoot a person walking in bright sunlight then later in the blue of a shadow. With Natural Match you can, with eyedropper ease, choose coincident areas of color and match one to the other. How cool is that!? This round just has to go to Avid.

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