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 7 of 9

Just so we're clear on this, not even a simple dissolve plays real time on the client monitor, same as Final Cut and frankly, I could barely care. In my experience, a thirty-frame dissolve renders in three seconds on Xpress, a little over two on FCP. If you're alone, OK, real time exists. If not, you've got to take about half the time it's taking you to read this sentence and render. But "real time," as tossed about here, is at least a red-ish herring. Still, that's not why I'm giving this round to Final Cut. I've got bigger issues.

I'll start by saying that I'm not talking about transitions. Both programs offer a wide range of transitions from the subtle and engaging to others only a car dealership could love. Avid offers many interesting effects under their IllusionFX title. A few are shown here. None have real-time preview.

IllusionFX examples
Avid's IllusionFX examples

My sense is that today's effects are concentrated on compositing -- building illusions, introducing artistic distortion and generally serving up eye candy. Remember, you can hardly find a more loyal Avider than me so it pains me to say this but I think, by comparison, Avid's compositing abilities are simply inferior. Between switching modes, having to nest effects (stepping into and out of clips), as well as some alpha channel issues at the very core of Avid's compositing scheme, you've got to ask, "Isn't there a better way? Well, there is, and Final Cut has it.

Final Cut effects work is done in the Viewer window. Double-click on a shot in your sequence and it loads into the Viewer (a double line of "film perfs" in the Scrubber Bar indicates it's a shot from your sequence). The Effects pulldown menu offers a variety of image modifiers (Filters in FCP parlance), very Photoshop-like and for the most part very useful. There are a wide range of blurs, glows and color adjustments -- the kinds of things that save shots or help you create a "look."

Click for enlargement -- FCP film look filter
Click for enlargement -- FCP film look filter

Any number of filters can be applied. If you can't get enough out of one filter application you can apply it twice. Looking at the Filter tab in the viewer window tells you at a glance what effects you've applied. On Xpress you have to start double-clicking nested effects to remind yourself what's there.
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The order the filters are applied determines the result. If you apply a "Blur" filter and then a "Lens Flare" filter to a clip, the shot will be blurred but the Lens Flare will be sharp. Drag the Lens Flare filter to the top and then add Blur and both the lens flare and the shot will be blurred.

Click for enlargement -- FCP Filter Order
Click for enlargement -- FCP Filter Order

A critical point here is that every variable parameter of the effect is keyframeable. If you want the blur to decrease or the lens flare to increase in intensity over time, keyframe it. On Xpress DV parameters are bundled. Anyone who's edited on an Avid can tell you what a mess you can make of an effect if you start trying to tease out single values keyframe by keyframe.

Avid is moving this way. One effect, Picture in Picture, has the option of "Promote to Advanced Keyframes." In this mode you can deal with border, scale, transparency and all the other adjustable attributes individually over time. It's definitely a step in the right direction but still limited at best. Picture in Picture is the only effect with this capability and you still can't add a drop shadow to the box. In Final Cut, Drop Shadow is always available under the Viewer Window's Motion Tab. In fact, all the properties you see here, from Basic Motion to Motion Blur are available on every shot, fully keyframeable (I have the window pulled down over the timeline so you can see the whole list).

Click for enlargement -- Final Cut Pro motion tabs
Click for enlargement -- Final Cut Pro's motion tabs

Now here's the kicker. In FCP you can add effects as I've described here to shots already edited into your timeline or you can add the effects to the raw footage right out of your browser. If you have a shot you know you're going to use as Sepia Tone with a Film Effect, add it to the raw footage and every time you pull a shot, the effect is already applied (but not irreversibly should you change your mind).

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