SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
Shootout: Final Cut Pro 3 vs. Avid Xpress DV 3.5
Finally, and this is the clincher for me, Xpress DV is so slow to refresh audio that the digital scrubbing is worthless. As you drag your playhead the audio only updates three times a second. The result is a choppy, sloppy staccato where you're just not going to hear the bass come in or the stumble in the word you're editing. The Xpress DV solution is to offer analog scrub via the J-K-L keys. The audio moves at one speed and that one speed is very slow. Compare that to FCP where you can drag your playhead back and forth for a clean digital scrub at any speed. And, depending on the horsepower of your system, you can scrub eight or more tracks of audio in real time (compared to Avid's two). To me, that's knockout. Recently I began editing a project comprised of nearly forty interviews. I have both programs on my system but I just could not picture editing an audio-intensive project on XDV. I choose Final Cut Pro.
This is the question...
When you look forward to your midlife crisis, do you think you'll buy a fully restored muscle car or a new European techno two-seater? Tough call, huh? They both go zoom and deliver a thrill. Either one will turn heads while serving to temporarily mitigate your maladaptive psychosocial need to revise established life structures.
Avid Xpress DV is, if you didn't see this one a mile away, the muscle car. This is a solid interface that looks and acts almost like an Avid Media Composer. It's a powerful cutting tool, simple, sure and effective. But is that enough today?
An overwrite edit is an overwrite edit because Avid said so. "Bin" is a term borrowed from film editing, way back when your clips were actually pieces of film, clipped to a rack and gathered loosely in a big cloth-lined wastebasket or bin. Nevertheless, Avid made "bin" an NLE term. Stick around long enough and you get to name things. Final Cut could have called the place you store your clips a bin as well. Avid doesn't own the word. But Final Cut Pro calls their bin a browser -- a computer term, not a film term. I see this embodying the root difference between Final Cut and Xpress DV. The Avid revolution was 14 years ago. Since then they've settled into a steady Avid evolution. Final Cut has just started storming the barricades. One of the things I've always written about on these pages is the depth of the Avid program, how there's so much more there than meets the eye. Frankly, I stayed away from Final Cut Pro 1 and 2 because I figured there was no way this newcomer could take on the champ. I didn't want to be a passenger on some work-around express that didn't go where I needed to be. That is not the case, something I see as a testament to a fine job done by Brian Meaney and his FCP development team. These are both capable, professional edit systems built to satisfy professional editors. If you don't believe me consider the phone support prices -- Avid $50 per incident or $599 for a year, FCP $199 per incident and $799 per year!
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I hope I don't lose my membership over this (or The Winner is...)
I just visited the Xpress DV Web site and two out of three headlines offered are about Xpress DV in schools. Based on my discussions with Avid, they're doing very well with educators.
"There's a whole new class of users who are getting used to Avid for the first time. We wanted them to cut their teeth on Xpress DV and then move up." Steve Chazin of Avid wants these recruits to feel comfortable "that they have learned the industry-standard interface. They've learned the techniques and tools that they are going to use and they're now more marketable because they have that experience when they sit down in front of a room that's running a higher end Avid solution." Avid knows. They've got a heck of a user base and that user base defines their work by the tool they use. You don't hear people say, "I'm an NLE editor." But you do hear people say, "I'm an Avid editor." There's a value there. It means work. It means making your day rate.
So here's my conclusion. If you do a lot of simple, long-form cutting, you'll like Avid's Xpress DV. If you're working in a facility where someone else will do your effects and you're looking at your cut as an offline, Xpress DV might also be the ticket. If you're hoping one day to say, "I'm an Avid editor," well, Xpress DV is a big ol' howdy and welcome to the family.
But, for my money, I think head to head, toe to toe, this battle goes to the kid. My overall impression is Xpress DV feels old. Switching modes seems slow and indirect. Every time I touched XDV I had the distinct feeling that something was missing. Maybe it was the lack of "right click" contextual menus to streamline my moves. Maybe it's just that, for the first time, I experienced a new editing paradigm and liked it. I like FCP's active, reactive and extremely malleable timeline. I like the fact that a handful of well thought out tools replace dozens of single function buttons. And I'm pleased that as I get better with the tools, I zoom. Final Cut Pro is an "online" editor. It doesn't assume your project is going somewhere else.
"Xpress DV is just that, DV, it is only two frame rates, one quality," points out Apple's Brian Meaney who's still uncomfortable with the FCP/XDV comparison. "I understand. It's seeing two strong products with similar price points… though they're certainly more expensive than we are." Comparing these two products diminished the raft of other distinctions Final Cut can boast. It's a strong offline tool, certainly, but add the right third-party cards and you can do uncompressed HD! "This system has so many layers of video, so many compositing techniques, so many ways to do things... it rivals After Effects!" Brian makes a strong case. "We can share project files with After Effects but unlike Avid, where you have to translate over from OMF and lose a digital generation, with Final Cut and After Effects you're using the same (QuickTime) source files. That's very powerful... where digital assets are important, not having to mess around with different formats."
So, from where I stand, with the smell of burning bridges in the air, I like FCP much more. It's better and cheaper. How often does that happen?
Working in Avid Xpress DV you feel kind of good.
Working in Final Cut Pro you feel totally, bleeding edge bad! I liked bad best.
Peter May is a video producer and editor who has created television and video in all its forms. His extensive list of national credits include numerous projects airing on the Discovery Channel including ten travel documentaries exploring destinations in Greece, Scandinavia, Scotland, Thailand, Bali, and New York City. Read more at the May Productions Web site, or send email to Pete at MayProductions@petemay.com.
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