By Neil Bennett | on May 27, 2002
Price: £1,300 plus VAT; Power Pack £2,200
Xpress DV 3 is the latest version of Avid’s high-end DV NLE. As the current generation of professional DV cameras get better, more powerful tools are needed to work with this higher-class of video. Hence Apple’s success with Final Cut Pro, and Avid moving down into this fast-growing market. The DV version of Xpress uses the same interface as the higher-end versions that utilize the Meridian capture board. The interface will be familiar to users of Avid’s other editing systems, and will be easy to learn for Final Cut editors – the interface of which is a cross-breed of Avid and Premiere anyway. Premiere users will find the going more tricky – the differences between Avid’s editing workflow and Premiere’s makes switching between the two confusing. Version 3 of Xpress DV follows Final Cut in adding real-time effects and transitions without the need for a separate hardware board. The benefit of this isn’t cost, as Xpress DV is more expensive than the top Premiere-and-hardware-board real-time system – Canopus’ DVStorm. Hassle free No hardware board means upgrading costs less, and installation is easier – no more IRQ hassles. Plus, there’s the ability to stick it on a laptop – something both Avid and Apple have made a lot of noise about – but this is only useful to a limited number of users. The downside is that certain board specialties, such as real-time DV out, can’t be replicated in software – most manufacturers agree this is beyond the PC hardware. According to Avid, Xpress DV 3 offers over 100 real-time effects. This actually translates to around 30 useful filters, plus a whole bunch that haven’t been used since Pan’s People were on Top of the Pops. Alongside the usual suspects – for example, dissolves, wipes and picture-in-picture – Xpress DV supports a number of less common effects in real-time. Notable among these easy-to-tweak effects are the keyers – chroma, luma, and matte. Xpress DV works well and deals professionally with areas such as spill suppression. It’s as good as Final Cut Pro’s, which isn’t real-time, but is lacking next to the DVStorm’s, which is. It lacks anything like Final Cut’s 3-Way Colour Corrector. Real-time editing always comes down to the hardware card. We tested the Windows version of Xpress DV – the Mac version doesn’t ship until June – on a variety of workstations, desktops and laptops, some qualified, some not. Overall, it outpaces Final Cut running on similarly priced Macs. Running on a Xeon-based workstation with Windows, it really outstrips Final Cut. The classic Avid interface has been given an overhaul. It’s basically the same, but is more customizable and SuperBin has been added to help media management. Normally, when opening up a bin within the project window, it appears in a separate bin, but now you can set it to appear in one SuperBin. This has tabs, so you can swap between bins – making the desktop tidier. Avid likes it a lot, and will be bringing it to higher-end Xpress systems in the future. Tools view Alongside the SuperBin are Toolsets – ways of laying out the desktop centred on different tasks, such as recording and effects, or audio editing – which are similar to Adobe’s Views in Premiere 6.0. With dual-LCD-display systems accessible to most who can afford £1,300 editing software, Toolsets and SuperBin space-saving may seem pointless. However, even two screens can get cluttered, and if you ignore the presets and use the Toolsets to create your own set ups, then the system is very powerful. It’s also backed up with the traditional, customizable, Avid keyboard shortcuts – another advantage over Final Cut, which has fixed keys. Toolsets are not the only Premiere-esque addition to Xpress DV. Version 3’s composer supports the Source/Record dual-monitor set-up, which is a bonus for upgrading Premiere users. This is just one of many minor additions that flesh Xpress DV out, giving it the weight of features you expect from a third edition of an application. Photoshop files can now be imported with access to all layers – except adjustment layers – and you can work with DVCPRO PAL 4:1:1 video. Other additions include DV-scene extraction when logging, and OMFI and AAF export, with Xpress DV providing generally reliable EDLs – unlike Final Cut. Xpress DV’s audio tools have been given a major boost. Top among these is the the audio punch-in tool, which allows sound to be captured directly onto the timeline from most audio inputs – from microphone to CD. The others are more minor, but no less useful. A master volume control gives easy access to the overall output volume at all times (for example when you need to use the phone or when a client wanders in), while the addition of audio meters to the timeline allows you to keep an eye on the levels even when the audio tool is hidden. One addition that will be great when it’s fully up and running is the ability to work with keyframes within the picture-in-picture effect using graphs with curves (see the Walkthrough). This compositor-style method is much better than the traditional method for fine-tuning effects – although Final Cut Pro is still better – and it’s a shame that it’s not available for more effects. However, an update that will introduce the graphs to more effects is expected when the Mac version of Xpress DV ships in June. Interactive authoring Xpress DV 3 includes the Power Pack option for an extra £900, which includes all of the same tools as before (Image Stabilization and Knoll LightFactory AVXs, Filmmakers’ Toolkit, Illusion FX, Commotion 4 and DVDit! SE), minus the ePublisher interactive Web-authoring tool. This has been canned in favour of the forthcoming MetaSync technology for adding interactive materials from within Xpress, first to be seen in the higher-end versions and to follow in Xpress DV. This view of the future from Avid, announced at the NAB 2002 show in April, is another hold Xpress DV has over Final Cut. Offline boon Avid has recently announced an upgrade offer for owners of Xpress DV to purchase the Meridian board, alongside integrating Xpress DV into the Unity networking system. This allows Xpress DV to work as an offline suite for other Xpress systems – but more importantly, it allows networks of up to ten Xpress DV clients to be created and maintained by editors using Avid’s comparatively cheap – from around £15,700, with 1.92TB of storage – Unity LANshare 2.0 media-management system. It’s integration such as this, as much as the top-notch feature set, that sets Xpress DV apart from its competition.