As with its predecessor, Xpress DV, Xpress Pro sits at the top of the software NLE pile, placed alongside Final Cut Pro looking down on the likes of Premiere, Edition and Vegas – though Premiere Pro and the next version of Edition may change all that. Xpress Pro costs almost twice that of FCP – something that even the wide array of extras that Avid’s software ships with can’t justify. But Xpress Pro isn’t about price, it’s about quality – and, thankfully, that’s something this NLE has in spades.
One of Xpress DV’s main selling points was the classic Avid interface. The wild success of Final Cut Pro has reduced the impact of this somewhat – it isn’t the case anymore that every editor learned on an Avid, though the forthcoming FreeDV free editing software for novices might bring a few more into the fold – but there’s still 12 years of experience in this interface.
The Avid interface, and feature set, did have to change to allow for DV editors wanting more from their tools that Xpress users of yore, for whom the occasional cross-dissolve and title was often enough. We, however, are working with lower-quality media with less accurate lighting and colour, fewer takes, and higher comparative expectations from clients.
Avid has listened to its users and applied the march of technological progress, adding the SuperBin to help users with single-screen set-ups or laptops, and all-but ditching the requirement to have one of a very small number of qualified machines in version 3.0. With Xpress Pro, we get OpenGL-driven 3D effects and transitions, timesaving automated colour correction, more-flexible effects controls, a general ramp-up, and an optional hardware booster that can really make a difference.
The use of OpenGL to add power to 3D effects isn’t new or unique. Edition added this function in version 5, After Effects in the new version 6 (see page 66), and it will drive Boris FX’s forthcoming Boris 3GL. However, it’s well implemented, a welcome boost, and gives Xpress Pro the jump on Final Cut, allowing users to create those flashy effects and transitions that we despise but clients seem to love.
Automatic colour correction takes place inside Avid’s template, which features the excellent NaturalMatch colour-matching technology. Four buttons – auto contrast, auto black-level, auto white-level, and auto colour-levels – make an impressively-decent stab at making colours of multiple clips fit to a corrected one. It isn’t totally automatic, as you do have to correct your first clip, but it can do about 90 per cent of the work for you, saving you time overall. Xpress Pro proves that you can meld high-end professional video technology with the concerns of the DV editor into a cohesive whole that kicks ass.
Other improvements include an overall speed boost – with up to five real-time DV streams and eight real-time audio tracks – and expansion of the core system to up to 24 video tracks and 24 audio tracks. An HQ button in the Effect Editor enables a 16-bit DVE render mode that delivers impressive results, but is very slow even on a fast machine. A Source/Record switch on the timeline allows precise source marking using the full length of the timeline. 15:1 single-field capture via FireWire replicates Final Cut Pro’s OfflineRT space-saving technology.
There are also minor updates such as varispeed trimming and machine control using JKL keys; Extend Edit and Replace Edit commands; multicam editing for synced footage that you want to cut between but keep accurate timing, such as football games; and support for Avid’s MetaSync technology for linking to external functions such as iTV commands.
Unlike Xpress DV, the Pro version isn’t purely software-driven. The old PowerPack option has been dropped – its contents of extra effects and amateur filmmakers tools are bundled with Pro for free – and replaced with a little Mojo.
That voodoo that you do
Mojo is the best thing to happen to DV video-editing since the first NLE that worked in real-time without requiring a PCI hardware board. Essentially, it does the same thing as those old boards, but from outside your computer via FireWire. It combines the DV and analog I/O (including component through a £40 plus VAT converter) of a breakout box with real-time processing hardware that ratchets Xpress Pro up a gear and even allows a single stream of uncompressed video
to be thrown into your real-time mix.
A single stream may seem lame, but it isn’t there for uncompressed footage. Rather, it’s for dealing with titles, lower thirds, and animations, which users can combine with a couple of streams of DV in real-time.
The truly impressive thing about Mojo is that it makes editing on a laptop not feel like the poor cousin of desktop editing. This is the first time that we’ve seen functions such as real-time DV output and uncompressed editing – albeit a single stream – on a laptop. It isn’t something you can use on the move, but it’s small and light enough to fit in the second compartment of a laptop bag without overloading it.
The Mojo is platform-independent, as is Xpress Pro. The software box contains both Windows and Mac versions of the software – though only a single, dual platform USB dongle – so a decision to change platform is less costly, something impossible with Final Cut Pro. Multiple users of Xpress Pro on multiple platforms can also share a Mojo when necessary. This goes some way towards the Mojo’s equally high price.
Avid is pushing Xpress Pro as a bundle of creative tools, but unless you need everything in the box, it seems like overkill. The inclusion of the PowerPack for free offers some impressive but not real-time effects, but its filmmaker’s tools will not appeal to all. Neither will the inclusion of the Sorenson Squeeze 3.1 or Sonic ReelDVD. Lite versions of Boris FX and Graffiti are welcome, especially as Xpress Pro’s own built-in titler is woefully inadequate. The best extra software is Profound Effects Elastic Gasket, which allows a wide number of After Effects plug-ins to be used in Xpress Pro, and offers a higher-level of AE support (version 4.1 of the AE plug-in spec) than Final Cut Pro.
Xpress Pro still has a few inherent problems. The lack of ‘clickability’ to its timeline will confuse long-term Premiere users, and its workflow still feels formal and sometimes inflexible next to conventional desktop editing tools. The use of Avid’s own OMF format may make transferring projects around workgroups easier, but transcoding your old work and stock footage is long and arduous task unless you own a batch tool such as Discreet’s Cleaner or Canopus’s ProCoder.