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Final Cut Pro may be Apple’s main offering for the professional video-editing market, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the cut-down Final Cut Express as a mere toy for consumers and hobbyists. After all, it was Final Cut Express that finally put paid to the Mac version of Premiere, by offering some impressive editing features at a much lower price.

The recent upgrade to Final Cut Express version 2.0 was intended to keep it in step with a number of changes that were made to last year’s Final Cut Pro 4. The most important change is the inclusion of the RT Extreme engine to provide improved real-time preview of effects and transitions.

The effectiveness of this real-time preview will depend on the speed of your Mac, but the RT menu in the corner of the Timeline window does provide a number of options that allow you to control the way effects are previewed. There are High, Medium, and Low Quality settings, with the High setting only allowing you to preview a limited number of effects in real-time. Lowering the quality settings increases the number of effects that can be previewed, although the actual quality of the previewed video will suffer.

There’s an Unlimited RT option, which allows you to preview the widest range of effects, but will tell the program to start dropping frames if your Mac isn’t powerful enough to cope with what you’re asking of it. There are some real-time audio controls too, with the ability to adjust audio filters and volume during playback.

Apple has limited one aspect of the program’s real-time abilities. Final Cut Pro allows you to preview in real-time in both the on-screen Canvas window and on an external monitor at the same time. However, Final Cut Express will only allow one of these options at a time. This is the sort of limitation that might frustrate many pro users, so Apple is making it clear that Final Cut Pro is the best option for a busy production environment.

The other main area that Apple has worked on in this upgrade is the program’s interface. It looks much the same, but there are many new customization options available. The new Patch Panel provides greater control over the placement of linked audio and video tracks in the Timeline. You can resize multiple windows all at once, simply by clicking on the intersection point of the windows, and dragging them out to the required size and position. You can even customize the Browser, Timeline, Viewer, and Canvas windows by creating your own button bar that provides instant access to commonly used commands.

There are other small changes. The zoom controls on the Timeline window have been modified, as have the controls for trimming and making ripple edits. However, many video professionals may still pass over Final Cut Express simply because it lacks features – such as colour correction and more versatile preview output – that are essential for efficient day-to-day workflow. In that case, Final Cut Pro is clearly the better choice.

But if you’re a Web designer, or someone for whom video-editing is an occasional task rather than a full-time
job, then Final Cut Express provides all the editing power you’re likely to need, at an extremely competitive price.