Final Cut Express (FCE) was one of the biggest software announcements at this year's Macworld Expo, and with good reason. At first it seemed it was a DV-only version of Final Cut Pro (FCP) - at a fraction of the price. The workspace is nearly identical - the only immediate difference is that clips are displayed as larger icons within the bin, more akin to iMovie's layout.
However, there are important differences between Express and its more-expensive brethren that become apparent the more-complex the task undertaken. Because Express is designed for DV only, there's no support for other acquisition formats such as Digital Betacam, High Definition, or film, etc. Nor are third-party capture cards - such as Igniter, Voodoo, Cinewave - supported.
Acquiring footage in FCE is a more limited experience than FCP - there's no batch-capture facility, meaning clips must be manually captured one at a time, meaning timecode also is largely irrelevant, and therefore absent from the displays in FCE. Timecode itself, however, is certainly captured by FCE, as opening a FCE project in FCP proves. Equally useful is the ability to open existing FCP projects. All the DV-based projects we had access to opened seamlessly in FCE.
Colour correction is also simplified in Express. Gone is FCP 3's fancy three-way corrector - with its plethora of wonderfully complicated looking scopes - and instead the simple colour correction filter is retained. While this isn't realtime, it suffices for basic corrections.
One of the biggest differences between Pro and Express is the ability to keyframe filters and effects. It's a far simpler process in Express - in keeping with the product's target audience - but with reduced functionality compared with Pro's tools.
Animators and people working heavily in compositing are unlikely to find the tools in Express adequate for their needs. Despite these differences, for day-to-day editing tasks at least, it's entirely possible to forget you're using FCE, and not FCP.
For editing DV footage at any degree of sophistication there is simply no better-value product than FCE. Everything that is great about FCP is equally great in FCE. The biggest difference for the average DV user is likely to be the bargain price. If money is no object, FCP remains the platform's most comprehensive choice, but we can't help wondering how many potential FCP customers will opt for Apple's cheaper product. Right now, at such a low price, you can't buy better.