Final Cut Express HD 3.5

The quandary that potential purchasers face with Final Cut Express HD 3.5, the new version of Apple’s intermediate digital video-editing software, is that it only has three significant new features – most cocktail recipes include more ingredients. However, the advances in this update, while few, make it a more compelling upgrade than the move from version 2.0 to 3.0.

When Apple began the migration to Intel-based Macs, the company pushed hard to release a Universal version of its professional Final Cut Studio suite – but there was no mention of Final Cut Express. That wouldn’t have been a big deal except that Final Cut Express wouldn’t run on an Intel Mac, leaving videographers who were ready to buy new hardware with a choice: fall back to iMovie HD 6 or move up to the pricey £899 Final Cut Studio.

So the first shiny, new feature in Final Cut Express HD 3.5 is Universal compatibility, taking full advantage of the new Mac Intel architecture. We tested the application on an older 1.25GHz PowerBook G4, a dual 2.3GHz Power Mac G5, a 17-inch 2.16GHz MacBook Pro, and a 1.83GHz MacBook (the last two models powered by Intel Core Duo processors, of course) and it worked well on all of them.

Get real
Shiny feature number two is Dynamic RT, which promises to speed up your work – or at least get rid of the time you spend waiting for Final Cut Express to render footage.

Although Final Cut Express 2 introduced RT Extreme, the real-time effects preview that it offered applied to many, but not all, transitions and effects, depending on the speed of your computer. Dynamic RT, by contrast, provides real-time previews for everything.

The third new feature in Final Cut Express HD 3.5 is the addition of full keyframe effects control, which lets you apply specific settings over time by defining them at a particular point on the timeline; this capability was previously reserved for Final Cut Pro. Earlier versions of Express supported some basic motion and audio keyframing, but now you can apply the technique to transitions and effects as well.

For example, you can now add keyframes to the Brightness and Contrast video effect to compensate for uneven lighting in a scene, or change the opacity of a clip over time.

Sound and type
In addition to these three new features, the inclusion of improved versions of Soundtrack 1.5 and LiveType 2.1 helps enrich the Final Cut Express HD package.

Soundtrack 1.5 is actually not a revision of Soundtrack 1.2, which was included in the last release of Final Cut Express HD; instead, it is a new application built from the code base of Soundtrack Pro. In the same way that Final Cut Express is essentially Final Cut Pro with many of the pro-level features removed, Soundtrack 1.5 adopts the interface and basic functionality of Soundtrack Pro.

Welcome features include real-time audio effects processing and a multi-take recording mode that’s helpful for creating voice overs: specify a duration for the voice over and start recording; when you reach the end of the clip, Soundtrack jumps back to the beginning so you can immediately record another take. You can then choose which version to use.

Instead of just a dedicated application for creating titles, LiveType 2.1 – with 10GB of new templates, effects, objects, and textures – now feels like a lite version of Motion, Apple’s professional motion-design application. The new LiveFonts (animated stylised fonts) in this version are vector-based and easily scale up to sizes that accommodate high-definition formats.

OUR VERDICT

While the number of new features in Final Cut Express HD 3.5 are few, the improvements to the general program are substantial. Dynamic RT alone makes editing easier for those of us who get fidgety while waiting for footage to render. The fact that the included programs are both much improved and Universal means you can budget for a new Intel-based Mac without adding the expense of the full Final Cut Studio suite.

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