Although often imitated, the Avid interface and workflow retains a certain enviable quality that is more than the sum of its parts. Experienced editors, while having their technical needs more economically serviced by Final Cut Pro 4, would be well advised to consider Xpress Pro.
It may well pay for its extra cost in saved time thanks to its efficient workflow and tight cross-platform/program integration with higher-end Avid suites.
However, with its emphasis on keyboard shortcuts, Xpress Pro probably isn’t the best choice for more-casual editors. Tools such as Premiere or Final Cut Pro, with their extensive toolsets and mouse-orientated interfaces, are far more likely to produce favourable results in less time.
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Xpress Pro is the latest upgrade in Avid’s Xpress DV line, picking up where Xpress DV 3.5 left off. The documentation provided is excellent, with three full-size printed and easy-to-follow manuals, meaning that even rookies should find it easy to get to grips with the package. To aid newcomers, a separate ‘Getting Started’ printed tutorial is included along with source footage on CDs. Where previous incarnations of Xpress DV required the user to purchase the Powerpack option to get the full suite of goodies, Xpress Pro now comes complete with the Avid Filmmakers Toolkit (allowing EDLs/cut lists to be made from 24P and 25P source footage), pan and zoom, and image stabilization. Also included in the pack are full versions of Sorenson Squeeze, Boris FX LTD, Boris Graffiti LTD, and Elastic Gasket. Inside the box are two versions of the software – one for Mac OS X and another for Windows XP. However, while files created by Xpress are cross-platform, Xpress Pro requires a hardware USB dongle to run, making it impossible to use each version simultaneously. The interface is similar to other, higher-end Avid applications – so experienced editors will immediately feel at home. Users migrating to Xpress from other NLE suites such as Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut Pro may find the workflow frustrating at first, as it places far more emphasis on keyboard shortcuts for common tasks than the mouse-orientated interface of FCP. Features A key component of all Avid suites has always been customizable workspaces. Xpress Pro allows the interface’s colour schemes, fonts, and window layouts to be changed. Interface buttons are also customizable, allowing each command to be mapped to a key or key combination. Once everything is set, the included stickers can be used to label the keyboard lest you forget. Each main editing stage is handled efficiently with window layout presets for colour correction, source/record editing, effects, audio editing, and capture. These window presets can then be amended and saved as templates if needed. While Xpress covers all the editing essentials and covers them well, it lacks the proliferation of features found in FCP4. However, what Xpress Pro lacks in stand-out, headline-grabbing features, it makes up for in well-implemented solutions to everyday editing chores. Workflow The interface and workflow of Xpress is perhaps its strongest point. While aesthetically it’s outdated, the implementation of features throughout is often imitated but seldom beaten. For example, clips and sub-clips within bins can be quickly scrubbed with associated audio using the J, K, and L keys, no matter how small the graphical view. It’s a far more effective method of bin-clip scrubbing than that implemented in FCP4. It’s also possible to view details of a clip by simply holding down the mouse button on it. This opens a small window including the clip’s name, frame-rate, sound sampling-rate, drive location, comments, and other relevant details. Sub-clips are easily generated by setting in- and out-points and then holding the Option key while dragging the clip to a Bin. The clip then automatically highlights its own label so a new one can be typed. Xpress Pro is packed with tiny, timesaving workflows of this nature. Simple things such as the dock auto-hiding itself when using the application (even when you don’t have it set to auto-hide) and the aforementioned info windows on the composer/clips demonstrate just how advanced the Avid workflow is. Performance Xpress Pro is a stable, speedy application. Interface controls such as clip jog/shuttling respond instantly, making it easy to get around accurately. Real-time effects and transitions playback is impressive, although performance is reflective of the host hardware. The real-time capability of Xpress Pro can be greatly expanded with the optional Avid Mojo hardware that also facilitates uncompressed standard-definition footage. Despite its excellence in many areas, Xpress suffers some poorly implemented features. The Timewarp effects are just as limiting as those featured in FCP4 (described as ‘time remapping’ in FCP). For example, Speed Boost (which takes footage from half speed up to normal speed and then back to half) and Speed Bump (starts at full speed, slows to half, and then returns to full speed) both perform well, playing back immediately in real-time, but offer no facility to adjust parameters. If the motion change points don’t fall correctly by chance, there’s nothing that can be done to change them. This is extremely limiting, and we can only hope that Avid (along with Apple and FCP) caters for true time-ramping in future in free updates of its software.