Final Cut Express HD 3.5

Final Cut Express HD 3.5

When working with Final Cut Express HD's motion effects or filters, you can go way beyond cuts-only editing.


Final Cut Express HD now joins the legion of other Apple apps that have made the transition to Universal app-hood, so it can run natively on Intel-based Macs and take advantage of all the speed gains those Macs offer. But beyond going Universal, Express HD 3.5 has some other fine upgrades under its hood.


Express HD's effects and compositing capabilities have taken a big step forward, thanks to the arrival of true editable keyframes. As always, Express HD gives you tons of video- and audio-effects filters to work with, but previous versions only let you apply one effect value to a media clip and didn't let you change that value over time. For example, you couldn't apply a stylish blur to a clip and then change the amount of blur as the clip played. Express HD's new keyframes now let you precisely control when and how to change filter settings over time. The new keyframe system also makes it much easier to create motion effects, where you might change the scale, rotation, position, crop values, and opacity of clips as they play. If you've always wanted to create projects with lots of MTV-style flash, there's nothing stopping you now.


Express HD also improves on its real-time previews of effects, which now let you composite multiple clips together and also apply effects filters and motion effects without having to render them first. Express HD has had real-time capabilities since version 2.0, but you had to manually set your real-time image quality (high and low) and framerate (full, half, quarter) depending on the number of effects and layers you were trying to preview in real time. Now you can simply choose the Dynamic RT option, and Express will automatically throttle those image-quality and framerate settings back and forth depending on the complexity of the video playing at that moment. Basically, Dynamic RT makes each shot look as good as possible as you review your project - you'll appreciate it if you're doing effects-heavy work, but not so much if you stick to cuts-only editing.


Express HD's two sidekick apps are also improved. LiveType 2 now includes a set of vector-based fonts that you can cleanly scale to any resolution, along with some 70 new animated objects, 15 new textures, and 60 text effects. Soundtrack 1.5 can automatically apply crossfades between clips, and easily record multitake sessions like voice-over or automated dialogue replacement work. There's also a new interface that lets you rearrange tabs and resize your movie window.


The one thing that Express HD still lacks is a project-archive feature. When you need to free up some hard drive space, there's no way to consolidate and archive your project to keep only the video that your edit uses. If you ever want to go back and reedit a finished project, you need to keep all of its raw footage on your main drive or a backup drive (a waste of drive space), or dump the footage and then recapture it from your original DV or HDV tapes (a hassle). We've cited this clumsy approach each time we've reviewed Final Cut Express over the years, and it seemed OK, given the app's low price. But now that other consumer-oriented editors are offering a project-archive feature, Express could use one as well.


The bottom line. Media management aside, Express HD is an amazing app. It can handle pretty much everything that most DV or HDV moviemakers need, and since it uses the same interface as Final Cut Pro, it's a great stepping-stone to Apple's Final Cut Pro 5. For $300 ($99 to upgrade), Express continues to be a phenomenal deal.


CONTACT: 800-692-7753,
PRICE: $299, $99 (upgrade)
REQUIREMENTS: 500MHz (1GHz for HDV) G4 or faster, Mac OS 10.4.6 or later, 512MB of RAM (1GB for HDV), Quartz Extreme-compatible graphics subsystem or Intel integrated graphics processor, 500MB disk space
Create advanced effects and compositing thanks to editable keyframes. Smoother real-time previews of effects. Same great pro tools, same low price.
No way to consolidate and archive projects.





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