MAC-Ready, with an Impressive Array of Video Format Support
This is our third outing with Avid’s Xpress Pro software, which is now available on the Mac OS X platform. Since our last review, Avid has been busy adding more video format support, as well as upgrading the core processing from 8-bit to 10-bit. Xpress Pro was Avid’s first attempt at providing competition for Apple’s Final Cut Pro package, offering many features passed down from the Media Composer line. Now that Media Composer is available as software, Xpress Pro is being positioned as more of an offline system.
Xpress Pro, Crunchy-Mac Style
While we tested Xpress Pro on both a qualified PC and Macintosh system, we decided to focus our tests on the Mac. The PC version is the oldest, so naturally Xpress Pro performance on the PC was faster than on the Mac. However, a nice addition with the Mac version was a much easier installation process. (Note: Avid has since released Xpress Pro version 5.7, which supports Intel-Mac and PowerPC Mac systems along with Windows.)
Still, while the software runs just fine on a Mac, Xpress Pro doesn’t feel like a "Mac" application. Xpress Pro doesn’t work directly with third-party software (such as After Effects, etc.; though v5.7 does offer new updated third-party support, particularly for Sorenson Squeeze Compression Suite 4.5 and SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 4, which ship with Xpress Pro). Xpress Pro 5.6 does not have a Universal Binary version. However, v5.7 Xpress Pro does come in a Universal Binary version ( visit www.avid.com/products/xpresspro/ to find out what else is new). The fact that it doesn’t work with any peripheral device but the Avid Mojo interface also means no support for Avid’s Digidesign Digi 002 interface, which was a major hardware component of the previous Xpress Pro Studio system. While it’s understandable that Avid would want to keep the Media Composer software locked into Avid’s proprietary hardware, it’s a mistake to not provide Xpress Pro with the same hardware flexibility found in competing software packages.
One saving grace: you can now play back full-screen video using the display attached to your host system, which means you don’t need an Avid Mojo for full-screen playback.
With Xpress Pro 5.6, Avid has added an impressive array of video formats. In addition to the previous SD and HD formats, Xpress Pro now supports XDCAM HD, DVCPRO HD and HDV. This includes the ability to bring in footage directly from native XDCAM and P2 media without transcoding, which is a huge time saver.
We found the HDV import feature, sorely missed in the last version, quite impressive. Instead of rendering the HDV long GOP stream throughout the timeline, Xpress Pro only renders the HDV stream at edit points and transitions. Ultimately, you’ll still need to render out your final sequence. But at least you won’t be slowed down as much you edit.
Mix and Match
Xpress Pro has one feature the other software-based NLEs can’t touch, and that’s the ability to mix different video formats on the same timeline. This is a major benefit when editing multi-camera live events and reality shows together, where you can work with multiple formats. Not having to convert each different media type into one set format can save you hours in post. This feature worked seamlessly, whether combining HD footage with SD, or simply using different flavors of SD. The Avid DNxHD codec was also useful in bringing HD file sizes down to nearly SD levels, surprisingly without losing much resolution.
Naturally, the more video streams in your timeline, the greater the burden on the host CPU. We were able to get about five SD streams going simultaneously on the Mac before needing to do any major rendering. However, in order to playback more than one HD stream in Xpress Pro, you’ll need to digitize your HD footage into the DNxHD codec. Also, while Media Composer can handle up to nine multicamera angles, Xpress Pro is still limited to only four cameras.
Xpress Versus the Suites
Buying Xpress Pro is really a matter of how you work with your system. It’s ideal as an inexpensive Avid offline system that can handle a wide variety of HD and SD formats. Its ability to integrate multiple HD and SD formats is impressive, as is its ability to make HDV editing easier. Add to this its ability to finish Xpress Pro projects on higher-end Avid systems, and you have a winner.
However, if you need your editing system to work as part of an integrated set of applications (for editing, motion graphics and so on), you should definitely take a hard look at the Apple and Adobe video product suites. These packages are not only comparably priced, but also integrate their editing applications with other tools better. Still, Xpress Pro clearly benefits from the many years that Avid has been making editing products, Xpress Pro is your best and most cost-effective entry into the world of Avid editing systems.