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Final Cut Express HD 3.5

New release supports HDV By Stephen Schleicher

For small business and schools who want to use Apples Final Cut Pro, but dont have the budget, they should check out Final Cut Express HD 3.5.  With this latest release Final Cut Express, users not only get greater real-time support, but the addition of LiveType 2 and Soundtrack 1.5.

Ive previously reviewed Final Cut Express on this site, and have been very impressed with its capabilities.  The latest 3.5 release brings more functionality to intermediate editors and small boutiques looking to save some money.  In addition to the very capable editing application, Final Cut Express HD 3.5 also includes Soundtrack 1.5 and LiveType 2.  All three of these applications are Universal applications, able to run on both PowerPC and Intel based Macs.  For this review, Ill be using the 17 2GHz MacBook Pro with an attached 500GB G-Raid drive.

Final Cut Express HD 3.5 brings in the RT Extreme engine into the fold allowing you to use Dynamic Real-Time to see more effects and transitions by adjusting the frame rate and resolution on the fly.  This will be a huge timesaver to those who have grown accustomed to applying an effect, and waiting for the render.


The capture feature of Final Cut Express HD 3.5 is still the same for DV footage.  While you can set In and Out points, Final Cut Express HD 3.5 still does not include a log and batch capture feature that many small businesses would love to have.  Still with the combination of Capture Now, Capture Clip and DV Start/Stop detect, users will be able to have most of the functionally needed to accurately capture the footage needed for a the project.

With more consumer and low prosumer HDV cameras beginning to appear on the market, it makes sense that Final Cut Express HD 3.5 supports the HDV format in both 720p and 1080i.  If you havent worked with HDV footage, you are missing out.  If you have mastered editing DV footage, you wont be lost when you jump to the HDV format.

There are only a couple of things to be aware of when working with HDV footage.  Final Cut Express HD 3.5 only supports the Apple Intermediate Codec, and even though the footage looks great, is more of a work around and not the native HDV codec found in Final Cut Pro.  The second issue many editors will encounter when working with HDV footage is during the capture process.  When capturing you have no deck control.  You simply start playing the tape, open the capture function, name the clip, and capture will occur until you press the escape key.  This is a bit of a hassle, especially if the deck of camera is several feet away from the edit station.  One interesting feature about the HDV capture is an indicator appears in the capture window to let you know if the image on the screen is real-time or not.  This is very handy for more precise capture and keeps you from having to constantly refer to the camera LCD screen.

Final Cut Express still has the useful Digital Cinema Display.  Instead of having to keep the computer connected to a deck (which is connected to a monitor) to view your material, you can simply display the Canvas Window full screen or on a secondary display.  For a school that may not be able to afford multiple decks, cameras, or monitors for each computer, this gives everyone a chance to see the big picture.  This is also especially useful for those who want to edit on their laptop.  I was very impressed with the picture quality on my MacBook Pro.

One of the other new additions in Final Cut Express HD 3.5 is the ability to finally keyframe many of the filters, effects, text and more.  This really makes compositing and animating layers in the Timeline and the Canvas window much easier to do and beefs up the application to a more pro level.

For the most part, users who upgrade to Final Cut Express HD 3.5 will not notice many changes in the workflow.  The addition of LiveType 2 and Soundtrack 1.5 are major bonuses. 

LiveType 2 allows the user to create dramatic titles for a project quickly and easily.  With 60 new effects and 10GB of animated textures, users will be able to create a title for just about every project they will work on.  LiveType 2 also included numerous templates for both DV and HDV formats.  One nice feature is the ability to import a LiveType 2 project into FCE HD 3.5 and add it to the Timeline without needing to first render the file in LiveType 2.

Final Cut Express HD 3.5 allows for up to 99 layers of audio.  But for the most creative control, users may want to export the project into Soundtrack 1.5 for final sweetening and music composition.  With Soundtrack 1.5, editors can export scoring markers from Final Cut Express, and use them to lay down tempo and music changes throughout the project.  There are over 4000 loops that come with Soundtrack 1.5, but dont let that limit your creativity.  Soundtrack 1.5 allows you to use any AIFF, WAV or ACID format audio loops including the many Jam Packs available directly from Apple.  If you have not worked in an audio editing application before, rest assured the learning curve of Soundtrack 1.5 is not that steep.  In fact, many will find the process of creating and editing audio in Soundtrack very much like editing in Final Cut Express HD. 

Finally, Final Cut Express HD works well with other applications including iDVD.  While the finished video can be sent back to tape, many potential viewers dont have MiniDV or HDV decks connected to their home theatre system.  Sending the project to iDVD ensures you can reach everyone from grandma to the corporate executive who wants to see the latest training video.

As an overall package, Final Cut Express HD 3.5 contains everything needed to create a professional looking commercial, industrial, or educational video.  Granted it doesnt have all of the features of its big brother Final Cut Pro, but it also doesnt have Final Cut Pros price tag.  At $299 this is a real steal for those who want to move beyond iMovie, and create professional looking video.  With its first steps into the HDV world, Final Cut Express does a very adequate job.  I give Final Cut Express HD 3.5 an 8 out of 10 rating.

System Requirements
? Macintosh computer with 500MHz or faster PowerPC G4 or G5 (550MHz for PowerBook G4) or Intel Core Duo
? 512MB RAM
? Display with 1024-by-768 (or higher) resolution
? An AGP or PCI Express graphics card compatible with Quartz Extreme or an Intel GMA integrated graphics processor in MacBook or Mac mini
? Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later
? QuickTime 7.0.4 or later
? HDV features require 1GHz or faster processor and 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended)
? 500MB disk space required for applications; additional 16GB of additional storage space for Soundtrack and LiveType content (can be installed on separate disks)
? DVD drive for software installation

For more information visit www.apple.com


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Stephen Schleicher is a well known writer, visual effects artist and media guru! You can see more of Stephen at
www.majorspoilers.com and www.stephenschleicher.com
Related Keywords:final cut express, hd, hdv, hi-def, apple, editing, compositing, soundtrack, livetype, graphics

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