Avid XpressDV 3.5 Power Pack test

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Avid XpressDV 3.5 Power Pack

With its feet firmly planted in the expensive world of high-end editing systems, Avid has found the move into today's low-cost mainstream a difficult one. Can Xpress DV 3.5 finally be seen as a serious competitor to Premiere and Edition?

Avid has known for some time that it needs to compete in the new mainstream NLE market. Since its inception, the company has been focused almost entirely on hugely expensive editing systems for broadcasters and film production companies. While Avid sells small handfuls of systems at the very top of the economic ladder, companies such as Adobe and Pinnacle are supplying many thousands of software and hardware products to the growing numbers of home editors and freelance professionals.

Avid's first attempt to attack the DV market was with Xpress DV - a badly limited program, available only as a turnkey system based around a very inappropriately specified IBM Intellistation PC. The whole deal cost over £8,000, and represented one of the biggest marketing blunders we've seen here at Computer Video Towers. Version 2 was slightly better - available as a software-only bundle, but not supported unless installed on exactly the make and model of PC that Avid suggested. Also, at a cost of over £2,000 for the fully-featured Power Pack version of the software (or just over £1,500 for the editing program alone), there was little chance of Xpress DV making any substantial impression in the mainstream.

Version 3.5 sees Xpress DV evolve into a slightly more friendly and mature program, but the price and support issues from version 2 still stand. If Avid doesn't get the recipe right this time, any hopes of breaking out of its high-end confines might be dashed completely.

Freedom of choice?

As with version 2, Xpress DV 3.5 is only supported by Avid if installed on one of the machines Avid specifies on its website - that means the make and model must be exact. Those buying turnkey systems from suppliers such as DVC are told that the system builder is solely responsible for software and hardware support. Anyone adventurous enough to install it on an unverified system - or build their own Avid-based NLE machine - is on their own. Avidís website now hosts some very active self-help messageboards dedicated to Xpress DV, but we think it's a bit mean that users must rely entirely on the charity of an online community - having spent well over £2,000 on the software.

On the plus side, Avid now provides Mac and Windows versions of Xpress DV in-pack as standard. The only restriction is that it's dongle-protected, and only one dongle is supplied. The dongle itself is a USB one, and isnít capable of being piggy-backed in the same way that parallel port dongles can be. USB ports tend to be in short supply on Windows PCs, so we strongly recommend investing in a USB hub. On a modern Mac, the dongle slotted conveniently into the keyboard and was no fuss at all.
Despite having the luxury of Mac and Windows variations of Xpress DV, users are slightly limited in their choice of operating systems. The program will only run under Windows XP Pro and Mac OS X.

We installed Xpress DV Power Pack on two systems - a home-built, Athlon-based Windows PC; and an off-the-shelf 800MHz, DVD-burner-equipped, LCD iMac. Both versions of Avid Xpress DV Power Pack come with Boris Graffiti and Boris FX, along with an image stabilisation plug-in, plus a suite of tools designed to help cut footage originated on film. The Windows version carries a copy of Sonic Solutions' DVDit 2.5.2 SE, while no Mac equivalent is provided. This is hardly surprising, however, as Appleís competition in the mainstream DVD authoring market has effectively been strangled at birth, and Apple doesn't release its software for bundling with other company's products. Mac users are instructed to use iDVD for basic DVD authoring - which is fine if you have a SuperDrive-equipped system, but you'll be left high and dry if you installed a burner yourself, as iDVD is still not available as a stand-alone program. Mac Users shouldn't feel too disheartened though. DVDit isn't very good.

There's no denying that Xpress DV 3.5 is an impressive, well-featured, and professional-feeling program. Freelance editors who regularly work with an Avid interface will doubtless consider this a must-buy product, but for the rest of us the appeal is much more limited - particularly when considering what's on offer at much lower prices from applications such as Pinnacle's Edition DV.

The professional video production world already has far more Avid editors than Avid systems, and it would be unwise to consider the purchase of Xpress DV a training investment or stepping stone to better things - even with a good knowledge of the interface, the chances of scoring regular work as an Avid editor are slight.

If your projects are unlikely ever to see another Avid system - and the majority won't - then there's little value in spending the premium on Xpress DV. Editors should concentrate on good editing, and this depends on the editor - not the editing system.

We liked Xpress DV 3.5, but we can't easily justify its hefty price tag - particularly when Pinnacle has just cut the cost of its professional editing software, Edition, to under £500. If Avid wants to make a major impact on the DV mainstream, it needs to take an axe to its software pricing, and be a lot more accommodating with its product support. Until Avid is willing to compete on the same economic terms as Pinnacle and Adobe, it will have to make do with serving the small, elite world of high-end broadcasters and being largely ignored by the growing mainstream of DV producers.

Peter Wells

Read the full review in January 2003's Computer Video magazine.



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