Camera Corner
October 2002

Avid Express DV 3.5
by Marc Kermisch

When I found out that I was going to get a chance to review Avid’s latest desktop DV software, Express DV 3.5, I was filled with anticipation. The day that my copy of Express DV 3.5 arrived, I could not wait to get home and install the software. All my hopes were high, especially since I am often forced to work on both PC and MAC platforms, Avid’s latest software came bundled with a version for both platforms. As I dug into my package and lifted out (the very heavy) box of software, I was overcome with excitement.

That excitement waned a bit as I dug into the manuals that accompany the software. There are three of them and each more in depth than the other. After fumbling around and reading through all the requirements and recommendations of how to configure your system, I popped the CD in and started the install process. To my surprise, it was much easier than what the manuals had laid out. After rebooting my computer, I double-clicked on my Avid Express DV 3.5 desktop icon and waited for the software to load.

Getting Started
Here comes my first issue with the latest version of DV 3.5, you are required to have a USB dongle inserted into on of your USB ports at all times when using the software. While I understand the need for Avid to protect its intellectual property, I find it frustrating that I have to permanently dedicate a USB port just to run the Avid software. While this is a small issue, imagine how many of us would lose this dongle when switching machines or inserting another device into the USB port while performing another task.

Once the application is launched and you have set-up your first project, I suggest that you immediately go to your Super Bin and configure all of your settings. A quick word about the super bin, this window allows you to easily access sub-bins, settings, and even effects. You find yourself accessing the super bin often and thanking Avid for creating it.

As you go through each setting you will find that you can configure just about everything in XDV 3.5. You will be much happier if you get this over with first, as you will become familiar with the program by doing it and will have your workspace and workflow set just to your liking. You can configure things like launching the last project you worked on upon the launch of the software, setting up button styles and global workspace colors, specify your encoding and output settings, map functions to the keyboard, and as I said before just about everything else.

The Avid interface is extremely customizable, almost to its detriment. I was overwhelmed on the number of colors and buttons styles that I could choose from. Each window in an XDV 3.5 mode is customizable. While this is nice and the ability to customize window colors and button styles was relatively easy, I wish that Avid would have had pre-selected templates to choose from, simplifying the task.

XDV 3.5 let’s you take each window and move it around to the desired area on your screen. You can even save the layout as a workspace so XDV will always remember it, making it easier to set-up your workflow. I did find this task of arranging windows to be tedious. The windows did not snap to each other as easily as I would have liked. I also think that Avid should add the similar windows options of cascading or tiling sub-windows in the work area. Though, I can not complain too much here, once I achieved my desired workspace, I did not have to keep changing every time I launched the application.

Recording Shots
Jumping right in, I immediately wanted to start digitizing some shots. To hold true to what I believe many desktop DV editors use for a deck, I used a DV Camera, a Canon ZR 3 as my deck. Unfortunately, Express DV 3.5 did not recognize my camera when I went to set-up my deck, forcing me to initially choose a generic configuration. I found that this was troublesome as I started to log clips. The camera would consistently have a slow reaction time to commands and would occasionally completely miss a mark. This was easily corrected when I decided to find the nearest configuration option and pick that instead. Otherwise, the actual logging of clips is easy and straightforward. You can name a clip, mark the I/O spots and digitize as you go or log the whole tape and batch import later. As your logging clips you can add notes to help during editing at the same time. I also liked the Bin that all clips are placed into. You are able to view the bin in brief, text, frame, or script mode, allowing you to customize the system to your workflow. I imported 45 clips in one batch with no headaches, which is great because it let me walk away from the computer and do something else.

Editing Sequences
Depending on who you are and what type of editing experience you have, you will either love or struggle with XDV 3.5’s editing mode. If you’re an experienced Avid user, XDV will seem very similar to you. You can even import keyboard setting files from other Avid systems to ensure your editing environment is the same. An experienced editor will be able to jump right into the system and will quickly pick up on XDV 3.5’s keyboard layout. You can custom map functions in Avid to specific keys, giving full control of how you want to edit. This feature is extremely valuable if you like to edit using a mouse and keyboard. By clustering groups of functions on the keyboard, splitting your hands between the mouse and keyboard become very easy. All the basic keystrokes are in place in XDV 3.5 such as J-K-L and I-O, you can use the up and down arrow keys to quickly zoom in and out of the timeline, and there is every possible key combination to accomplish every function in XDV 3.5.

One of my favorite functions in the edit mode is the undo function. If you’re like me, you are constantly hitting CTRL-Z or CTRL-R to undo/redo actions. While Avid provided 99 layers of undo, what is even better is that Avid has an undo/redo list that shows you specifically which actions you are undoing/redoing. This is invaluable as your trying to figure out the exact spot to make a cut or place an effect.
Dragging and dropping clips into the edit mode is quiet easy. You can select a clip and drag it into the timeline to create a new sequence or into the on screen monitor to edit the clip as is. One frustration is that when trying to add a clip into an existing sequence, you have to set-up a key frame, or mark an in or out spot to accurately cut in the new clip. It would be nice to be able to simply drag the clip in and have the system automatically shift everything to accommodate the new clip.

Using the trim mode, stepping forward or back, and marking a sequence was very easy. One feature I would love to see is the ability to mark a clip and instantly trim it with the click of a button. Instead I had to lift or cut the marked segment and create a new sequence to drop it into. If there is an easier way to do this, than I hope Avid can tell me. On the upside, if you are cutting in a lot of tracks and you purchased Avid’s PowerPack for XDV 3.5, you will be able to take advantage of their dupe deletion function. This function will automatically delete duplicate scenes in your sequence. For long-form pieces, this will come in very handy.

Color Correction
One of the biggest features that Avid pushed was their more robust color correction feature. I must say, Avid hit the mark on this one. Using the color correction feature was easy. XDV 3.5 provides its own mode for color correction, which allows you to control color using Hue Lightness-Saturation (HLS) Color whiles for highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. Combining the HLS controls with Color Curves for RGB and Master levels, XDV 3.5 provides a superior color correction tool. In the color correction mode, you are able to see the previous, current, and next shot in a 3-paned window. This allows you to take advantage of natural matching tool. Using and eyedropper tool, you can quickly match skin tones from one shot to the next, ensuring even color/exposure throughout the sequence. Finally, if your editing a long-format piece, you can set up color templates. These templates can easily be applied across multiple tracks at a time allowing the editor to ensure consistent color/exposure throughout their piece. If you are outputting your video back to tape, the edit in safe mode is very helpful. It will alert you when you start pushing the limits of broadcast standards.

XDV 3.5 comes with a nice set of audio tools. From the gain automation to EQ tools, XDV 3.5 gives the editor solid control over the audio tracks. Even during the record mode, you can select which audio track you want to record from. You are able to set in and out marks and edit the sound quality ‘real-time’ using the gain automation function. You can edit up to 8 tracks of audio at a time. Digging into the EQ tools, you will find a series of EQ templates that allow you to boost music, specify a voice preference (i.e. Male or Female), filter tape hiss, etc. You can even make your own EQ templates. I found these EQ templates very helpful on the very first video clip I edited, as I was quickly able to edit out tape hiss and then switch to the automation gain tool to boost the sound during low spots.

Outputting your final piece is quiet simple. XDV 3.5 allows you to export your clips directly into another Avid system, export them as OMF, MPEG, AVI, AAF, or QuickTime. You can also send clips directly to compression software, for example Discreet’s Cleaner application. This function came in handy as I was exporting 13 clips into Cleaner so I could compress them for viewing over the web. The only frustration I had here is that after each clip was sent to Cleaner, I had to hit return to specify where the next clip was to be saved.

One down-side to XDV’s audio tools, is its J-K-L audio scrubbing. It is slow and jumpy for the most part. XDV only renders audio at 3 times per second in scrubbing mode. This makes it difficult to decipher key words and hear the base levels. You can also only scrub two tracks at a time, which can become frustrating. I found it easier to avoid scrubbing all together and just using the slipping and sliding functionality instead.

Overall, Avid Express DV 3.5 is a solid desktop DV editing tool. It will certainly give Final Cut Pro a run for its money. If your looking for a professionally based tool, or are an existing Avid user or desire to become an Avid editor, this product is for you. Experienced editors will like XDV 3.5’s customization capabilities, color correction tools, and audio editing tools. If your switching from Final Cut Pro to XDV 3.5 you may miss some of the more computer centric functions and layouts that Final Cut Pro provides. However, I believe over the long run, Avid will provide you with a great tool set to meet your editing needs.

Solid cross-platform editing tool. Incredible color correction functionality. Good audio editing suite. Overall value for its feature set is high for its price point.

High learning curve. Tweaking of the interface can be tedious. Customizing settings is a lengthy process.

Bottom Line
The application was very stable (it did not crash once on my PC or the Mac I had it installed on). The feature set is rich and the flexibility of the application is very powerful. This application will be hard to beat and is a definite buy for the serious DV editor.

Base Avid Express DV 3.5: $1,699
With Avid Express DV 3.5 Power Pack: $2,499

© 2002 Marc Kermisch

Write a Letter to the Editor
Join our Mailing List
© The Digital Journalist