Avid Express DV 3.5
by Marc Kermisch
When I found out that I was going to get a chance to review
Avidís 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, Avidís 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.
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.
3.5 letís 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.
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.
Depending on who you are and what type of editing experience you have,
you will either love or struggle with XDV 3.5ís editing mode. If
youíre 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 3.5ís 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.
of my favorite functions in the edit mode is the undo function. If
youíre 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
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 Avidís 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.
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
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 Ďreal-timeí 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 Discreetís 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 XDVís 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
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 3.5ís 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.